Netflix screening ‘big boost’ to Saudi filmmakers

After buying the rights to six films made in the Kingdom from Telfaz11, one of the Kingdom’s leading film studios, Netflix’s latest series will offer its global audience an insight into stories told through a Saudi lens. (AN Photo)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Netflix screening ‘big boost’ to Saudi filmmakers

  • Will offer global audience an insight into stories told through a Saudi lens
  • One director said the point of the creation of these movies is the experience

JEDDAH/RIYADH: “Six Windows in the Desert,” a series of short films created by Saudis, will make its Netflix debut on Thursday, streaming in 190 countries.

After buying the rights from Telfaz11, one of the Kingdom’s leading film studios, Netflix’s latest series will offer its global audience an insight into stories told through a Saudi lens, tackling topics including social taboos and extremism.

The films are “27th of Shaban,” a film by Mohammed Al-Salman; “Predicament in Sight” by Faris Godus; “Wasati” by Ali Kalthami, who won best director and best foreign film at the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in 2017; “Is Sumiyati Going to Hell?” — a film directed by Meshal Al-Jaser that won best foreign short film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards in 2017 — and Al-Jarthy, or “The Rat,” by Faisal Al- Amer.

Al-Amer spoke to Arab News about his work, the importance of the streaming of the series on Netflix and the growing opportunities for Saudi film makers in the industry.

Inspired by his own life, “The Rat,” a 10-minute short film that he wrote and directed, tells the story of Fahad, who spends the last day of his life with the fear of his father looming over him. Like a rat on a wheel, Fahad scurries through cycles of fear characterized by different aspects of his father as he tries to break free.

“We as Saudis, tell a story, our story, and as filmmakers or creators don’t need to sugar-coat or create a flowery image of our society,” Al-Amer told Arab News. “This is us, we don’t create movies for the approval of the West, we make them to express ourselves.”

Al-Amer was the co-creator of “Masameer,” an animated Youtube series that is considered one of the most successful local cartoon mini-series. It talks sarcastically about issues in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world through short stories represented by quirky and funny-looking characters. “Al-Jarthy” is expressive but does not necessarily have an underlying message, something that he feels is not essential in all films.

“Symbolism is what gives my film its identity,” he told Arab News. “I am entertained, as a filmmaker I don’t need an underlying message. I create movies to allow the viewer to see that the creator took time and made the effort to create, even if it is a short film. It allows the viewer to be curious and inquisitive, that to me is more important.”

Al-Amer said that the point of the creation of these movies is the experience. “The creators were able to explore different approaches to creativity. From cinematography to screen writing and ideas, each short film explores this.”

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.


Kids going stir-crazy in isolation? Here’s how to keep them occupied

Updated 50 min 55 sec ago

Kids going stir-crazy in isolation? Here’s how to keep them occupied

  • Saudi mothers relate challenges in keeping their children from getting bored amid nationwide lockdown

RIYADH: School’s out for the foreseeable future, but every child’s dream is every mother’s worst nightmare. With nowhere else to go during the day, and most entertainment venues in the city cordoned off, mothers are discussing how the crisis has affected them, and more importantly, what they’re doing to control it.

Dr. Marwa Elagra, an assistant professor at REU, told Arab News about how she and her three children (4th grade, 1st grade, and nursery) were coping with the new social distancing policy and the challenges it posed for their education.

“In the beginning, during the first few days, their schools weren’t yet prepared for the sudden shutdown. It took them almost a week to prepare themselves,” she said.

Despite a somewhat bumpy beginning, things are starting to pick up. 

“They have virtual classes now, and interactive livestreaming with a certain schedule. They can follow up with their teachers, just like in a real classroom. They also send videos that students can watch at any time,” she said.

However, she struggles with getting the children out of “vacation mode,” and convincing them that they still need to study.

“That’s the main challenge in all of this. It’s quite difficult to control the kids around the house, especially since you can’t take them out. They’re jumping around all over the place. They’re doing their homework, but their brains just aren’t in the zone for it,” she said.

They (children) have virtual classes now, and interactive livestreaming with a certain schedule. They can follow up with their teachers, just like in a real classroom. They also send videos that students can watch at any time.

Dr. Marwa Elagra, assistant professor

She hopes that things return to normal soon, or at the very least that a clear plan for the future will emerge after the proposed isolation period is up.

“I hope it doesn’t last for long, especially for primary classes. It is difficult to continue online; they need to interact with their teachers. It is a great pressure on us as moms, we can’t fulfill the role of teachers who are more experienced with children. I am in the academic field myself but I don’t have experience with kids,” she said.

She also has concerns about what these decisions could mean for her children’s academic future and hopes everything will be resolved soon.

“Are they going to give the kids exams or they will end school without them and just count the first term results? Are they going to stop and continue earlier at the beginning of the next academic year? This unclear vision of what will happen is creating the panic between most moms,” she said.

She also has advice for mothers going through the same thing. 

“Have more patience, support and encourage your kids to do more reading, and not only academic reading. Look at the positive side and make use of this long vacation in increasing the knowledge and skills of your kids,” she said.

Dr. May Al-Khudhairy, dean of the College of Applied Medical Sciences at Riyadh Elm University, is making the most of the time she is spending at home with her four children.

“I love having them home because during the week they get home so late that I don’t spend enough quality time with them. I’m even reconsidering all their after-school activities. I’ve forgotten how this time is precious and we need to savor it as long as possible,” she said.

With colleges across the country closed until further notice, Al-Khudhairy is also working from home, a situation that makes it easier to supervise her children and make sure their schoolwork gets done. 

“We sit outdoors and work parallel. The older kids will do their school assignments, and the youngest does her simple Pre-K activities that I find online, from sites like Storynory and Pinterest,” she said.

She recommends that mothers try to keep children occupied with tasks that can be both informative and entertaining. 

“We bake brownies and cupcakes and do experiments, like creating slime at home. Anything to keep busy. They paint, and every day they change it around. And of course, we wash our hands a zillion times a day,” she said.