The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward

The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward
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The picturesque landscape of AlUla has seen it grow into an exotic filming destination, with Film AlUla providing an ecosystem of skilled professionals for both domestic productions, and international film projects. (Supplied)
The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward
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AlUla is beginning to attract a growing number of international and regional productions. (Supplied)
The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward
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AlUla is beginning to attract a growing number of international and regional productions. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 July 2021

The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward

The many forces propelling Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning film industry forward
  • Filmmakers are taking advantage of the opportunities presented by a new era of media and entertainment
  • The market is being driven by the opening of new cinemas and a rapid increase in streaming services

RIYADH: These are exciting times for Saudi Arabia’s film industry. Within the past fortnight, the Saudi Film Festival concluded in Dhahran, the Saudi-Japanese animation “The Journey” had its cinematic release and a “Saudi Film Night” was held at the Arab World Institute in Paris.

These events represent a significant departure from just a few years ago, when there was little or no film production or distribution industry to speak of in the Kingdom.

Behind this change are a number of factors, chief among which is the emergence of young talent, as ambitious Saudi filmmakers take advantage of the opportunities presented by this new era.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy or hard to break into the film industry,” Sara Al-Munef, a young film director whose short feature “2020 Faces” screened at the Saudi Film Festival, told Arab News.

 

“We are being given all the chances: The festivals offer a platform for us to screen our films and to enter competitions with millions in prize money. Many companies are involved in financing new film projects.

“It makes no difference whether you are a man or a woman; now it’s just up to me to deliver something that will be appreciated.”

The market for quality film content is being driven in Saudi Arabia by the opening of new cinema theaters along with the mushrooming of global streaming services such as Netflix and its Gulf equivalent, Shahid VIP. This in turn is generating significant investment in the Kingdom’s film sector.

One such deal was the March 2020 purchase by Netflix of “Masameer: The Movie” following the success of the highly popular YouTube series.

Produced by leading Saudi animation studio Myrkott, the series and film depicts the adventures of Dana, a Saudi girl who attempts to improve the world through robotics and artificial intelligence. The film is now being globally streamed by Netflix in more than 30 languages.

 




Netflix purchased “Masameer: The Movie” and is now being globally streamed in more than 30 languages. (Supplied)

Further investment is coming from Spain-based producer Minimo VFX (co-producer of “The Dark Knight,” “Avatar” and the “Harry Potter” franchise), which recently unveiled plans to invest no less than $250 million in the Kingdom via a joint venture with local partner Saudi Next Level Co.

Their stated goal is to produce localized content while providing high-level training to aspiring film professionals.

Closer to home, Dubai–based MBC is actively backing Saudi content for its online streaming subsidiary Shahid VIP — one example being “Rashash,” a serialized drama with an all-Saudi cast, based on the true–life 1980s criminal of the same name, and the efforts by Saudi police to bring him to justice.

The series was conceived by Tony Jordan, a screenwriter of the long–running UK soap opera “EastEnders” with support from Sheikha Suha Al-Khalifa, and directed by Colin Teague, known for TV serials “Doctor Who” and “Jekyll and Hyde.”




Sara Al-Munef, a young film director whose short feature “2020 Faces” screened at the Saudi Film Festival. (Supplied)

Perhaps the most significant recent breakthrough is “The Journey,” a full-length animated feature film depicting the siege of Makkah by an Ethiopian army in pre–Islamic times. The movie was co-produced by Riyadh–based Manga Productions and TOEI Animation of Japan.

“We wanted to work with TOEI Animation because they are very well known and popular both in the region and across the world,” Abdul Aziz Al-Nagmoosh, director of marketing and distribution at Manga Productions, told Arab News.

“We collaborated with them on the children’s TV show ‘Future Folk Tales’ and then on ‘The Journey.’ We financed the training of about 300 Saudi animators over the past four years, both in Japan and the US. They also had work experience in both those countries and gained skills in production, direction, art direction and even marketing. Then we hired a number of them to work on our projects.”




Masameer was produced by leading Saudi animation studio Myrkott. (Supplied)

Manga Productions is a subsidiary of Misk Foundation, which was established by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2011 with the aim of empowering the youth of Saudi Arabia in three main areas: Education and entrepreneurship; culture and creative arts; and science and technology.

Commercial projects such as “The Journey” demonstrate the wider effort to diversify the national economy away from its current focus on the oil sector. Another indication of this strategy is the positioning of the AlUla historical district as an exotically beautiful film location.

The Hollywood feature “Cherry” — directed by Antony and Joe Russo of “Captain America” and “Avengers” fame — was shot in AlUla in 2020.

