Red Sea Film Festival’s Mohammed Al-Turki talks future of Saudi films at Cannes

Mohammed Al-Turki was appointed Chairman of the Festival Committee for the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival. (File/ Getty Images)
Mohammed Al-Turki was appointed Chairman of the Festival Committee for the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival. (File/ Getty Images)
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Updated 11 July 2021

Red Sea Film Festival’s Mohammed Al-Turki talks future of Saudi films at Cannes

Mohammed Al-Turki was appointed Chairman of the Festival Committee for the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival. (File/ Getty Images)

CANNES: Saudi game-changer Mohammed Al-Turki is one of the most well-known producers in the region, having made a name for himself in the glitzy world of Hollywood. On the occasion of the Cannes Film Festival, the Saudi producer was appointed Chairman of the Festival Committee for the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival which will be held in December in Jeddah. This is a new challenge for the 35-year-old producer, but above all, an umpteenth recognition of his work. The much sought-after producer at the Cannes Film Festival caused quite a stir upon his arrival at the Saudi pavilion and Arab News caught up with him for an exclusive interview.

After these difficult months for the culture sector in the world, due to the pandemic, how does it feel to be here at the Cannes Film Festival?

As you know, it’s one of my favorite festivals, which I have been attending for about 10-11 years. I am here today to represent my country, Saudi Arabia. On the opening night, when I visited the Palais des Festivals, I was introduced as Chairman of the Red Sea Festival committee. It was a moment of immense pride for me. It was great to be at the Palais, with the full support of my country, despite everything that is happening in Saudi Arabia. Vision 2030 is bringing about wonderful cultural shifts. It was also a great moment for the world of cinema, to be at the Palais in the presence of the jury – whose members are a source of Arab pride – with Spike Lee, the Jury President, Tahar Rahim and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Can we hope to see a Saudi film selected in Cannes’ official competition one day, or even get the Palme d’Or?

Yes, I am convinced of that! We have talented and wonderful young Saudis, and the creative scene in Saudi Arabia is vibrant, authentic and ambitious. We have some Saudi talents arriving this week. Saudi Arabia has already won several awards, notably with Haifaa Al-Mansour at the Venice Film Festival. Haifaa was the first Saudi woman to become a jury member at Cannes. The Lebanese director Nadine Labaki was President of the Jury for “Un certain regard” selection in 2019. We can be proud of many Arabs, but we are still a new industry, and we will continue to evolve. I can refer to examples, such as the Tunisian writer-director, Kaouther ben Hania, with her feature film “The Man Who Sold His Skin” (2020). It’s an incredible movie. Other films are great as well, and this is only the beginning. You will be able to witness the next pivotal steps first hand.

The film industry in Saudi Arabia is indeed going through a moment of a real dynamism. Do you think that over the next few years, Saudi cinema will live its golden age?

Of course, it will live its golden age. Thanks to the support of Saudi Arabia and the MENA region, I think we will see a lot of admissions to the Academy and to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. I hope that we will win important awards at the international level and succeed in going global.

You are Chairman of the Festival Committee for the upcoming Red Sea Film Festival which is expected to be held next December in Jeddah. How can this event give a new boost to the Kingdom’s flourishing industry?

This dynamism will of course vitalize the flourishing industry by supporting all the local youth. Thanks to this platform, we will be able to travel across the world and allow cinema lovers to discover all of our stories, because as you well know, cinema is a universal form of art, which will allow us to forge deeper connections. It is wonderful that this is happening in the historical city which is located in the magnificent UNESCO heritage site. People will travel to Saudi Arabia and will be able to appreciate the jewels and hidden gems of the Kingdom.

You have worked with big names in cinema, and so far, you’ve mostly addressed a Western audience. Today, would you like to focus on projects that will reach the Eastern public more, and most specifically the Saudi one?

