A film within a film, Looking for Oum Kulthum is the plight of an Iranian woman artist/filmmaker living in exile, as she embarks on capturing the life and art of the legendry female singer of the Arab world, Oum Kulthum. Through her difficult journey, not unlike her heroine’s, she has to face the struggles, sacrifices and the price that a woman has to pay if she dares to cross the lines of a conservative male dominated society.
Mitra is an ambitious artist in her forties who embarks on her dream project of making a film about the legendary Egyptian singer and diva Oum Kulthum. Her film explores the struggles, sacrifices and the price of Oum Kulthum’s success as a female artist in a male dominated society. However, having left her family behind for her career and in
her efforts to capture the essence of Oum Kulthum as a myth, a woman and an artist, Mitra’s own struggles blend with those of the singer and she finds herself caught in an emotional and artistic breakdown.
Shirin Neshat is an Iranian-born artist and filmmaker living in New York. Neshat’s early photographic works include the Women of Allah series (1993–1997), which explored the question of gender in relation to Islamic fundamentalism and militancy. Her subsequent video works departed from overtly political content or critique in favor of more poetic imagery and complex human narratives. Neshat continues to explore and experiment with the mediums of photography, video and film. Her most recent bodies of work include the photographic series The Book of Kings (2012), The Home of My Eyes (2015) and the trilogy Dreamers comprised of three video installations: Illusions and Mirrors (2013), Roja (2016), and Sarah (2016).
Neshat has held numerous solo exhibitions at galleries and museums worldwide, including the Museo Correr in Venice, Italy, to coincide with the 2017 Venice Biennale; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Yarat Art Center, Baku, Azerbaijan; Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Doha; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; Detroit Institute of the Arts, Detroit, Michigan; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Serpentine Gallery, London; Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montréal, among others. Neshat has participated in major international group exhibitions, including the 48th Venice Biennale of Art (1999), the Whitney Biennial (2000), Documenta XI (2002) and Prospect.1 New Orleans (2009), Palazzo Grassi-Francoise Pinault Foundation (2012), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2013) and LACMA (2015). Neshat was the recipient of the Grand Prix at the Gwangju Biennial (2000), the Golden Lion Award - the First International Prize at the 48th Venice Biennial (1999), the Hiroshima Freedom Prize (2005), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2006), and The Crystal Award (2014). Her work is included in the collections of museums and public institutions around the world.
In 2009, Neshat directed her first feature-length film, Women Without Men, which received the Silver Lion Award for Best Director at the 66th Venice International Film Festival. She has recently completed her second feature-length film, based on the life and art of the legendary Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum which is expected to be released in 2017. Neshat is represented by Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.
Shoja Azari is an Iranian born filmmaker and visual artist who lives and works in New York. Azari’s feature films, “K,” “Windows,” "Women Without Men,” and “Simple Little Lives” have been screened widely at film festivals around the world. “Women Without Men” Co-Directed with the renowned, filmmaker, visual artist Shirin Neshat, brought the directors the highly prestigious award of the Silver lion (Bets Direction) at the 2009 Venice international film festival.
Azari’s art works are in major collections, including (LACMA) La County Museum or art, (MOCA) Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angles, (MUSAC) The Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León among others.
Shoja Azari and Shirin Neshat’s recent feature film collaboration “Looking For Oum Kulthum” is now completed and scheduled for release in 2017/2018. “Badria,” Azari's newest feature film shot in Morocco in collaboration with the young filmmaker Rodin Hamidi is now in post production and is slated for release in 2018.
For the past twenty years, as a visual artist and a filmmaker, I have been exploring diverse concepts and narratives in relation to Muslim women. I have been developing my new feature film project based on the art and life of the legendary Egyptian singer Oum Kulthum (1902-1975), whose music and larger-than-life persona
is still in the hearts of millions of Middle Easterners. Similarly to my previous film WOMEN WITHOUT MEN, this film pursues the trajectory of an iconic woman while offering a non-academic look into the history of modern Egypt.
My journey into this project began with research and the collection of images and literature written about Oum Kulthum and Egyptian history. Finally, I decided not to make a historical biopic but to tell a personal story, sharing my own perspectives and challenges as an Iranian woman director attempting to make a film about an iconic Egyptian singer. The current script therefore closely reflects my own obsessions, challenges, and unexpected self-discovery by looking into the destiny of an iconic Middle Eastern female artist, I’m looking at my own experience, and that of other Middle Eastern women who choose to pursue a talent or a professional career. At the core of this film, through the simultaneous exploration of three main female characters, Oum Kulthum, Mitra (the Iranian filmmaker,) and Ghada (the Egyptian actress, who plays the role of Oum Kulthum), the narrative reveals how most Middle Eastern women, living in male dominated societies, face similar predicaments.