Film AlUla — working in coordination with the Saudi Film Commission and the Ministry of Culture — now provides an entire film-production ecosystem, with a range of skilled professionals and production services on hand. The act of shooting a film in the Kingdom has become a lot simpler as well.




Fahad Al-Otaibi, a producer and director of TV commercials and short films. (Supplied)

Speaking to Arab News, Fahad Al-Otaibi, a producer and director of TV commercials and short films, said: “Getting permission to shoot is way easier than before. You used to have to get a lot of different permissions, but now it’s all online and it only takes three to five days.”

All of this reflects the growing perception — in both public and private spheres — of the media and entertainment industry as a key growth area for the country, driven as it is by the almost universal adoption of smartphones and social media across the Saudi population.

As Al-Nagmoosh puts it, “most Saudis are online most of the time, which is why there will be a focus on movies made for streaming services as opposed to theatrical releases. And that is a shift that is taking place worldwide.”

Indeed, online streaming is opening up possibilities that were never previously available to independent producers and directors lacking the financial and marketing clout of global corporations.




The Saudi-Japanese animation “The Journey,” a full-length animated feature film depicting the siege of Makkah by an Ethiopian army in pre–Islamic times, had its cinematic release. (Supplied)

Al-Otaibi said: “Online platforms such as Netflix are changing the game because they have such a big reach. It can enable a low-budget Saudi film to potentially be a huge international hit. I think we have a better chance with that than we do with cinema distribution.”

He added: “Nobody would have believed seven years ago what is being achieved today, and I’m sure we can’t even imagine how it’s going to be three years from now. You don’t need $100 million to produce the next ‘Friends’ — you need a very good team, a very good story and a very good vision.”

The general consensus of industry hands is that what is needed is time. Saudi Arabia “has to prove itself with its films before it becomes integrated with the global media and entertainment industry — it took South Korea decades of hard work before ‘Parasite’ won the Oscar,” Al-Otaibi told Arab News.

“We need time, we need to try hard, we need to be patient, we need to invest and we need to learn — that’s what’s got to happen over the next 10 years.”

For his part, Al-Nagmoosh of Manga Productions said: “With all the new regulations, and with the new focus of the government on movie production, I think we’ll see a huge increase in production in Saudi Arabia over the next five years.”




The market for quality film content is being driven in Saudi Arabia by the opening of new cinema theaters. (AFP)

The key word for now is “patience.” If there is one message young Saudi filmmakers wish to convey to potential investors, it is that film production is not a rapid-profit, quick-turnaround business.
A full-length feature film can require several years from conception to release, and rushing that process could undermine the quality of the final product.
But with the opening of hundreds of cinemas across the Kingdom, active government support, ample public and private funds, new distribution channels and a talented and ambitious cadre of young filmmakers, the future is looking bright for Saudi Arabia’s film industry.

From being a distant outlier, it appears not long before Saudi Arabia becomes a major player in this sector.


After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
Updated 28 July 2021

After COVID, Saudi Arabia set to turn its attention to an older scourge: viral hepatitis

The WHO says 4.5 million deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, testing, medicines and education. (AFP)
  • Once COVID-19 is brought under control, Saudi Arabia will turn its attention toward a silent, older scourge

DUBAI: Before the coronavirus swept the planet in early 2020, Saudi Arabia was on course to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. But as in the rest of the world, the task of fighting COVID-19 in the Kingdom was understandably given precedence over efforts to defeat what is often called the “silent killer.”

Hepatitis fits the description because 95 percent of infected individuals worldwide are unaware of their infection and in most cases people are asymptomatic. It nevertheless remains the world’s seventh-leading cause of death.
The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E.
While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods.
In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. An estimated
325 million people worldwide live with hep-B or C and, for most, testing and treatment remains beyond reach.
In 2015, viral hepatitis caused 1.34 million deaths worldwide, mostly from hep-B infection, which is higher than the number of global deaths caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Some types of hepatitis are preventable through vaccination. According to the WHO, “an estimated 4.5 million premature deaths could be prevented in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 through vaccination, diagnostic tests, medicines and education campaigns.”
July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. The date was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Baruch Blumberg, who discovered hep-B virus and developed a diagnostic test and vaccine.

