Saudi film industry has growth potential: Top UK director

Director Jonas Grimas during a two-day workshop in Riyadh. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 October 2018
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Saudi film industry has growth potential: Top UK director

  • Grimas won a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for his graduation short film “Artisten” in 1988
  • Recently the Saudi Film Council (SFC) was established to promote and support the industry

RIYADH: The Saudi film industry has much potential for growth, although the formation of an academy or film school is essential to move forward, Swedish film and television director Jonas Grimas said in a public talk in Riyadh recently.

Grimas was speaking at the Faisaliyah Hotel last month when the British Council, in partnership with the General Culture Authority, represented by the Saudi Film Council, held a workshop there.

In an interview with Arab News, Grimas spoke about his background as a successful filmmaker and about the future of filmmaking in the Kingdom, along with his insights about the country during his visit.

Grimas was born in Uppsala, Sweden and studied at the Dramatiska Institute Film School in Stockholm and the Royal College of Art in London. His passion for filmmaking grew out of his work in theater. “It was a natural way of taking story-telling a step further and making it accessible to a larger audience and timeless,” he said.

After graduating, Grimas moved to London where he went on to direct movies, documentaries and short films; he also worked on British crime dramas as well as a string of Swedish productions.

Grimas won a British Academy Award (BAFTA) for his graduation short film “Artisten” in 1988, which he admits was his proudest achievement. “I am proud of everything I made. Getting something done is an achievement in itself. But if I were to single out one film it would be my graduation film for a number of reasons: It won a BAFTA and a string of other international awards, and it is still being screened internationally 30 years later. But first and foremost, because it was made by a large group of friends whose passion and commitment not just made it possible, but made it what it is.”

In 2011, the Stockholm Culture Foundation also named Grimas Cultural Personality of the Year. He believes that his success, and that of any movie, is due to passion and hard work. “Talent is just a starting point, after that it takes hard work and commitment.” He added: “You also need to recognize a good story — which is always a simple one. Finally you need luck — being in the right place at the right time and meeting the right people that share your ideas.” 

Grimas decided to hold the workshop, titled “The Art of Filmmaking” as well as a public talk on “The Art of Directing,” because he believes that it is the responsibility of any artist to share and pass down knowledge and experience to the next generation. “The language/grammar of film is an international language. I take great pleasure in teaching, and the chance to do so on an international level is very attractive.” The impressions and feedback received from the workshop were positive and Grimas described the participants as “passionate with a great eagerness to learn.”

When asked for his thoughts on the future of filmmaking in the country, Grimas said that, given the resources, Saudi Arabia has the potential to move forward in this new and growing industry. “I recently saw the Saudi film “Wadjda” and was very impressed; a simple story well told is the hallmark of any good film.” He does, however, believe that the country will face challenges, one being the need for training: “Since there isn’t an indigenous industry, the necessary knowledge has to come from education.”

But he also believes that the country is heading in the right direction by taking the first steps toward change. Recently the Saudi Film Council (SFC) was established to promote and support the industry. Some members of the council receive training abroad and can ultimately share this knowledge with others. However, Grimas also believes firmly that forming an academy or film school would be essential for progression.

“In the end, the only way of learning how to make films is to make films and make mistakes during the process. I learned everything I know from making mistakes, something that a film school is there for and allows you to do.”

In addition, the SFC has announced that it will launch the biggest location library for film shooting in the Middle East, which Grimas said is an important achievement. “Finding a location is often a time-consuming and difficult task, and without them you can’t make a film. Any initiative to simplify this process is wonderful and will be welcomed by everyone in the industry,” he said.

Grimas added: “The experience I had during my short visit to the Kingdom created a desire to learn more about Saudi culture.” He also expressed that given a good story, he could see himself telling Saudi stories in the future.

He advised Saudis eager to venture into this new field: “You need three things: Passion, determination and grit. No one is ever going to ask you to make a film, so you need to go out — with your friends — and start making them. It’s not about the technology; it’s about having a story to tell. Today with the help of smartphones and laptops, this is possible for anyone.”


MiSK, Qiddiya team up for internship program 

Updated 25 March 2019
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MiSK, Qiddiya team up for internship program 

  • Interns will work on entertainment mega-project
  • Program open to university seniors and new graduates

RIYADH: A new internship program for young Saudis has been launched in the Kingdom, following a partnership between Misk Foundation and the Qiddiya Investment Company (QIC).

The program runs from June 16 to Aug. 31, 2019, and provides an opportunity for university seniors and recent graduates to be part of Qiddiya, an entertainment mega-project located 40 minutes from Riyadh.

Interns will have the chance to work at Qiddiya’s corporate offices alongside professionals from around the world and will be placed across 12 departments.

They will learn and develop skills that are required to succeed in their professional lives.

They will also gain exposure to QIC’s culture and learn from executives with over 20 years of experience across several sectors. 

QIC CEO Mike Reininger said: “We are contributing directly to the Saudi Vision (2030 reform plan) by creating a richer lifestyle for Saudi citizens while spurring innovation in the creative, hospitality and entertainment sectors. This unique opportunity allows students and fresh graduates to experience what it takes to be part of the change in Saudi by giving them the chance to work alongside a group of both local and international seasoned professionals. Thanks to this partnership with MiSK, we will be training the next generation of industry leaders.” 

Application to the program is open for those with fewer than two years of professional experience. Candidates must show strong academic credentials and submit a short video as part of their application.

King Salman led the Qiddiya ground-breaking ceremony in front of a global audience last April.

The project is aimed at helping to stem the $30 billion a year which Saudis currently spend abroad on tourism, and has the backing of the Kingdom’s Public Investment Fund.

It targets local, regional and international tourists and will be Saudi Arabia’s preeminent entertainment, sports and cultural destination.

It is expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city by 2030, with a total area of 334 square kilometers, surpassing Walt Disney World in Florida, which is only 110 sq. km.