Saudi film to premiere in Vox cinemas for first time

‘Roll’em, a film by an all-Saudi crew, is being shot in Jeddah. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Saudi film to premiere in Vox cinemas for first time

  • The forecast was based on a projected 2030 population of 39.5 million, and 6.6 screens per 100,000 people
  • Cinemas were banned in the country for decades until the first one opened last April in Riyadh

JEDDAH: A Saudi film to the core, “Roll’em” was developed, written and produced over three years with an all-Saudi crew, from the actors to the sound director.
Vox cinema will have a private screening on Wednesday and a public one on Thursday. “Roll’em” is directed and produced by Abdulelah Al-Qurashi and co-produced by Abdulrahman Khoja.
The film follows the story of Saudi filmmaker Omar Nizar who, while on a journey to discover Jeddah, realizes that he does not know his beloved city as well as he thought he did.
He meets a retired cinematographer whose glory days were in the 1970s as he divided his time between France and Cairo.
Screenwriter Yasser Hammad said “Roll’em” is a co-production with Saudi film production company Cinepoetics, owned by Khoja.
“It’s a Jeddawi film to the core. The post-production was in Egypt. The areas where we don’t have expertise in we had to outsource, but everything that had to do with the creative work is purely Saudi,” Hammad told Arab News.
“The idea (for the characters) came up from a joke actually. I was pretending to be an old cinematographer and using Hejazi words and the accent. It inspired me to create a character,” he said.
“We had our inspiration from actual film directors from the 1970s in Saudi Arabia that no one knows about. They tried to pursue the same dreams we had, but failed because of their circumstances,” he added.
“The idea is someone has a dream and wants to achieve it, but the circumstances aren’t allowing him to. The difference between the two generations makes the difference. Why can we make films today, and why couldn’t we make them back then?”
Hammad said having the film screened in Jeddah “is like a dream come true,” adding: “Without this city, I wouldn’t be able to create art.”
Naif Al-Daferi, who plays Mohannad in the film, told Arab News: “The audience will see a different image of Jeddah … To add to that, the story talks about someone who’s struggling in the field of filmmaking in capturing Jeddah.”
He said: “There’s entertainment value, the characters are diverse and the cast is incredible.” Al-Qurashi “is a true filmmaker,” Al-Daferi added.
Jeddah’s first cinema opened its doors to the public in January, and an industry expert said he expected up to 35 million people in the Kingdom to go to the movies every year.
Cinemas were banned in the country for decades until the first one opened last April in Riyadh.
Cameron Mitchell, CEO of the regional cinema chain Majid Al Futtaim, said Saudi Arabia had the capacity for high audience numbers. He was speaking at the opening ceremony for Vox Cinemas in Jeddah‘s Red Sea Mall.
“If you look at Dubai we have some 15 million customers there per annum. On the short-term goal in Saudi Arabia we are expecting the market to reach about 30 million customers,” he said.
Research from PwC Middle East in November estimated that total cinema revenue in Saudi Arabia would reach $1.5 billion by 2030. The forecast was based on a projected 2030 population of 39.5 million, and 6.6 screens per 100,000 people.
Last year, Vox Cinemas said it would be investing $533 million to open 600 theaters in the next five years.
“Some 95 percent of our employees here are from Saudi Arabia,” Mitchell said.
“We expect the cinemas in the Red Sea Mall to be showing a mix of films, probably about 300 films per year with at least six new movies every single week. It will take a while for us to have enough cinemas for everyone to get to go to the cinema whenever they want to.
“In my opinion, the cinema is a good place for families to spend time together in a social environment, especially in hot summer days, when outdoor activities are limited.”
There will be cinemas in Tabuk by the end of this year or by early 2020 and the Saudi government has been very helpful, he said, adding: “We got the license last April and we were keen to do the required steps and follow the regulations, and that went smoothly.”


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”