Arab anime hero gives more animated view of Saudi culture

Updated 12 November 2016

Arab anime hero gives more animated view of Saudi culture

JEDDAH: The desert plains of Saudi Arabia and the colorful, all-action "anime" pop culture of Japan seem like they are worlds apart.
But that’s not the case with Desert Knight — the star of a new, wildly popular video trailer that manages to fuse these two seemingly disparate cultures.
The character was devised by a Jeddah-based media company, along with its Japanese partner, with the aim of both entertaining global audiences and giving a broader insight into the Arab world.
The three-minute trailer — set in ancient times in the Arabian desert — gives a brief introduction into "Desert Knight", telling the tale of a boy whose town is ransacked by bandits and his family killed.
Filmed in the Japanese anime style, the film shows how the boy steps up to challenge the tyranny of the bandits – promoting qualities of peace, teamwork and family.
The trailer was made by the Jeddah-based ARINAT — part of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG), which also publishes Arab News — along with Japan-based GAINAX studio.
News of the Desert Knight promo has been carried in more than 100 news outlets in 14 countries, including the US, Japan and China. The YouTube video has received 80,000 views, with 300,000 visitors to the Facebook page, ARINAT says.
This is all good news given one of the wider aims of the Desert Knight promo, the media company says.
“I believe animation is a great tool to introduce Saudi Arabia to the world, and to the global audiences,” Essam Bukhary, executive manager of ARINAT, told Arab News.
Bukhary was speaking from ARINAT's office in Jeddah, where a team of artists was busy at work on its animated productions. The media company specializes in animation, video games and comics, and is also working on 3D-style productions similar in style to those made by Disney or Pixar.
The Desert Knight video is subtitled in Japanese — a language in which Bukhary is fluent thanks to his 19 years spent in the East Asian country, most recently as Saudi Cultural Attaché to Japan.
Given that, Bukhary is already well versed in bridging the Saudi and Japanese cultures — something he is continuing with Desert Knight.
“What we are trying to do is to deliver a new message about Saudi Arabia to the world, to global audiences, in innovative ways,” he said.
“We hope that we will not only transmit knowledge of animations and video games from Japan to Saudi Arabia but also deliver something new from Saudi Arabia to the world.”
Bukhary said there is strong demand for Japanese-style animation in the Arab world. Popular characters from Japanese series like Grendizer and Captain Tsubasa are already popular in the region, he said.
“There is a big need for Arab animation in the region — there is a market there,” Bukhary said. “They love Japan because of those heroes, who came from the animation.
“What we are trying to do is to create Saudi heroes, to create Arab heroes that might be (good) for children, for young generations, to learn from them how to be honest… how to serve your country, your community.”
Amr Almaddah, the chief operating officer at ARINAT, said that the project aims to help change perceptions of Saudi Arabia internationally.
“One of the misconceptions in the world is that… they only have one image about Saudi Arabia, (that the people here have only) one way of dressing,” said Almaddah.
“So the main idea of our project is that we can visualize Saudis in different environments, in different settings… So people will be able to understand Saudis better, can sympathize with their causes and ideas more.”
Decisions over the future of the Desert Knight — and whether it may eventually become a movie or TV series — are yet to be made, and depend partly on the audience reaction to the trailer.
But Bukhary said ARINAT's Japanese partners are “are keen to do it”, and that it has attracted offers from Japanese investment firms.
If the project is carried forward it would, of course, be a continuation of the rich history of storytelling from the region.
“Remember that the Arab world is the origin of the Arabian Nights,” Bukhary said. “So why don’t we do it again?”


Arab films set for Red Sea Film Festival screening

Updated 24 February 2020

Arab films set for Red Sea Film Festival screening

  • MBC Group to support young film makers with training from industry professionals

LONDON: Young Arab film makers will have the opportunity to have their work showcased at next month’s Red Sea International Film Festival as investment in Saudi cinema gathers pace.

The Red Sea International Film Festival has announced a partnership with MBC Group, which will also broadcast the event’s opening ceremony on March 12.

As part of the deal, MBC Al Amal, MBC’s corporate social responsibility arm, will hold a Shorts pitch competition.

Ten short film projects will be selected from Saudi Arabia and the MENA region, with filmmakers being given a one-day workshop to prepare for a pitching session. 

Italian director and producer Stefano Tealdi will train the candidates to strengthen their skills and give them tips for better pitches, MBC said.

“We strongly believe that this new generation of talent is key in influencing change and creating the difference to the region’s media and entertainment content landscape, which of course includes independent film and mainstream cinema,” said Peter Smith, managing director of MBC Studios.

The region’s biggest broadcaster will also host talent days on March 17 and 18 to support Saudi scriptwriters, directors and producers.

The inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival takes place March 12-21 in Jeddah Old Town, under the theme “Changing the Script.” It aims to support and help grow Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry which is attracting a slew of investment from homegrown dramas shot in the Kingdom to the construction of cinemas countrywide.

Real estate broker CBRE estimates that 45 new cinemas are expected to open this year.

The boom in cinema construction coincides with a push to develop the domestic Saudi film industry.

That is being driven by both the big and small screen as video-on-demand players that include MBC, Netflix and Amazon compete to deliver content that speaks to a young Arab audience.