Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project
Mujtaba Saeed’s script draws parallels between Makkah and Berlin, and explores the contrasts between traditional values and the modern world
Updated 26 min 9 sec ago
RIYADH: Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed’s relationship with Makkah began at an early age. He fondly recalls family journeys to the vibrant city for Umrah or Hajj, surrounded by people of all ethnicities and nationalities who gathered at the holy place for one common purpose.
He paints a picture of childhood road trips across the multi-toned sand dunes of Saudi Arabia as buses passed by carrying strangers from all walks of life, all chanting the same prayer in a united voice.
Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel.
“It was filled with adventure,” he told Arab News. “From a child’s perspective, it was a long trip that never ends. My relationship with Makkah was the idea of traveling to a place.”
The screenwriter and director is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city, which was a big part of his life until he moved to Germany as a young adult to continue his education.
“After that, I didn’t visit (Makkah) for a while but the memories remained,” he said. “I consider (the memories) things that open up questions related to time, connection and the act of travel … I think it’s similar to any Saudi’s relationship to Makkah.”
Mujtaba Saeed remembers the journeys from his childhood home in the city of Saihat, in the Eastern Province, to the Hijaz region in the west of the country as being full of excitement and marvel. Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script.
He added that the city is a focus for the many individuals and families who visit it as pilgrims throughout their lives.
“I think I grew up with these visuals and they’re filled with emotions; Makkah is a place filled with emotions for me,” he explained.
Saeed, who now splits his time between residences in Berlin and Saudi Arabia, said these emotions and his experiences with the holy city are what inspired his latest script. It is still a work in progress but he is determined to share its story not only with fellow Saudis but audiences around the world.
“It’s up to everyone to try to engage and integrate with different cultures,” he said. “I think what’s inside us as humans and what motivates us as people is all one.”
The script reflects Saeed’s own life as it revolves around two cities: Makkah and Berlin. Though there are many differences between them there are also similarities, not least a transient nature, with people constantly coming and going: Pilgrims in Makkah, and tourists and students in Berlin.
“These two places are directions (Qiblatan) for many people in the world, so I’m trying to search for the contrasts between the two and how that contrast affects the characters,” he said.
“For me, it’s also really important to see how this young city of Berlin opens up questions for anyone who visits it … questions that relate to our relationships with our bodies, and our connection to ourselves and others.”
Saeed said the search for answers to these questions by the characters in the story creates the conflict that is essential in any drama.
He added that his aim with the script is to explore the contrast between notions relating to the traditional values of “old society” and the modern, globalized world. More importantly, he said, it considers whether diverse groups of individuals, each with their own dynamic and colorful backgrounds, can coexist safely in one place.
“In Makkah, this equation exists,” said Saeed. “From the time I left to study in Germany and then worked there, there was care in a city that was also global. But still, there remains the important question: How can you amplify other voices there?”
He said he feels a responsibility as an artist to amplify voices that often go unheard. As the development of arts and entertainment in the Kingdom continues, as part of which the country aims to become a regional hub for cinema, filmmaking and broader forms of cultural exchange, he believes the growth of Saudi cinema offers an ideal opportunity to achieve that goal.
“At this stage of national renaissance, where we are giving a voice to Saudi cinema, we need, in addition to the work that the Saudi film commission does to develop regulated creations, to have an interest in more collaborative efforts, whether that’s with Europe, India, or other counties,” Saeed said.
“I think cinema will become our language — and it’s a universal language — in the coming years.
“The importance of the European Film Festival in Riyadh is something we can’t argue about and I think it’s important to focus on presenting diverse cinematic content.”
The inaugural EFF, which aimed to promote European cinema and encourage the building of contacts between filmmakers in Europe and Saudi Arabia, took place between June 15 and 22. Saeed believes it was important in terms of helping to bridge cultural gaps and encouraging ongoing communication.
