CANNES: Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of Saudi Arabia’s General Culture Authority (GCA), gave an exclusive interview to Arab News about how projects will be selected, when production will begin and the GCA’s long-term goals.
What is the ultimate objective of Saudi Arabia’s movie plans?
“I think this is the beginning. We’re putting (in) the seeds for an industry, and we’re building an industry from the bottom up. We’re not doing what others have done, with a festival, we’re starting from the bottom. We’re doing training, we’re doing education, we’re working on infrastructure, we’re working on talent, production — all the elements of building an actual sustainable industry in Saudi Arabia.”
Have you drawn up filming guidelines?
“We’re developing the guidelines as we speak, but when we talk about international movies, (it’s) movies that can be, and make sense to be, shot in Saudi Arabia, that showcase what Saudi Arabia is about. Another element could be the script — whether it’s neutral or positive in its depiction. It is not mandatory, but it is a plus to have a positive depiction. We need to look into the script and see if it is really worth seeing, and worth investing in.”
Will your plans help to address international misconceptions about the Kingdom?
“Seeing is believing. We can’t just say that we are changing without showing that we are actually changing. Allowing women to drive is showing that we’re changing. Opening cinemas is showing that we’re changing. The fact that 54 percent of the employees in the GCA are women shows that we’re changing. The fact that in the GCA and Saudi Film Council we have equal pay between men and women shows that we’re working toward what many others are in terms of gender equality pay opportunities. This is already within the DNA that we’re developing. In time, they need to see it. They hear it first and don’t believe it. There’s so much baggage from the media over the last 30 to 40 years. I think, once they hear it, then they come again and they see it once or twice, it will become a reality.”
Is there a mandate to hire Saudi nationals as part of your planned incentives?
Having a mandate might have had a negative impact of turning off some institutes. It’s a fact that we don’t have a lot of talent. We are developing the talent as we speak. We will be filling some elements of the talent, but not the entire ecosystem. More and more talent will be built. I think rather than coming out as mandating, let’s put it the other way around and give an incentive whereby they will also (want to) look, because they have an incentive to save more money, so they will be looking to find that talent.
Also, it will create a layer of the industry: Saudis who create the talent and manage that talent, because they will be the connection between the international filmmakers who don’t know Saudi Arabia and Saudis who don’t have access to the international filmmakers.”