FASTFACT

July28

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on this date to raise awareness about the virus that causes liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

With COVID-19 vaccination efforts continuing apace and the pandemic beginning to subside in many parts of the developed world, the fight against viral hepatitis is once again high on Saudi Arabia’s public health agenda.
“The Saudi Ministry of Health instituted a specific program to fight hepatitis C in the country before the pandemic, in accordance with the WHO,” Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail, a consultant transplant hepatologist at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, told Arab News.
“But then COVID-19 came and disrupted many initiatives. The battle against COVID-19 had to be the priority.”
In 2016, the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy issued a road map for the elimination of viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030.
The plan entailed a 90 percent reduction in infections and a 65 percent reduction in mortality by the end of the decade, compared to a 2015 baseline that showed 257 million people living with hepatitis B, 71 million with hepatitis C, and 36.7 million with HIV.
“As Saudi Arabia gains control over COVID-19, it’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force to meet the WHO target of elimination by 2030 in our country,” Aba Alkhail said.
Hepatitis B is spread through contact with the blood, semen and other body fluids of an infected individual, but can be prevented through vaccination.
Hepatitis C is also blood-borne, but varies in its severity, in some cases lasting only a few months while at other times developing into a lifelong illness. It is a major cause of liver cancer, with sufferers often requiring liver transplantation. There is currently no vaccine.
In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia had one of the highest rates of hep-B infection in the world, with an estimated 8.3 percent of the population infected.
Then, in 1989, the Kingdom became the first country in the Middle East to launch a hep-B vaccination program, eight years after the first vaccine was approved for use in the US. By 1990, the vaccine was available to all infants from birth and children were routinely vaccinated when they started school.
While the vaccination of children and infants has been associated with a notable decline in the rate of infection in Saudi Arabia, falling to just 1.3 percent according to the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, hepatitis remains a major public health risk in the Kingdom, especially among high-risk groups, including those with HIV, drug addictions and those who have undergone blood transfusions.
In 2007, the Saudi Ministry of Health ranked hepatitis the second most common reportable viral disease in the country, with almost 9,000 new cases diagnosed that year alone. Of these, 52 percent had hepatitis B, 32 percent hepatitis C, and 16 percent hepatitis A.
In Saudi Arabia, hepatitis B and C remain a major cause of hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of primary liver cancer, and diseases that require liver transplantation. The infection rate may have dropped, but morbidity and mortality related to the disease have not shown a parallel decline.

It’s time to revisit the initiatives and campaigns to eliminate viral hepatitis B and C with full force.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail - Consultant transplant hepatologist at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh

Medical experts expect the burden of associated liver diseases to rise in the coming years, owing to aging in infected populations.

Dr. Faisal Aba Alkhail

Saudi Arabia has implemented a number of programs designed to improve diagnosis, including premarital screening for hepatitis B and C and HIV. “In Saudi Arabia you can’t complete marriage documents without doing the test for hep-B and hep-C,” Aba Alkhail said.
“In addition, the Kingdom follows the standard special population screening of dialysis patients, blood bank donors, hospital-based patients and other high-risk groups.”
Crucially, it has also made hepatitis screening and treatments free to all citizens and residents, both Saudi and non-Saudi.
“In Saudi Arabia, we are (trying our best to follow) the WHO targets: To diagnose 90 percent of infections and treat 80 percent of high viral-load patients by 2030, as well as diagnose and treat all infected patients by 2022,” said Aba Alkhail.
“Most known cases have been rated and cured since effective treatments were made available in 2014. Many countries are running out of new hepatitis C patients to treat, according to the World Hepatitis Alliance.
“Saudi Arabia still has the burden of hepatitis C patients that are not yet diagnosed and there is a need for a screening program to detect previously undiagnosed cases.”
Medical professionals set out a list of recommendations in a May 2021 report, titled “Revealing Hepatitis B Virus as a Silent Killer: A Call-to-Action for Saudi Arabia,” published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science.
“In 2016, hep-B caused 1,700 annual deaths (i.e. five deaths per day) in KSA,” the report said. “Although substantial improvements have been made in hep-B management, a lot remains to be done for hep-B screening and care pathways.
“Considering the current hep-B estimates in KSA, the country is expected to achieve the WHO hep-B 2030 target goals for diagnosis, treatment and mortality by 2051.
“The current scenario in KSA demands the implementation of a structured policy framework to combat and eliminate hep-B.”
The report’s authors said the Kingdom could curb the virus by “establishing a national-level registry, implementing screening campaigns, improving linkage of care between primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists, and increasing PCP education and awareness.”
However, the report said that in order for these measures to have the desired effect on transmission rates, they must be adhered to consistently and simultaneously throughout the Kingdom.
“We have already come so far since the 1990s. Saudi Arabia had a problem in the past with hepatitis, but the vaccine has greatly improved its prevalence in the Kingdom,” said Aba Alkhail.
“The challenge now is finding the undiagnosed cases and treating them effectively so that we can win this battle.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 

Decoder

Hepatitis

● The illness is an inflammation of the liver that can cause a range of health problems and can be fatal, according to the World Health Organization. There are five main strains of the virus, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. ● While all cause liver disease, the five strains differ in important ways, including modes of transmission, severity of the illness, geographical distribution and prevention methods. ● In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer.


