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In the Middle East, women directors unspool social commentary

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Mansour, one of 12 children, didn't intend to focus her filmmaking career on women's issues, but found the issues too important not to address. She began her filmmaking career making a seven-minute short, "Who?," in which a man disguised as a women – i.e., dressed in a traditional black, full-body covering called the – stalks women and enters their homes. The film explores the theme of hiding behind disguises, says Mansour. Shot with a hand-held camera, the film was released in Turkey and could be seen in Saudi Arabia only on pirated DVDs. Many perceived it as an anti- message.

A few years later, the documentary "Women Without Shadows" – winner of the Golden Dagger for best documentary at the Muscat film festival in Oman – wondered whether it is necessary for women to cover their faces in public in order to comply with Islamic teachings.

"I get hate e-mails," says Mansour. "People say I am not religious. That I don't respect my own culture. It's not true. I don't want to corrupt my viewers, but there are certain situations in Saudi Arabia that merit people talking about them."

Mansour's fountain of strength, she says, is her family. Her father, famous Saudi poet Abdul Rahman Mansour, brought home films for his kids to watch on video. He encouraged his daughters to study – Mansour studied comparative literature at the American University in Cairo – and didn't force them to wear the veil or rush into marriage. He was very open-minded, she says.

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