I want to focus on different projects because, personally, I am a filmmaker who enjoys sharing human stories. All of my films deal with important social issues. “Arbitrage,” with Richard Gere, was about the financial crisis; in “At Any Price,” with Zac Effron, it was about the agricultural crisis; then my most recent film, “Crisis,”with Garry Oldman, focused on the opioid crisis, which is now the second leading cause of death in America, after COVID-19.

AlUla is in the spotlight, and many directors around the world do not hide their interest in exploiting this cultural gem. How do you explain such an interest in certain sites in Saudi Arabia?

Together with the Red Sea Festival, the Foundation and the Saudi Film Commission, we are working on a wonderful tax incentive program to get all of these filmmakers to shoot in the Kingdom, and to showcase wonderful places like the AlUla site. A few Hollywood movies have been shot in the Kingdom. The Russo brothers filmed a few scenes of the movie “Cherry” in Saudi Arabia, and it’s a big Apple+ hit. We are currently shooting a movie called “Kandahar” with Gerard Butler in Saudi Arabia, and there are more movies planned, so this is just the beginning of more amazing things to come.

Is it difficult to find experienced actors and talents in Saudi Arabia?

Whether in Saudi Arabia or in the United States, finding the right cast is always a challenge, and I’m sure we’ll have some great talents to show off, because even before movie theaters opened in the country, I was well backed-up in Saudi Arabia; the country was already a breeding ground for creators. Haifaa Al-Mansour presented “Wadjda” all over the world, while there were no movie theaters in Saudi. So, the creative scene has always been unique; it has always been there, and now with the strong support it has behind it, you will be able to witness all of these cultural shifts, and yes, you will see incredible Saudi talents everywhere.

Vangelis, the Greek ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer, dies at 79

Vangelis, the Greek ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer, dies at 79
Updated 16 sec ago

Vangelis, the Greek ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer, dies at 79

Vangelis, the Greek ‘Chariots of Fire’ composer, dies at 79
ATHENS: Vangelis, the Greek electronic composer who wrote the unforgettable Academy Award-winning score for the film “Chariots of Fire” and music for dozens of other movies, documentaries and TV series, has died at 79.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and other government officials expressed their condolences Thursday. Greek media reported that Vangelis — born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou — died in a French hospital late Tuesday.
“Vangelis Papathanassiou is no longer among us,” Mitsotakis tweeted.
The opening credits of “Chariots of Fire” roll as a bunch of young runners’ progress in slow motion across a glum beach in Scotland, as a lazy, beat-backed tune rises to a magisterial declamation. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable musical themes in cinema — and its standing in popular culture has only been confirmed by the host of spoofs it has sired.
The 1981 British film made Vangelis, but his initial encounter with success came with his first Greek pop band in the 1960s.
He evolved into a one-man quasi-classical orchestra, using a vast array of electronic equipment to conjure up his enormously popular undulating waves of sound. A private, humorous man — burly, with shoulder-length hair and a trim beard — he quoted ancient Greek philosophy and saw the artist as a conduit for a basic universal force. He was fascinated by space exploration and wrote music for celestial bodies, but said he never sought stardom himself.
Still, a micro-planet spinning somewhere between Mars and Jupiter — 6354 Vangelis — will forever bear his name.
Born on March 29, 1943 near the city of Volos in central Greece, Vangelis started playing the piano at age 4, although he got no formal training and claimed he never learned to read notes.
“Orchestration, composition — they teach these things in music schools, but there are some things you can never teach,” he said in a 1982 interview. “You can’t teach creation.”
At 20, Vangelis and three friends formed the Forminx band in Athens, which did very well in Greece. After it disbanded, he wrote scores for several Greek films and later became a founding member — together with another later-to-be internationally famous Greek musician, Demis Roussos — of Aphrodite’s Child. Based in Paris, the progressive rock group produced several European hits, and their final record “666,” released in 1972, is still highly acclaimed.
Aphrodite’s Child also broke up, and Vangelis pursued solo projects. In 1974, he moved to London, built his own studio and cooperated with Yes frontman Jon Anderson, with whom he recorded as Jon and Vangelis and had several major hits.
But his huge breakthrough came with the score for “Chariots of Fire” that told the true story of two British runners competing in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Vangelis’ score won one of the four Academy Awards the film won, including best picture. The signature piece is one of the hardest-to-forget movie tunes worldwide — and has also served as the musical background to endless slow-motion parodies.
Vangelis later wrote music scores for Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982) and “1492: Conquest of Paradise” (1992), as well as for “Missing” (1982) and “Antarctica” (1983), among others.
He refused many other offers for film scores, saying in an interview: “Half of the films I see don’t need music. It sounds like something stuffed in.”
Vangelis was wary of how record companies handled commercial success. With success, he said, “you find yourself stuck and obliged to repeat yourself and your previous success.”
His interest in science — including the physics of music and sound — and space exploration led to compositions linked with major NASA and European Space Agency projects. When British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking died in 2018, Vangelis composed a musical tribute for his interment that the ESA broadcast into space.
Vangelis brought forth his symphonic swells playing alone on a bank of synthesizers, while flipping switches as his feet darted from one volume pedal to another.
“I work like an athlete,” he once said.
He avoided the lifestyle excesses associated with many in the music industry, saying that he never took drugs — “which was very uncomfortable, at times.”
Vangelis said he didn’t ever experiment with his music and usually did everything on the first take.
“When I compose, I perform the music at the same time, so everything is live, nothing is pre-programmed,” he said.
The composer lived in London, Paris and Athens, where he bought a house at the foot of the Acropolis that he never dolled up, even when his street became one of the most desirable pedestrian walks in town. The neoclassical building was nearly demolished in 2007 when government officials decided that it spoilt the view of the ancient citadel from a new museum built next door, but eventually reconsidered.
Vangelis received many awards in Greece, France and the US little was known of his personal life besides that he was an avid painter.
“Every day I paint and every day I compose music,” he said — in that order.

