1. Lebanese actress and director Nadine Labaki has captured worldwide attention through her intelligent, often comic approaches to sensitive topics. Her boldness is also reflected in her portrayals of women’s social roles in such films as Where Do We Go Now and Caramel, and her music videos of famous Middle Eastern singers. In 2013, Elle magazine nominated Labaki as one of its inspiring women of the year.
2. Given Saudi Arabia’s ban on cinemas, its first female director, Haifa Al-Mansour, is all the more remarkable for her ability to illuminate social barriers and female protagonists who overcome them. In her experience, life imitated art: when directing Oscar-nominated Wajda, she had to instruct her cast by walkie-talkie from inside a van. The film, the first-ever feature to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, takes a deep look at the persistence of women and girls.
3. Known as Palestine’s first female feature filmmaker, poet Annemarie Jacir has worked hard since 1994 to prove herself in the field of cinema. Her films weave together diverse issues including war, peace, ownership, and identity. Two recent works, Salt of this Sea and “When I Saw You”, express the thirst of every Palestinian refugee to return home. “When I Saw You” was inspired by her being denied entry to Palestine, and was Palestine’s official 2013 Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
4. The multi-talented young Emirati Nayla Al-Khaja has bravely addressed intimate subjects in her own community, from arranged marriages to parental neglect. Al-Khaja has also established her own production company, D-SEVEN, and heads up the UAE’s first official film club, which presents films from around the world.
5. Jehane Noujaim is famous for documentaries that touch core social issues and the challenges people face in their daily lives. Control Room (2004), Startup.com and Rafea. Her latest film, The Square, follows the Egyptian uprising, and its gritty, moving close-up of the struggle earned it the People’s Choice Award for documentary at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.