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‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ stars say cinema move will help bring Saudi stories to world

Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al-Banawi are well-known for their roles in successful Saudi comedy Barakah Meets Barakah. (Courtesy: El-Housh Productions)
Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al-Banawi. (AN Photo)
Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al-Banawi. (AN Photo)
LONDON: Saudi film stars Hisham Fageeh and Fatima Al-Banawi said the arrival of cinema in the Kingdom will help open up society and “share our narrative’’ with the world.
The pair — who are well-known for their roles in successful Saudi comedy “Barakah Meets Barakah,” an Oscar submission for 2016’s Best Foreign Language Film — were speaking during a gathering at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, hosted by the Saudi British Society.
Set in Jeddah, the production was the first award-winning romantic comedy to come out of the Kingdom and became Saudi Arabia’s first film on Netflix.
Al-Banawi, who recently co-starred in the OSN series “Bashar,” emphasized the scope of cinema to “break stereotypes’’ by telling the stories of real people.
“We’re such a private society,” she said. “It’s important to share our narratives.’’
Fageeh, an actor and producer-director who made a name as a stand-up comedian on YouTube, said people in Saudi Arabia were hungry to tell their own stories.
He said many are interested in “taking back our narrative’’ and not having Western institutions dictate the direction of Saudi Arabia’s evolving film landscape, which he described as a “gorilla industry” at this stage.
“In Saudi Arabia, if you want somebody who’s a lighting guy, you get an electrician. You want an actor, you go ask somebody who’s got liberal parents,” he said.
“The more sophisticated our art will be, the more sophisticated the viewer can become.”
Opening the discussion, Alistair Burt, the UK minister for international development and the Middle East, described Saudi Arabia’s recent move to lift the ban on cinemas as “another exciting development in the Kingdom.’’
Praising the success of “Barakah Meets Barakah,” and confessing a preference for romantic comedies including “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” the minister said that such films “tell us something very special about a society.’’
“Changing perceptions of the Islamic world is important,” he added. “Anything that helps build our relationships is very welcome.”

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