“I don’t think the festival presented films that are new to this audience, because the Saudi audience greatly follows (cinema), but it’s important for European filmmakers to meet this audience,” he said.
Saeed’s other current projects include a screenplay titled “Gharaq,” which translates as “Drowning,” which in June won the Best Feature Film Script award at the 2022 Saudi Film Festival. Saeed said that it explores the duality of forgiveness and revenge, adding: “A person can’t be free unless he forgives.”
The film is prepping for production, with filming due to take place in the east of the Kingdom. He is hopeful it will be a Saudi-German co-production.
Saeed’s 2021 film “Zawal” won a Golden Palm award for Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival, and a Golden Sail award at the Gulf Radio and Television Festival, which took place in Bahrain between June 21 and 23. It tells the story of an 8-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a refugee camp under quarantine following the outbreak of a mystery pandemic.
Saudi authorities supervise readiness to ensure safe Hajj
A mock experiment in Makkah ensures staff readiness to deal with emergencies
Updated 02 July 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s health and humanitarian authorities, Makkah Health Affairs and the Saudi Red Crescent Authority in Madinah, supervised inspections in the holy cities to assess readiness and preparations to ensure a safe Hajj.
Makkah Health Affairs participated in a mock experiment that consisted of a fire drill in one of the pilgrim residences in the city, to measure the degree of preparedness of the medical facilities and staff this Hajj season.
The experiment consisted of a fire resulting from a short circuit, which prompted smoke and flames outside the building and resulted in the removal of a number of residents, in addition to 34 casualties ranging from injuries to fatalities.
The cases were checked by the medical staff according to their designated zones, where they were positioned: Six cases in the red zone, eight cases in the yellow zone, 16 cases in the green zone and four cases in the black zone.
Hamad Al-Otaibi, spokesperson of Makkah Health Affairs, confirmed that this experiment was carried out with the participation of a number of medical and security authorities and departments.
The experiment also witnessed the participation of the executive administration of emergencies and disasters in Makkah Healthcare Cluster and the affiliated hospitals — Al-Noor Specialist Hospital, King Abdulaziz Hospital, King Faisal Hospital — and the ambulatory centers.
The director general of Makkah Health Affairs and chairman of the Hajj and Umrah executive committee, Wael bin Hamza Mutair, confirmed the readiness of the health sector in Makkah to deal with all medical, ambulatory and emergency cases inside and outside the holy places.
King Salman ordered state sectors to serve pilgrims during Hajj to the best of their ability during a recent Cabinet meeting.
“Serving Hajj and Umrah pilgrims has been at the forefront of the Kingdom’s priority since its establishment and still is. We are proud to continue this mission with the highest competency,” the King said.
Meanwhile, SRCA President Dr. Jalal bin Mohammed Al-Owaisi visited Madinah to check and inaugurate a number of ambulatory centers in the region.
The visit came as part of his tour to check preparations ahead of the pilgrimage, and to ensure the readiness of the various centers receiving pilgrims in Makkah and Madinah.
Al-Owaisi listened to a detailed presentation on the potential of the centers, and the most important preparations done by these centers to receive visitors to Madinah during the Hajj season.
Protesters storm into parliament building in eastern Libya
Updated 02 July 2022
BENGHAZI, Libya: Demonstrators broke into the building that houses the eastern Libya-based parliament in Tobruk on Friday, setting fire to parts of it amid protests over months of failed efforts to set the divided country on a path toward elections.
One witness, Taher Amaizig, said thousands joined a march to the parliament building calling for the current political powers to be dissolved and elections to be held. He said that as security guards tried to prevent people from entering, a protester was shot in the legs and other demonstrators then forced their way inside.
Videos circulated on social media showed protesters filing past burning piles. Friday is the first day of the weekend in Libya, meaning the building was likely empty when it was stormed. It was unclear what protesters intended by targeting the building
Other protests demanding elections were staged earlier in the day in several cities around Libya.