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet
Updated 19 May 2022

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

Actress Sonia Ben Ammar continues glamorous streak on Cannes red carpet

DUBAI: The Cannes Film Festival 2022 has gotten off to a glittering start, bringing together cinema’s biggest stars from all points of the globe for film premieres in their most glamorous get-ups. Indeed, the annual film festival is just as much about the glitzy red carpet as it is about the films, so French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar made sure to deliver a strong look as she attended the “Maverick: Top Gun” red carpet premiere on Wednesday. The “Scream” star chose a silk gold Alberta Ferretti gown. She paired the sleeveless, floor-trailing dress with delicate jewelry from Bulgari and black pumps.

When it came to her beauty look, the multihyphenate raked her chocolate lengths back into a middle-parted voluminous updo with two face-framing strands on either side of her cheeks. As for her makeup, Ben Ammar channeled the 1990s with a warm, bronzed complexion, groomed eyebrows and mocha-colored lipstick.

Sonia Ben Ammar wearing Alberta Ferretti at the 75th edition of the Cannes Film Fesitval. Getty Images

Despite being just 23-years-old, Ben Ammar is a seasoned Cannes red carpet star.

The actress made her Cannes Film Festival debut in 2016 at the red carpet premiere of “The BFG” wearing a beige, floral-printed slip dress.

The French-Tunisian star went on to capture attention on La Croisette the following year, stealing the spotlight at the 2017 red carpet premiere of “The Beguiled” in a black embellished gown.

In the years that followed, Ben Ammar continued to experiment with head-turning pieces with a penchant for glamorous gowns, such as the Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini mini dress with a long, trailing train that she wore to the “BlacKkKlansman” premiere at the 71st edition of the film festival.

No matter what the film premiere is, Ben Ammar always shows up with a striking look that oozes glamour and for that reason alone, she remains one of the most exciting faces on La Croisette.  

