“Ain’t No Time for Women” wins Best Canadian Short Documentary Award at Hot Docs

Montreal-based Sarra El Abed takes home top prize by returning to her Tunisian roots in her latest film

Sarra El Abed’s “Ain’t No Time for Women” wins Best Canadian Short Documentary Award. Courtesy Sarra El Abed

The Canadian short documentary "Ain't No Time for Women" by Tunisian-born Quebec director, Sarra El Abed, has won Betty Youson’s Award for Best Canadian Short Documentary. 

The Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival, in its 28th edition, was held online for the second year in a row. The festival is a Toronto-based event that has been taking place annually since 1993, and is considered one of the largest documentary festivals in North America. 

The award was announced last Friday, May 7, and came with a $3,000 cash prize. The film has since qualified for the 2022 Oscar run.

The 19-minute documentary takes place in November 2019 in Tunis where a group of women, including El Abed’s grandmother, gather in Saïda’s hairdressing salon on the eve of the presidential elections. Throughout the film, the women exchange their political points of views and express their hopes and concerns about their position in the newborn democratic regime. 

El Abed was inspired by the salon she used to frequent with her grandmother in her childhood, since she found it a purely feminine space where women could talk freely about any topic. Because of the political situation, the conversations reflected the political debate in Tunisia about the rise of the conservative movement “Ennahda” and its effect on women's political and legal positions.

“I got to see that political coming of age unfolding before my eyes and wanted to share that with the world.” — Sarra El Abed

“I knew that the conversations would be far more interesting than we could imagine. They also got way more political because of the situation of the country,” said El Abed “I got to see that political coming of age unfolding before my eyes and wanted to share that with the world.”

Born in Tunisia and now based in Montreal, El Abed is a director who believes that Canadian diversity should be reflected by telling stories about all the different cultures Canadians are surrounded by.

“I think it’s great to show the different nuances of these cultures, especially the Arab ones. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes,” said El Abed. “ I feel the need to show that there are far more interesting and rich things to learn about them than what is sometimes depicted in traditional media.” 

This point of view is shared by the distribution company, Travelling, who launched "Ain't No Time for Women" on Vimeo with English subtitles. 

“It does open the Canadian audience to other realities in the world, and locally as well,” said Tam Dan Vu, head of communications at Travelling Distribution. “I think that it is very interesting not only for the Canadian audience, but that it's also something that works abroad a lot in festivals.” 

Sarra El Abed’s “Ain’t No Time for Women” wins Best Canadian Short Documentary Award. Courtesy Sarra El Abed

“Ain't No Time for Women” is not the first film made by a Tunisian Montreal-based director Travelling has distributed; it is preceded by Meryam Joobeur’s fiction short film “Brotherhood,” which came out in 2018.

El Abed’s documentary, produced by Club Video and distributed by Travelling, was one of 20 Canadian short documentaries in the official selections at Hot Docs.  

“‘Ain't No Time for Women’ is hands down one of the strongest Canadian shorts in the program this year,” said Mariam Zaidi, associate programmer for Canadian films at Hot Docs. “It is a visually stunning film that really captures the liveliness and conversation so typical to spaces like these, where women know each other and feel free to express themselves openly." 

According to Zaidi, the evaluation of the shorts is not easily made since there are few slots for powerful and authentic films. 

“The ones that made it really stood out in the minds of the programmers. ‘Ain’t No Time for Women’ was definitely one of those films,” she said.

The films are divided each year into different programs such as ‘Canadian Spectrum’, ‘World Showcase’, and ‘Persister’ the program in which “Ain't No Time for Women” was categorized in.

The film previously won three awards from RIDM, Longue Vue sur le Court, Filministes festivals in Montréal, and got an honorable mention for a short documentary from Slamdance Festival in Park City, Utah, United States.

“I highly recommend watching it!” said Zaidi.