Rewriting the script: Effat students win star role in Saudi film industry

The chairman of Effat University's Visual and Digital Production Department, Dr. Mohammed Ghazala, with a group of students. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 06 May 2018

Rewriting the script: Effat students win star role in Saudi film industry

  • The Kingdom hopes to open at least 300 cinemas and develop a solid film industry by 2030.
  • Ghazala said the department was the first in Saudi Arabia to offer cinematic arts studies.

JEDDAH: Effat University will play a leading role in building the filmmaking industry in Saudi Arabia, said Dr. Mohammed Ghazala, the university’s Visual and Digital Production Department chairman. 

The department was established in 2013, when cinemas were still banned in the Kingdom. It offers courses in production, screenwriting, animation and interactive media. The first students graduated last year. 

Effat University’s President Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail told Arab News the department was established to interact with the global and regional community mainly through social media. 

“Social media received a lot of attention with the rise of Arab Spring, and since then Arabs have had a growing presence on social media channels,” Ghazala said.

“Arab countries accepted social media platforms as an influencing factor in the lives of people, and now social media plays a critical role in Arab countries.” 

Ghazala said the department was the first in Saudi Arabia to offer cinematic arts studies.

“Our instructors come from different areas of the world, such as the US, Korea, Malaysia, Jordan, and Egypt,” he said.

“With tremendous efforts, we were able to make a new method and style to deal with cinematic products, and allow students to express their dreams, hopes, challenges, fears and thoughts via film.” 

Princess Lulwah Al-Faisal, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and general supervisor of Effat University, and Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, made an academic visit to USC School of Cinematic Arts at the University of the West, in western California, in 2012, where they saw the importance of having a visual and digital production department. 

They signed an agreement with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and worked with the Saudi Ministry of higher education to introduce the program at Effat University in September 2013. 

“During the past five years, we have developed the curricula with massive assistance and academic support from USC, one of the best film schools in the world. New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts has been annually reviewing the department’s curricula since 2016,” Ghazala said.

“We have faced a lot of new challenges for a university, students and staff in the Kingdom.”

“We had a new curricula that needed to be developed when there were no cinemas, no professionals (particularly female professionals), and no academic schools in this particular field,” he said.

More than 75 percent of the department’s graduates are working in areas such as local television, while other students had begun startups.

The department made a number of strategic partnerships to support students. 

“Our strategic partnership with the General Authority for Audiovisual Media helped us to find actors and actresses. We also will have an agreement to allow our students to do their internship in the largest media production city in the region, in Cairo.”

The department will take part in the Cannes Film Festival in mid-May at the invitation of Saudi Film Council, sending the first-ever Saudi official delegation, Ghazalah said.

The Kingdom hopes to open at least 300 cinemas and develop a solid film industry by 2030. This will create 30,000 jobs and add value to the economy.

“The production of digital and visual media is an attractive area for Saudis, especially in light of the positive developments witnessed by the Kingdom with the launch of Vision 2030,” said Jamal Al-Lail.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 20 July 2019

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.