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic
Updated 19 May 2022

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

New survey reveals GCC residents’ travel intentions as world opens up post-pandemic

DUBAI: As Joni Mitchell observed: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” That has certainly proved true for travel since the onset of the COVID-pandemic saw worldwide restrictions on movement cause the industry to grind to a halt in early 2020. 

Many feared airlines and hotels would be struggling for years to come, but at this month’s Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, experts were bullish about the near future, with recovery looking extremely healthy. The ability to hop across borders for a long weekend or a summer vacation, or even a work trip — has now become something precious; the chance to escape everyday routine has become more alluring than ever. 

“Travel has moved from something that we took for granted to something that, now, we really need,” Paul Kelly, managing partner of Dubai-based consumer-insight company D/A, told Arab News. “That’s something that came through in this analysis: This huge pent-up demand — the emotional side of traveling has changed a lot.”

Residents of the GCC are eager to get travelling again, as research that D/A presented at the travel market proved. The company assessed millions of social media and online posts with its AI-driven “Sila” tool to discover the travel intentions and desires of more than 2.2 million Arab speakers across the GCC. What D/A found was that while many of the favored destinations remain the same (with one major exception — more on that later), the reasons for visiting them have changed significantly. It seems people are longing for relaxation in natural surroundings, along with cultural experiences, more than they are looking for shopping destinations and material acquisition.

“Visiting cities for shopping used to be much (more popular). It was never as big as the ‘Beach Holidays,’ category, but ‘Shopping’ was always number two,” Kelly said. “It’s now the lowest. Beach destinations are still number one — for instance, since the pandemic, visitor numbers to the Maldives from the GCC are higher than ever. But the ‘Nature and Mountains’ category — so, lakes, for example; think Switzerland more than the Maldives — has become much more popular. And cultural tourism — say, music festivals, art events, and general cultural experiences — has also become far more important, especially among younger people.”

Here are some of the main findings from D/A’s research.


One country has seen a major increase in interest over the past three years: Saudi Arabia. While the glitz of the UAE — and particularly Dubai — remains in high demand, the Kingdom is now the second-most desirable destination for travelers from the GCC, according to D/A’s research. “Saudi has become a really big destination. That was never the case previously, except for pilgrims, but this research discounts religious travel,” Kelly explained. Clearly, the Saudi authorities’ efforts over the past few years to position the country as an attractive tourism destination have been a huge success. More and more Saudis are looking to take short breaks in their own country, and travelers from the Emirates, Oman and other GCC countries are taking the opportunity to explore the rich culture and stunning landscapes that had previously been all-but-impossible to access.

“This has all been driven by what’s currently open — festivals like MDLBEAST, the Riyadh and Jeddah seasons, AlUla, the sporting events,” Kelly said. “That stuff works.”


The top three destinations for GCC travelers were all in the Gulf: The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. This is a recent development, according to Kelly. “The Gulf countries were never really factors before – apart from the obvious, Dubai, which has always been a beacon for the Middle East. But what’s been interesting is the rise of Qatar, because of the World Cup, and then Saudi as well,” he said.

“Khaleejis like going for short breaks — five days or something. And a lot of people, for those breaks, are now staying within the GCC. Saudi hasn’t overtaken the UAE yet, but it’s really come up as a tourism destination,” he continued. “The whole concept of staycation within the region has really come up — people are staying for longer periods too. Shorter stays are much more valued now.” 


Turkey is one of the most desirable international locations for GCC travelers, according to D/A’s research. It’s always been popular, but what the social-media chatter suggests is that people aren’t just heading to the big cities anymore — instead it’s the country’s mixture of “beach and mountains” that is attracting attention, with its Mediterranean areas proving especially in demand.


While GCC travelers are eager for new experiences, they’re also looking for the reassurance of the familiar. So destinations like the UK, the US and Thailand remain extremely desirable, but, Kelly said, they are now looking for new experiences in places where they may have been several times before. 

“What we found across most of the countries is that there’s a big movement towards new experiences, even in really familiar settings,” Kelly said. “So they like to go to the same places — London, for example, is a big destination. But while they’re in London, they want to do something different, maybe be there a bit longer and go out into the countryside. There’s also an eagerness to fill out itineraries a bit more, do more things.”


