Saudi Film “Dunya’s Day” Wins Sundance Short Film Jury Award!
The first Saudi film selected to Sundance, ‘Dunya’s Day’ is a dark comedy set in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and follows Dunya (Sara Balghonaim) on the day of her graduation party. Hours before her esteemed guests arrive, all the domestic help take off – fed up with “Madame” Dunya’s antics. Aided only by her two best friends, Dunya fights to throw a flawless party and protect her hard-earned social status.
Written and directed by Raed Alsemari, this film marks his first directed short. Raed is a local of both Riyadh and New York, completing his MFA in Filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is joined in celebrating this award with his producer Sarah Elnawasrah; actors Sara Balghonaim, Rahaf, and Sarah Altaweel; director of photography Olivier Theurillat; production designer Tamara Kalo; executive producer Mohammed Almodaimeegh; and associate producers Ahoud Mirdad, Sara Balghonaim and Aya Hamdan.
Said Alsemari about the film, “At its core, ‘Dunya’s Day’ is about a woman’s relentless pursuit of status. Tired of seeing clichéd narratives of oppression that reduce Arab women to victims or saints, I set out to portray a flawed but fierce Arab woman who is neither. While developing the central characters, it was exciting to draw from the archetypes of classic comedies like Heathers and Mean Girls, and to re-imagine those personalities in my hometown. From Riyadh to Brooklyn, I’ve encountered women and men who share Dunya’s obsessive need for social validation.”
Alsemari added, “Over time, I’ve learned to understand their motivations and – on some level – to admire their tenacity. Though I’m not proud of it, making this film led me to discover there may be a little bit of Dunya in myself. I wanted to ensure that my satirical approach would not compromise the character’s humanity. After committing to an “un-likable” protagonist, I worried about finding a performer who would internalize Dunya’s wants and insecurities without judgement. My doubts instantly disappeared when I saw Sara Balghonaim’s layered and loving take on the character.”
After the film’s selection at the Sundance Film Festival, the Saudi Film Council supported ‘Dunya’s Day’ and organized a private screening in Riyadh. After debuting a collection of short films at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018, ‘Dunya’s Day’ marks the first time the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has had an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival. Overall, 73 shorts were selected from over 9,000 submissions and from 33 countries to compete in the festival, with ‘Dunya’s Day’ being one of seven to win a Jury award. Of the 7 finalist short films that received awards 6 were directed by people of color and 2 were directed by Arabs.