The unrest comes a day after representatives of Libya’s rival powers — one based in the east of the country and the other in the west — failed at UN-mediated talks in Geneva to reach agreement on a constitutional framework for national elections.
After more than a decade of war, the country is once again split between competing administrations, sliding backwards despite a year of tentative steps toward unity.
Oil-rich Libya has been wrecked by conflict since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, leading to a rise in rival governments. The administration based in the east is backed by military commander Khalifa Haftar, and a UN-supported administration is based in the capital of Tripoli. Each side is supported by different militias and foreign powers.
Tobruk, the seat of Libya’s House of Representatives, has long been allied with Haftar. More recently the parliament there elected Fathy Basghagha as prime minister to a government that rivals the Tripoli-based administration. Bashagha, a powerful former interior minister, is now operating a separate administration out of the city of Sirte.
Libya’s plan for elections last Dec. 24 fell through after the interim administration based in Tripoli, headed by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, failed to go ahead with the vote. The failure was a major blow to international efforts to end a decade of chaos in Libya.
The deteriorating economic situation was also a factor in Friday’s protests. In Tripoli, hundreds came out earlier in the day in opposition to the political crisis but also to rail against electricity shortages and rising prices for fuel and bread.
Libya’s Dbeibah says ‘election’ the only solution for crisis
Updated 02 July 2022
The head of Libya’s Government of National Unity Abdulhamid Al-Dbeibah said he supports protesters in the country, agrees that all institutions should leave including the government, and there is no way to do that except through “election.”
Dbeibah’s comments come after protesters stormed the parliament building in the eastern city of Tobruk and staged the biggest demonstration for years in the capital Tripoli, in the west.
UN urges world action to cut 1.3 million road deaths in half
Updated 02 July 2022
UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly’s first high-level meeting on road safety called Friday for global action to cut the annual toll of nearly 1.3 million deaths and 50 million injuries in traffic crashes by at least half by decade’s end.
The political declaration adopted by consensus on the final day of the two-day session says traffic deaths and injuries not only cause widespread suffering for loved ones but cost countries an average of 3 percent to 5 percent of their annual gross domestic product.
It says that “makes road safety an urgent public health and development priority.”
The delegates urged all countries to commit to scaling up efforts and setting national targets to reduce fatalities and serious injuries as called for in the Global Plan for the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2021-2030.
Addressing Thursday’s opening session, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that road accidents are the primary cause of death globally of young people ages 5 to 29, and that nine out of 10 victims are in low- and middle-income countries.
“Road fatalities are closely linked to poor infrastructure, unplanned urbanization, lax social protection and health care systems, limited road safety literacy, and persistent inequalities both within and between countries,” he said. “At the same time, unsafe roads are a key obstacle to development.”
The UN chief called for “more ambitious and urgent action to reduce the biggest risks — such as speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol or any psychoactive substance or drug, failure to use seatbelts, helmets and child restraints, unsafe road infrastructure and unsafe vehicles, poor pedestrian safety, and inadequate enforcement of traffic laws.”
He urged increased spending on improving infrastructure and implementing “cleaner mobility and greener urban planning, especially in low- and middle-income countries.”
The UN Road Safety Fund, which was established in 2018 to help cut road deaths and injuries in low- and middle-income countries, held its first pledging event Thursday and said 16 countries and private sector donors had pledged $15 million.
The fund said it is financing 25 high-impact projects in 30 countries and five regions around the world and more money is needed.
Jean Todt, the UN special envoy for road safety, said, “More funding can and must be channeled toward road safety solutions to stop the senseless loss of lives still occurring on our roads each and every day.”
General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid said Friday that “in most countries, investments in road safety remain underfunded.”
Some countries don’t have “the resources or the know how to design safer roads or vehicles, or to inculcate safe road use behavior,” he said, which is why the declaration calls for delivering road safety knowledge to all road users in the world.