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.”


KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

Updated 12 min 19 sec ago
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KSRelief signs agreements for relief to Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians

  • Al-Rabeeah: We have no hidden agenda in Syria and we work through international organizations

BEIRUT: The general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief), Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, signed on Wednesday seven agreements with Beirut and international and civil organizations operating in Lebanon to implement relief projects targeting Syrian and Palestinian refugees as well as the most affected host communities in Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who participated in the symposium at the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut to sign the agreements, praised the strong Saudi-Lebanese relations, which have existed for decades, and stressed Lebanon’s keenness to ensure their permanence and development.

He said: “The meetings Al-Rabeeah has held with different Lebanese political and religious authorities over the past two days during his visit to Lebanon, under the guidance of King Salman, indicate the Saudi leadership’s true desire to deepen the fraternal ties with the Lebanese, support Lebanon’s unity, independence, sovereignty and coexistence formula, and protect its existence from the repercussions of all the fires, crises and interventions that plague many countries.”

During the symposium, which was attended by a large group of political, religious and social figures, Al-Rabeeah called on the international donor community to shoulder more responsibility.

Addressing the implementing bodies, he said: “It is time to reconsider your working mechanisms in order to develop them and improve procedures to avoid negative impacts.”

“What I mean by reconsidering working processes is that there is a need to work professionally and skillfully because there are not many resources, and we must eliminate bureaucracy and speedily make the most of resources,” Al-Rabeeah told Arab News.

He stressed the importance of developing a close partnership between the donor and the implementer of projects, highlighting that KSRelief’s work is subject to international and regional oversight mechanisms as well as its own internal control mechanisms.

“We have two strategic partners, and when agreements are signed with the recipients of assistance, this means accepting oversight terms,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah said: “Saudi Arabia supports the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and so is the case for Yemen.”

“Saudi Arabia has supported peaceful dialogues, which restore security and stability,” he said. “In order for this to happen in Syria, we support the efforts of the United Nations and implement (as KSRelief) relief programs inside Syria. We also have major programs and we count on the UN to ensure a safe return for Syrian refugees.”

On the Syrian regions in which KSRelief is implementing its programs and the difficulties faced, Al-Rabeeah told Arab News: “We have nothing to do with military or religious matters, and wherever there is security, we work. We also work through the UN and the international organizations inside Syria, and we do not have any hidden agenda in this field.”

He stressed that “participating in rebuilding Syria requires security and stability, and the Saudi leadership hopes for a peaceful solution as soon as possible. Until this is achieved, the relief work will continue and won’t cease.”

Al-Rabeeah announced that KSRelief is implementing a quality program to rehabilitate recruited children in Yemen alongside its education, protection, health and environment projects.

“There are those who recruit children to fight in Yemen, violating all humanitarian laws. Our center rehabilitates them so that they are not used as terrorist tools in the future,” he said.

Al-Rabeeah emphasized that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 has given relief work its share, especially in terms of volunteering programs. “We have great examples involved in the field,” he said.

Among the signed agreements was one with the Lebanese High Relief Commission (HRC) to carry out a project to cover the food needs of Lebanese families.

Chairman of Lebanon’s High Relief Commission Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair told Arab News that the agreement targets distributing 10,000 food rations to orphans, widows and destitute families in the poorest and most disadvantaged areas in Lebanon. “This project is encouraging and gives hope to people,” he said.

Khair said that there are 100,000 people in need in Bab Al-Tabbaneh district alone, pledging to commit to transparency during the implementation of the project. “It is not a question of sectarian balance; we are focused on those who are most in need,” he said.

The signed agreements include one for repairing, equipping, and operating the Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz Center for Dialysis at the Makassed General Hospital, an agreement with the UNHCR worth $5 million to implement a project for assisting the most affected Syrian families for six months, an agreement to support Souboul Assalam Association in Akkar (northern Lebanon), an agreement with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to implement a project worth $3.8 million to cover the needs of Syrian families that are below the poverty line for a year, and an agreement with UNRWA to cover the medical needs and treatment of cancer and multiple sclerosis in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl said: “The challenge facing UNRWA after the reduction of its budget is maintaining the operation of its 715 schools in the Middle East.”

“Saudi Arabia is a key partner for us, and owing to its help, we will be able to help cancer and multiple sclerosis patients,” he said.