Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues

The films include "Wasati," a short about an extremist attack on a Saudi theater. (Screengrab)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Netflix buys rights to six Saudi films tackling social issues

  • The short films will be released under the title 'Six Windows in the Desert'
  • The topics tackled include social taboos, extremism and the human psyche

RIYADH: Netflix is to stream six movies produced by Saudis after buying the rights from a startup studio based in the Kingdom.

The short films, to be released under the title “Six Windows in the Desert,” will be available later this month in 190 countries.

Made by Telfaz11 Studios, the flicks aim to “shine a light on thought-provoking subjects with a focus on social themes,” the global streaming service said on Wednesday.

Leading figures in the Kingdom’s movie industry hailed the agreement as “a great step for Saudi filmmaking” which would throw the international spotlight on the country’s emerging talent.

The topics tackled include social taboos, extremism and the human psyche.

One of the films, “Wasati,” has been based on the true story of an attack by extremists on a play in Riyadh in 2005, while another production, “27th of Shaban,” has placed its focus on two young Saudis going on a date.

“Not only will ‘Six Windows in the Desert’ offer global audiences a lens into the perspective of the Saudi creators, but also through the eyes of film characters with their own take on storytelling,” Netflix added.

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of content acquisition at Netflix, said the deal meant viewers would have “exclusive access to captivating and intriguing stories from the Arab world.”

Telfaz11 Studios’ chief executive officer, Alaa Fadan, said the company was immensely proud to have had the films brought onto Netflix.

“We are excited to bring the work of local Saudi talents to 167 million subscribers around the world. Telfaz11 Studios produces authentic and intriguing stories from our culture, and we cannot wait for the world to see what we have to offer,” he added.

Saudi screenwriter and co-founder of Hekaya Studios, Omar Ashmouni, told Arab News: “It is a great step for Saudi filmmaking. I honestly believe that we have a lot of stories that need to be told and a lot of stories that need a platform like Netflix to showcase our culture and how we view the world, because it’s unique. And I totally believe we have amazing stories to tell and that it’s the time for global filmmaking to rise and shine.

“I can’t wait to watch it and I can’t wait for more Saudi content to be on Netflix and more global platforms.

“Telfaz11 is a pioneer (in Saudi filmmaking). They’re doing amazing work and they’re paving the way for the rest of us to follow, which is great,” he added.

Saudi director and filmmaker Abdulelah Al-Qurashi described the deal as a huge opportunity for short films, “because we usually don’t see them. Short films are usually displayed at festivals.

“Aside from Netflix buying the Saudi films, there will be some spotlight for short films. We haven’t seen these short films and they were created around four years ago, and we’ve heard about these films a lot but never watched them.

“This is a great opportunity for regular viewers who don’t attend festivals; now they can watch these short films,” he said.

“We have so many talents, this isn’t new. Saudis just have more exposure now, not just in the field of filmmaking but in many fields regarding arts.

“Maybe we needed to work more and have more hope and see more opportunities opening up. Just like when cinemas opened, many people began making films. I see that there might be a sense of competitiveness among Saudi filmmakers in the near future,” Al-Qurashi added.

The Six Movies

- 27th of Shaban (2019): In the early 2000s, Mohammed and Nouf meet for a date; an act prohibited in Saudi Arabia. This film by Mohamed Al Salman shows how the date unfolds.



- Predicament in Sight (2016): A science-fiction short set in the 1970’s. Directed by Fairs Godus, survivors of a plane crash in an isolated desert area are forced to co-exist after multiple attempts to communicate with the outside world had failed.

- Wasati (2016): Based on the true story of extremists attacking a play called Wasati bela Wastiah (A Moderate without Moderation) in Riyadh 15 years ago, the film retells the events from a different point of view. Directed by Ali Kalthami, Wasati won Best Director and Best Foreign Film at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in 2017. Read an Arab News interview with Kalthami about the film here.



- The Rat (2018): Fahad spends the last day of his life with the fear of his father looming over his head. Like a rat on a wheel, Fahad scurries through cycles of fear characterized by different aspects of his father and tries to break free. Written and directed by Faisal Al Amer.

- Is Sumyati going to Hell? (2016): A film through the eyes of Layan, the youngest child of a family who employs housemaid Sumyati. Having to deal with the racism of her employers, Sumyati tries to survive. Directed by Meshal Al Jaser, the film won Foreign Short Film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards in 2017.



- Curtain (2018): A female nurse escaping traumatic events faces fear and judgement at her workplace. Directed by Mohamed Alsalman.

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.