US film diplomacy program lends support to Saudi Arabian movie industry

Renowned American writer and director Anu Valia (R) with Niko Ruokosuo, general manager of Nebras Films, conducting film competitions in Riyadh. (AN photo)
Updated 19 March 2018

US film diplomacy program lends support to Saudi Arabian movie industry

RIYADH: The US Embassy and the American Film Showcase, which brings award-winning contemporary American documentaries, movies and know-how to audiences and filmmakers around the world, have teamed up with Riyadh-based Nebras Films to hold workshops, screenwriters’ pitch competitions, and group discussions on the Saudi film industry.
Anu Valia, a writer, director, producer, and actor who has created and appeared in videos for MTV, IFC, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Adult Swim, CollegeHumor, Above Average, and Vox Media, was the anchor of the event in Riyadh as an ambassador of the American Film Showcase. Valia, who arrived in the Kingdom early this month, has spent 10 days in Jeddah and Riyadh conducting film workshops, discussions, and attending film screenings.
She will also hold group discussions, and attend film screenings during her stay in the eastern city of Dhahran from March 18 to 22. The screenwriter’s pitch competition was conducted in the premises of Nebras Films in Riyadh on Saturday. A tour of Nebras Films facility for Valia and for the US embassy officials was conducted by Niko Ruokosuo, general manager of Nebras, who also welcomed the guests and led the event with US embassy officials.
Valia expressed her joy over her interaction with Saudi filmmakers in the Kingdom and said: “I have met wonderful artists, film-makers and storytellers in the Kingdom, and I am really excited. This is my first visit to the Middle East, and I have seen that there is so much excitement and love for movies.” Valia added that she looks forward to world-class infrastructure and the release of films in cinemas in Saudi Arabia.
“It seems it is happening quickly with local film crews here,” said Valia, adding that she has met some Saudi directors and actors. “There is always a good range of stories from any particular place. No one story speaks for the entire nation,” she said, referring to the diverse range of film stories from Saudi Arabia. “I can feel the energy, the real energy and the excitement among filmmakers here in the Kingdom.”
During her stay in Jeddah and Riyadh, Valia held workshops on the craft of making movies, including storytelling structure, clips from films, breakdowns on writing characters, and directing scenes and actors. She also sat down with Saudi filmmakers to watch their films and discuss the techniques and themes used in their work. She is excited to help build upon the US-Saudi filmmaking collaboration and develop a stronger network between filmmakers in the two countries.
Valia had her most recent short film, “Lucia, Before and After,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize for US Fiction. The American Film Showcase, funded by a grant from the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, highlights the value of film in fostering understanding and cooperation, dialogue and debate.

First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

Updated 27 June 2019

First charity art auction in Saudi Arabia hits SR4.8 million in sales

  • The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah
  • Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetched SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction

JEDDAH: Art for Al Balad, the first charity auction of contemporary art in the Kingdom, achieved sales of SR 4.8 million ($1.3 million) on Wednesday.

The event, which featured 43 works by Saudi and Arab artists, all of which sold, was held at historic Nassif House in Al-Balad, Jeddah, on Wednesday. It was organized by the Ministry of Culture in cooperation with auction house Christie’s.

“It was much above our expectations; we are very happy,” said Michael Jeha, chairman of Christie's Middle East.

About 200 Saudi art collectors joined artists and other members of the Saudi and international cultural communities at the event. Bidding was highly competitive, with “Tawaf around the Kaaba 2,” a painting by Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Shalty, fetching SR 650,000, the highest price paid for any single work in the auction.


• Nassif House was built in 1872. Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, was received at this house upon his entry to the city in 1925.

• The Saudi government is keen to restore and preserve buildings with historic and cultural significance, and carries out regular renovation work.

• Al-Balad, or Jeddah historic district, is one of five UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kingdom. It contains about 600 buildings that date back to the 19th century.


“Where to” by Prince Badr bin Abdulmohsen was the second-most expensive work, selling for SR 500,000, while “Witness in the Desert” by Abdullah Al-Sahikh attracted a winning bid of SR 380,000.

“It was extremely pleasing, very encouraging,” said Jeha. “The energy in the room was fantastic. The enthusiasm was very strong. I think for the very first auction, we can all be extremely pleased.”

Jeha described the growth of the art scene and culture in general in Saudi Arabia as very impressive, and said that the Ministry of Culture has developed a strong platform and program for the coming years, which will help to establish art and culture in the hearts and minds of people in the Kingdom.

The profits from the auction will help to establish a new heritage museum in Jeddah’s historic district and support The Help Center, a non-profit organization that provides customized support to children in the city with special educational needs.

The auction received donations and funding from galleries, cultural foundations, private collectors, and artists across the Arab World, the assistance of which was acknowledged by the Ministry of Culture.

“This would not be possible without the generous support of both the donors and the talented artists,” said Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, deputy minister of culture, in his opening speech.

The ministry aspires to create and develop a cultural environment in which artists and other creatives can access a platform that celebrates a shared identity and builds understanding between people.

Speaking of the Ministry’s three main objectives in its cultural vision for 2019, Fayez said that it aims to support the nation’s cultural transformation by promoting culture as a way of life, enable the sector to contribute to the economy, and encourage international cultural exchanges.

Before the auction, the works on sale were on display to the public in an exhibition on June 23 and 24.