New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
Updated 28 July 2021

New ‘Hawi’ platform launched to develop Saudi Arabia hobbies sector

The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in Saudi Arabia and abroad. (Supplied)
  • Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions

JEDDAH: The Quality of Life Program’s Center on Tuesday launched a pilot version of the “Hawi” online platform to develop the Kingdom’s hobbies sector.
Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.
The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests and ensure the operational and financial support for amateurs.
Director of the association Najlaa Al-Ajmi said the platform will promote positive lifestyles and improve the quality of life in the Kingdom.
“The platform has been developed to establish communities that share the same interests under an official umbrella, making it easier for clubs to establish their teams and register members,” she added.
She said that the platform has many benefits including “promoting healthy lifestyles, establishing balance between work and social life and allowing amateurs to practice their hobbies in an adequate environment, with people who share the same passion.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Hawi has been produced for the Saudi Amateur Clubs Association to raise awareness on the importance of hobbies to boost creativity and social activities.

• The platform aims to encourage communication among those who share the same interests.

• It allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.

Hawi allows people to establish and register amateur clubs, manage members and their activities, define the regulations of the sector, reserve facilities and organize training courses.
It also encourages amateurs to practice their hobbies by finding the proper facilities for their role.
The platform will support symposiums and lectures related to hobbies in the Kingdom and abroad.
Hawi will be involved with training courses, where international expertise can be transferred to clubs and exchanged with other institutions.
Hawi’s board of directors comprises representatives of 11 governmental authorities under the supervision of the Quality of Life program, the supervisory authority for hobbies in the Kingdom.


Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
Updated 28 July 2021

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition intercepts 3 ballistic missiles, 2 drones launched by Yemen’s Houthis toward Saudi Arabia
  • The coalition said the missile and the drone were targeting Jazan region

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said on Tuesday it intercepted and destroyed three ballistic missiles and two explosive-laded drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia toward southern Saudi Arabia, state TV reported.
The coalition said the missiles and the drones were targeting Jazan region, in a “deliberate” attempt to target civilian objects and populated areas.
The coalition also said that it is “taking operational measures to target the sources of the threat, in accordance with international law.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the US condemned the Iran-backed Houthis recent attacks on the Kingdom, and called on the group to cease its military actions and commit to a cease-fire that would end the conflict in Yemen.
On Saturday, the coalition said Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile and three drones launched by the militia toward the Kingdom’s southern region, which was also strongly condemned by the Arab Interior Ministers Council, the Arab Parliament, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and regional and Arab countries. 


Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability
Updated 28 July 2021

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability

Saudi Arabia affirms support for Tunisia’s security and stability
  • The foreign ministry says it considers the situation a sovereign matter
  • The Kingdom called on the international community to stand by Tunisia

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is following up on the current situation in Tunisia, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
“The Kingdom respects everything related to Tunisia’s internal affairs and considers (the situation) a sovereign matter,” it said in a statement.
The Saudi government affirmed its support for Tunisia’s security and stability, and also affirmed “its confidence in the Tunisian leadership to overcome these circumstances, and to achieve a decent life and prosperity for the Tunisian people.”
The Kingdom called on the international community to stand by Tunisia in these circumstances in order to tackle its health and economic challenges.
Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament after violent nationwide mass protests erupted on Sunday.
The North African country is also struggling to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, that has put the health system under near collapse.


Sauid tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
Updated 28 July 2021

Sauid tourism fund adopts cloud computing

Tourism Development Fund has adopted cloud computing technology. (SPA)
  • The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy

RIYADH: The Tourism Development Fund (TDF) has adopted cloud computing technology in cooperation with Oracle to enable investors to benefit from the Saudi tourism sector’s promising opportunities.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, TDF said that implementing the Cloud Computing Strategy (CCS) would enhance data integration, increase productivity, reduce costs, unify and facilitate operations and ensure smooth communication with all stakeholders, including investors, donors, and governmental agencies.  TDF said cooperation with the world’s largest database management company will provide a full range of Oracle Cloud Infrastructure solutions and Oracle Fusion Cloud Applications which will contribute to enhancing TDF’s services. 
The fund was founded in June with an initial $4 billion investment and is part of plans to diversify the Kingdom’s economy.