Saudi film fest head says cinema needs state funding

The head of the main film festival in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed AlMulla, poses for a picture on March 13, 2017 ahead of the fourth Saudi Film Festival, which runs from March 23-28 in the Gulf coastal city of Dhahran. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2017

Saudi film fest head says cinema needs state funding

RIYADH: The head of the main film festival in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas are banned, wants the government to invest in the sector as part of its campaign to encourage entertainment.
Ahmed AlMulla made the comments in an interview with AFP ahead of the fourth Saudi Film Festival, which runs from March 23-28 in the Gulf coastal city of Dhahran.
This year’s festival is the first since the kingdom late last year began a cautious push to introduce entertainment, despite opposition from conservative groups.
Among the events on offer for Saudi spectators have been the New York theatrical group iLuminate, the Comic-Con pop culture festival, and WWE wrestling.
“It’s nice to see all kinds of events here and people coming from outside,” AlMulla said.
But local talent needs to be trained, with support from the government, he said in a telephone interview.
“I think they must” fund it, he said, “because this is investment, the real investment.”
Among directors of the 59 Saudi films to be screened at this year’s festival are some who trained overseas, he said.
Saudi Arabia has created a government agency to support private firms organizing entertainment events, under a wideranging “Vision 2030” plan for economic and social reform.
The plan also calls for development of an arts and media industry, but with public theaters and cinemas banned, the sector is starting from a low base.
“We are waiting for the change, really. We want to create it from inside, not hosting events only,” AlMulla said.
“We have lots of talent working underground and nobody knows about them.”
Despite the annual film festival, Saudi Arabia lacks a film industry although female students can study filmmaking at a women’s university in Jeddah.
Saudi films have also won international recognition.
The romantic comedy “Barakah Meets Barakah” by Mahmoud Sabbagh was screened at last year’s Berlinale, and in 2013 Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda” became the first Saudi film listed as a candidate for a foreign-language Oscar.
Saudis are voracious consumers of online videos and rank among the world’s top viewers of YouTube.
Private film screenings are also held in the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric warned in January of the “depravity” of cinemas and music concerts.
This is the third consecutive annual film festival after it resumed in 2015 following an absence of seven years.
The event is organized by Dammam’s Society of Culture and Arts, and last year went ahead with permission from the local government.
AlMulla says this year’s festival will be bigger than ever, even though he laughs off a question about how it will be financed.
“We’ll arrange for that,” he says, adding that some sponsors have been found.
The festival moves this year from cramped quarters at the arts society to larger grounds near a new cultural center run by Saudi state oil giant Aramco.
The indoor and outdoor screening areas can hold almost 2,000 people.
Aside from the new venue, this year’s festival will feature a “production market” where filmmakers can meet with local production houses “to make deals,” AlMulla said.
The festival is also increasing its public education effort.
Students will be brought in to watch children’s films, local and international experts will hold panel discussions, and the festival is to issue a book on late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.
The number of films and scripts vying for competition has increased but fewer applicants were accepted for screening in an effort to raise quality, AlMulla said.
The festival opens with a drama that resonates as the kingdom’s efforts to expand entertainment face resistance from conservatives.
“Wasati” directed by Ali Alkalthami is based on the true story of extremists trying to disrupt a play at a university theater in Riyadh 10 years ago.


Organizers promise ‘exceptional’ Saudi National Day celebrations

Updated 29 min 8 sec ago

Organizers promise ‘exceptional’ Saudi National Day celebrations

  • We are keen to have the largest international events to create an exceptional season, says GEA CEO Amr Banaja

RIYADH: Fireworks, concerts, festivals and international performances will be among the highlights of the 89th Saudi National Day celebrations this year.

The General Entertainment Authority (GEA) has announced a season of record-breaking events for the annual celebration.

At a press conference in Riyadh on Sunday, GEA CEO Amr Banaja said that Saudi citizens and residents can enjoy a number of entertainment activities planned across 13 regions of the Kingdom as part of the National Day season being supervised by the GEA from Sept. 19 to 23.

“The GEA is proud to oversee the Saudi National Day Season activities by launching a unified identity that brings together the society under “Himma Hatta El-Qimmah,” Banaja said, inspired by the words of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: “The Saudis’ strength is like that of the Tuwaiq mountain.”

The GEA was proud to be overseeing the occasion, Banaja said. “We are keen to have the largest international events to create an exceptional season befitting this dear country,” he said.

“This year fireworks celebrations will continue for several days where more than 700,000 shots will be fired at an altitude of up to 300 meters, accompanied by music,” he said.

Celebrations will be held in all regions during the season, and visitors will be able to enjoy a range of activities that reflected the unity of the nation and the cohesion of the people and leadership.

“Distinctive international shows designed especially for the National Day will be held in Riyadh from Sept. 21-23,” he said.

Fireworks will light up Jeddah over Al-Hamra Corniche accompanied by sound and light effects and laser shows.

At the five-day Dhahran Exhibition in Dammam starting on Sept. 19, the world’s largest theatrical producer “Cirque du Soleil” will present a specially designed show for Saudi National Day.

Forty artists will present 14 shows of acrobatics, sports, music, and dance. Eight concerts will also be held in a number of regions where, besides international stars, Saudi and Gulf artists will present patriotic songs.

The concerts will begin on the first day of the season on Sept. 19 at Al-Jouf University Stadium in Sakaka with performances by Khaled Abdulrahman and Nabil Shuail.

The next day, a concert will be held at King Khalid Sport City in Tabuk staged by artists Abdullah Al-Rowaished and Aseel Abu Bakr.

On Sept. 21, Majid Al-Mohandes and Dalia Mubarak will perform at Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Musaed Stadium in Hail.

On Sept. 22, two concerts will be performed at King Abdullah Sports City in Buraidah by artists Rashid Al-Majid and Balqees Fathi; the second at Prince Sultan Cultural Center in Jazan by “The Artist of Arabs” Mohammed Abdo and Turki.

On Saudi National Day (Sept. 23), three concerts will be held in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Thousands will gather at King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh to listen to singers Hussein Al-Jasmi and Abadi Al-Jawhar.

In Jeddah, Rabeh Saqr and the artist Waad will perform at King Abdullah Sports City, while in Dammam, and in the Green Halls in Riyadh, Kuwaiti singer Nawal and the artist Ayed will entertain the audience.

Five forums will take place in five cities, where a number of speakers will present inspirational events.

Forums will be held in Madinah and Tabuk on Sept. 19, while in Abha and Buraidah the forum will be held on Sept. 21 and in Hail on Sept. 23.

Banaja said that the GEA had created 150 smartphone apps for the National Day celebrations with 40,000 downloaded so far.

He thanked the security authorities for their efforts to make the season a success, and all government, private and nonprofit sectors for their contribution.

The programs were mostly free, he said, though there were some concerts for which tickets could be purchased online.

There will also be a major aero show in Riyadh, Jeddah and the Eastern Province, and a Saudi falcon show will be organized in Riyadh, Jeddah and Alkhobar.