Hajwalah explores the joyriding (or tafheet) practice through Rakan’s passion for what he considers a “motorsport” that should be legalized. Fearful of losing his system-monitoring night job, Rakan quits joyriding and instead, he imagines and virtually relives the hajwalah world through gaming. In parallel to Rakan’s story, Hajwalah explores the city from a woman’s lens through filmic essay capturing her attempt to claim a sense of virtual place in the rapidly growing desert metropolis. The structural and economic violence in the city is captured from the car window and regulation of social interactions and relations are reflected in the filmmaking process.
The truth is, I had initially planned on making a documentary about graffiti in the Saudi kingdom titled, “Our Walls,” which was to explore three different and specific graffiti practices that reveal the different worlds lived by the respective graffiti writers. During my research of one of these practices, which I had initially titled, “the vandal,” in reference to the hajwalah subculture, I stumbled across an ethnography titled, “Joyriding in Riyadh: oil, urbanism, and road revolt” by Pascal Menoret. I decided to focus on the hajwalah writers, and very soon after that, I decided to focus on just hajwalah (joyriding). I shifted my focus because I thought that joyriding in the kingdom is a more urgent story to tell, especially since it had been around for decades and yet had a single state-sociological narrative of it in the mainstream media. Driven by curiosity, I also wanted to challenge myself and get uncomfortable. Can I possibly tell a story about a joyrider, to whom my accessibility is very limited?
Rakan himself does not write graffiti, but I was led to his world through the hajwalah graffiti. In a sense, this project is still about “our walls” in the Saudi kingdom. Regulation of our social relations is gradually revealed. I intentionally reinforce this message when one of the cameramen is heard asking Rakan on my behalf, “there’s another question Rana wanted to ask…” and it goes on about our separation from one another. I also intentionally leave Rakan’s answer referring to social media to reinforce another message about our virtual worlds and relationships. When asked about “public space,” Rakan refers to the internet. I end that scene to encourage questioning the notion of public space.
As a Riyadh-native hoping to drive in my city one day, nothing seems more important than connecting my plight with my visible and yet marginalized male counterparts who drive in the outer-city. I became attracted to the joyriding subculture and wanted to understand it. From far away I saw that joyriders contest space in public spaces with a quest for individual identity and fame. They become “joyriders,” a collective group identity creating a public spectacle of performance, admiration and competition. I wanted to make this film in order to take a closer look. My lens is introduced with the first shot of the cityscape at night, from rooftop, then it continues — through the dashboard or side window. The side-window lens is surely symbolic in this film. In terms of mobility, development, and a passenger view/experience of the city.
In my film, I am not trying to build tension, despite how suitable the joyriding footage is to create such an effect. I want to encourage introspection. What is the city? Who is Rakan? What is public space? How are our social relations regulated?
A central theme in my work has been the juxtaposition between the power of expression and the expression of power. I want this film to be a powerful expression of something we see and hear everyday and yet we don’t fully understand… just like the writing on the wall.