Upcoming filmmakers, actors determined to build a Saudi film industry

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Yasser Hammad on set of one of his short films (images courtesy of Yasser Hammad)
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Nahar Alhamrani (center) on the set of his YouTube hit show ‘N8n8a.’ (images courtesy of Nahar Alhamrani)
Updated 13 December 2017

Upcoming filmmakers, actors determined to build a Saudi film industry

JEDDAH: Since the news about the reopening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia broke on Monday, directors, producers and actors are rejoicing and cannot contain their excitement on the new chapter the Kingdom is going through. It is no secret that there is a small, up-and-coming film industry in the Kingdom. It just has not seen the light of day on the domestic front.
Many participate on an international level, but now things are turning around and many are hopeful and enthusiastic about what is coming up next.
Sara Taibah, a young Saudi actress who played Zaina in Nada Mojadidi’s “Zaina’s Cake,” which recently won the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) best short film award at Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF), was excited with Monday’s news.
“This is our time now. The announcement is going to open doors for all potential actors and actresses that want to get into this field.”
“There’s a passion to it and I have had the privilege to experience it. Now others can too. Acting is another level of talent and there are so many talented Saudis here that want to show it,” she said.
As an actress, she said she would like directors and producers to make movies that are less intense and more toned down in the messages they convey.
“I hope that there’ll be more real social stories,” she said. “We all know of the major issues we have in the Kingdom, and I am not undermining them, but what about the real issues? How about going into people’s homes and telling the stories of us, to us, for us? That would be refreshing.”
Yasser Hammad, a writer and director and soon-to-be a graduate of the prestigious NY Film Academy in Los Angeles, said his dream is finally coming true.
“I’ve been wanting this since I was a child. People would always discourage me and tell me to keep dreaming. Well, the dream has finally come true.
“With the introduction of cinemas, an industry will surely happen. I’ve worked so hard to achieve my dream and my goal is to come back and throw myself into the game as soon as I can and be a part of the movement. I want people to view our films on the big screen and see how much we can give and appreciate the message we’re relaying on screen. Nothing is impossible now.”
He said with the growth of the industry, Saudi filmmakers would surely learn from the experiences of their neighbors like from their Egyptian counterparts.
He understands that it is going to be new and is still in its initial phases but the information is out there to organize and generate a system to make it easy for film casters, creative producers, cinematographers, etc. to do their job in the most efficient manner.
Nahar Alhamrani, creative director of “The Crew KSA Productions” and a major movie enthusiast, felt the news was a great milestone for the budding industry.
He told Arab News: “We don’t have the know-how of creating a full-fledged film but we’re learning along the way. It’s an experience for everyone taking part.
“Yesterday’s announcement was the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. I booked a ticket to Dubai this morning just to watch ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ that’s how dedicated I am... You could imagine how it’d be if we had cinemas in the Kingdom. People would flock to them and finally enjoy the experience.”
As a movie enthusiast, Alhamrani feels that cinemas bring people together, sharing one experience together, reacting to the same movie scene together. “You laugh, you cry and you show fear all together as a collective. That is an experience you can never have at home. The naysayers can complain all they want but they can never deny that they too watch movies on their TV screens, so why not give it a try on the big screen?”
It is also a fact that many, like Alhamrani, are giving it all they have got to produce the highest quality of work they can. As mentioned, they are still learning along the way, but it is something to look forward to in the future.


Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

Updated 18 August 2019

Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’ 

  • The Arabic word “jamarat" was inaccurately translated to “anthrax",  a dangerous infectious disease
  • Citing possible repercussions of the mistranslation, scholars want a probe to pinpoint responsibility

RIYADH: The Hajj and Umrah Ministry is investigating the inaccurate translation of the word “jamarat” into “anthrax,” which led to Sheikh Yusuf Estes making a video warning pilgrims of the mistake and its possible repercussions.

The translation concerned a bag that was a gift to pilgrims, containing small pebbles to use for the “stoning of the devil” upon their return from Muzdalifah. The bag had the correct original Arabic description, which roughly translates as “jamarat pebble bag,” whereas the English version of “jamarat” was translated into “anthrax,” a dangerous infectious disease.

According to SPA, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah was notified and opened an investigation with the contractor and translator on August 10, before handing them to authorities to take the necessary disciplinary action.

“Anthrax, where did they get that? They get it from Google, it’s not Google’s fault. Google allows people to tell the meaning of the different languages of words,” Sheikh Yusuf said in the video.

Google Translate, the free multilingual machine translator, relies on comparing large quantities of content between pairs of languages to establish patterns and, in most cases, determine the probability that certain words in one language will correspond with a set of words in another. 

Putting Google Translate to the test, Arab News used the platform to translate a name of a type of fish known in the region as “sha’oor” from Arabic to English. The scientific term for the fish is Lethrinus nebulosus, a type of emperor fish most commonly known as the green snapper or sand snapper.  

Google Translate’s translation was “thickness of feeling.”

Though it yields imperfect results, the service can be used at a pinch, though real human translators rather than artificial intelligence are far more likely to lead to more accurate translations.  

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Gisele Riachy, director of the Center for Languages and Translation at the Lebanese University in Beirut, explained how the mistranslation of “jamarat” could have happened.

“We have two possibilities, it was either translated by Google Translate or the translator was provided with a single sentence and therefore didn’t understand the meaning of “jamarat,” she said.

“The translator may have not taken into consideration the general context of the word, which has certain religious connotations, therefore it should have been borrowed, translated by the “Stoning of the Devil” or even left as it is.”

Dr. Riachy said that the word anthrax cannot be translated without an accompanying adjective for a better explanation of the term.

“What surprised me is that when translating the word “jamarat” from Arabic to English, the word should have been accompanied with the adjective “khabitha,” or malignant in Arabic, for it to be translated to “anthrax” in English. That is why I am confused and I do not think Google Translate would have translated it into “anthrax” if the Arabic version didn’t include the word “khabitha.”

Sheikh Yusuf Estes’ video was intended for those who would like to take the small bags home as a souvenir or gift, sending a message that the mistranslation could cause the traveler trouble with customs in their own countries.