Love on Saudi Arabia’s silver screens

Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Yoqabil Barakah”
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Updated 13 February 2020

Love on Saudi Arabia’s silver screens

  • The genre, previously frowned upon, is going mainstream among Saudi directors, and audiences are embracing it

JEDDAH: The love story is a relatively new concept in Saudi movies, but filmmakers and actors are finding they are increasingly able to portray this aspect of life from the Kingdom’s perspective.

“Roll’em” was one of the first such Saudi films to appear in cinemas. It centers on an aspiring filmmaker who wants to showcase his city, Jeddah, and realizes how much it means to him when he meets an underrated cinematographer living in a country without cinema. 

The film is a love story between characters Lina Najjar, played by Sara Taibah and Omar Nizar, played by Khaled Yeslam.

The director of the film, Abdulelah Al-Qurashi, told Arab News that Saudi audiences were positive about the story, and the film received great reviews.

“I think it (the love story) worked out more than other scenes. There was a scene where Omar sees his ex-girlfriend by chance in the supermarket and his reaction grabs the attention of the audience. I felt that they were able to relate to this because I think this is the first time such a scene appears on screen, but is quite common in reality,” he said.




A film poster for “Roll’em,” by Abdulelah Al-Qurashi

The story of “Roll’em” is from one perspective — Omar’s. “When I’m talking about someone’s journey, how is there a journey without love? It’s a universal human trait. I felt that this was necessary to show,” Al-Qurashi said.

He previously played the father in the short film “Zaina’s Cake,” directed by Nada Al-Mojadidi.

Zaina, played by Sarah Taibah, is a young college graduate in Jeddah struggling to start a baking business without her father’s consent. She meets Ma’an, the delivery boy who helps her, and over time she realizes that her new life could force her to choose between her father and a young man.

“Zaina comes from a very strict lower-middle-class Saudi family,” Taibah said. “Her father is very strict and doesn’t want her to work in a mixed-gender environment. She falls in love with the delivery boy, and then her father finds out. It had a happy ending; he lets her pursue what she wants in the end. It was such a simple love story.”

“It was refreshing for most people because we’re not used to seeing ourselves in these love stories,” Al-Mojadidi explained. “We’re used to seeing them in Western films. It’s refreshing because everyone goes through their own story but you don’t get to share that story as our culture doesn’t really embrace it — it’s the same issue we have in our society, not just our cinema. It was refreshing to see people accept it. It’s such a typical Saudi story.”

“Roll’em” has a different type of love story that’s more modern and relevant nowadays — “a genuine love is seen in the film, guys and girls being friends — no one (in the audience) was attacking the idea,” Taibah said. “It’s a combination that everything is changing and that the love is very relatable and genuine. It’s not crossing the uncomfortable Saudi line.”

Taibah said Saudi audiences wanted to see such stories, as films offer a more genuine sense of emotion that many relate to on a deeper level. “People are hungry just to relate,” she said.

“As an artist, not only as a writer and actress, performer or illustrator, I always look for love, heartbreak and intimacy as themes for my work, so I make sure that comes across,” she added.

Taibah described the relationship between her character Lina in “Roll’em” and Khaled Yeslam’s character Omar as one that the audience could relate to.

“It is an open ending, we don’t know if they are still together or not. All we know is that she’s always going to be there for him. Even when the characters are going through difficult times and are kind of broken up, she shows up and helps him to make the screening of his film he’s been working on. It’s a relationship we know; we’ve either lived it or we know someone who did.”

“It’s that type of relationship that’s so doomed but always going because of the familiarization, companionship and acceptance than that flame in the beginning of a relationship,” she said. “You can sense the emotions of my characters; you see how these two were so in love, with glimpses of the good moments they had, but overall she’s exhausted, she feels like she’s becoming his mother not his lover.”

The role of cinema and any art is to touch on human nature, Al-Mojadidi said. “That’s the job of this art form. This is why it exists, it’s like a mirror that shows you everything. A mirror doesn’t show you just how good you look, it shows you how you look.”




“Zaina’s Cake,” by Nada Al-Mujadidi


Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

The growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, are some factors that help the authorities combat qat abuse. (SPA/Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2020

Turning a new leaf: Saudi Arabia’s Jazan region ditches qat crops for coffee trees

  • The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list

JAZAN: Efforts to draw the younger generation in the Kingdom’s Jazan region away from the harmful and addictive substance qat are succeeding, with even the crop being replaced by coffee trees to support the booming coffee business.
Qat, a plant that is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, is a stimulant that triggers excitement and alertness. But it can also cause anxiety, insomnia and aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions.
It grew in the Jazan region along with coffee trees. But the strength of the coffee industry, combined with an increased awareness about the harmful nature of qat, has led to its gradual disappearance.
The governor of Al-Dayer, Nayef bin Lebdah, said the people of Jazan were proud of the Khawlani coffee bean. He also said that coffee beans were much more economically beneficial than qat.
“All newly planted qat trees have been completely uprooted,” he told Arab News. “All the people have found that planting coffee beans is much more feasible and rewarding than qat. Attempts to smuggle qat have also dropped thanks to the security efforts along the border with Yemen. Add to that, young people themselves have concluded that their future will be in coffee beans.”
Teacher Yahiya Shareef Al-Maliki viewed qat as an “intruder’’ and said the coffee tree was the region’s indigenous product.
“In 1970, there were only four people who used to chew qat in the entire governorate,” he told Arab News. “It then started to become common among the people here in 1995 due to opening the borders that caused importing qat from abroad.”

FASTFACTS

• In 2014, people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate.

• Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.

• The governorate replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.

The increase in qat cultivation affected the planting of coffee beans, he added, but in 2014 people reconsidered coffee as an alternative crop and young people started to grow coffee beans with the help of unlimited support from the governorate. “Some 50,000 seedlings were distributed and farmers began to restore the profession of their fathers.”
People in Jazan used to waste their time and money on qat, he said. They would gather and chew qat for many hours, he added, hours that could have been spent working. But the growth of the educational landscape in the region, in addition to the success of the coffee industry, was a factor in combating qat abuse, as young people were able to access more opportunities and improve their prospects.
The Khawlani coffee bean is being offered to UNESCO for inclusion on a heritage list.
“The preparation of the file related to the skills and knowledge pertaining to the cultivation of Khawlani coffee in the Jazan region has been completed before presenting it to UNESCO,” the Kingdom’s Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah said. If listed, he added, it would be the Kingdom’s fourth intangible cultural heritage and eighth among the total heritage items included in the UNESCO heritage list.
Saudi columnist Hamood Abu Talib said the Jazan region was the only place the beans were grown. “This festival (Coffee Beans Festival), which is being held in collaboration with the governorate (of Jazan), the farmers themselves and Aramco, is an important national economic investment,” he told Arab News.
“Many countries’ economies, such as Brazil and Ethiopia depend mainly on this product — coffee. It needs professional marketing through the media to attract visitors from inside and outside the Kingdom. This is an essential strategic transformation.
“We know that the Faifa Mountains Development and Reconstruction Authority’s strategic goal was to uproot the harmful trees of qat and replace them with profitable crops that are beneficial to the farmers as well as the whole region. These were also intruding, invasive trees. We replanted more than 10,000 genuine Khawlani coffee seedlings and gave them to the farmers.”