“People really wanted to go to the countries that closed their borders early because of COVID,” Kelly said. “You want to do what you can’t do, I guess.” China and Japan were the main beneficiaries of this particular quirk of our brains, with both featuring prominently on the wishlist of destinations in the Far East for GCC travelers. China, in particular, is a desirable place for studying for GCC residents, D/A found.

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing
Updated 19 May 2022

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

Illustrator Nourie Flayhan pays tribute to reporter Shireen Abu Akleh with digital drawing

DUBAI: The Lebanese illustrator discusses her latest digital drawing, which pays tribute to Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin earlier this month. 

When I heard the news of Shireen Abu Akleh’s death, I was in Portugal with my parents on a three-day vacation. I saw a couple of posts on social media, but it wasn’t very clear what was happening, so I went on Google Search and read a couple of very short reports, as the news was breaking. I went back on social media and my Palestinian friends were posting more and more about it. 

It was actually very shocking. I felt like I had to go back to the hotel and draw a tribute to her. Seeing her on the floor was really intense and I was deeply disturbed for a while. It took me some time to process what was happening. I feel like she’s done so much for everyone; the way she’s been reporting for so many years and has been a voice for the people — risking her life almost every day. 

‘Honoring Shireen.’ (Supplied) 

Illustration is how I can communicate my thoughts and feelings more clearly. Most of my work is digital illustrations and I use an iPad. My fingers were moving so fast, almost in rage, but I had to stop myself and give a softer emotion to it. I had to pour out appreciation and admiration of who she was. I wanted that to translate into the piece, rather than it being an angry piece. 

She was a very soft and kind person and I think that contributes to the halo around her head. At first, I wanted the flowers to be colorful, but then I wanted them to be kind of muted out and be white and very peaceful. She had an angelic face and was graceful till the end and I wanted that to be highlighted in the illustration. 

She was wearing a press vest when she got shot and part of me wanted to remind people not just about the job that she carried out until her last breath, but also that she was wronged and that hurt a lot people. 

The white, blank eyes may be disturbing to others, but to me they’re calming. It’s to remind people that, yes, there’s a human being behind that person, but there’s also a soul. 

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single
Updated 18 May 2022

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

Moroccan singer Jihane Bougrine explores mental illness in unique new single

DUBAI: Moroccan singer and songwriter Jihane Bougrine this week released her latest single “Rahat El-Bal,” in which the France-raised artist explores the often taboo subject of mental health, bipolar disorder in particular.

In her new song, which translates to “Peace of Mind,” the star, who is signed to Universal Music, said she wishes to send a message of “hope and optimism” by shining a light on the mental illness.

She was inspired to write the song by a family member who was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, she told Arab News.

At the time, her family faced myriad challenges. “Here in Morocco, with the traditions and culture, it’s taboo to talk about mental health,” the singer said. “So they used to tell us he was crazy. It was very tough for the family, so I decided to write it and put a name on it to say that people should not be afraid to talk about it.”

The song, which already has more than 250,000 views on YouTube alone, is a mix between indie, electro and pop genres. 

For the music video, the singer collaborated with the French director Julien Fouré, who she said “managed to put my words into an image.

“For him, photography and cinema are a way to send important messages to change the world,” Bougrine said. “It is very inspiring and (it was) easy to work with someone like him because he is very talented.”

The four-minute clip stars Moroccan actress Mouna R’miki.

Bougrine, who has lived in multiple cities around the world, said that traveling made her “wealthy” when it comes to music. “Music is a melting pot. I can have different rhythms in my songs. I don’t have any limits. The sky is my limit,” she explained. 

The singer added that she hopes her music will offer international audiences a glimpse of life as a Moroccan. “If (my songs) can be a small window to Morocco… and make people understand what we are feeling and what we are living, it would be amazing,” she said.