Why interest in Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry has exploded

Special Film has enjoyed a huge revival in Saudi Arabia sInce the decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018, and as part of the Vision 2030 reform agenda huge investments are being made to turn the country into a film powerhouse. (Supplied)
Film has enjoyed a huge revival in Saudi Arabia sInce the decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018, and as part of the Vision 2030 reform agenda huge investments are being made to turn the country into a film powerhouse. (Supplied)
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Updated 18 February 2022

Why interest in Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry has exploded

Film has enjoyed a huge revival in Saudi Arabia sInce the decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018, and as part of the Vision 2030 reform agenda huge investments are being made to turn the country into a film powerhouse. (Supplied)
  • As the Kingdom pushes its Vision 2030 agenda, it is aiming to become the Middle East’s film-production powerhouse
  • International producers and Hollywood studios are flocking to the Kingdom to strike deals in a fertile new market

DUBAI: A husband and wife fight as their marriage deteriorates and their home is overtaken by “evil spirits.” A bride disappears during her wedding, leaving her guests waiting and her mother in meltdown. A pregnant woman tries to distinguish reality from dreams, drug-induced delusion and perceptions of death.

These are just some of the enticing story lines of recent Saudi movie releases. The last of these, “Rupture,” is a film by Hamzah K. Jamjoom, which won top prize in the Red Sea International Film Festival’s Saudi film category in December.

Four years ago, screening such films in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas were banned for more than 30 years between 1983 until 2018, was unthinkable. But now, as the Kingdom pushes its Vision 2030 reform agenda, it is aiming to become the Middle East’s new film industry powerhouse and instill in Saudis a love of watching and making movies.

So far, the plan is working. International producers and Hollywood studios are flocking to the Kingdom to produce films and strike deals in a fertile new market. Cinemas are seeing exponential growth as screens open and Saudi households flock to theaters. According to Comscore, box-office market revenues in Saudi Arabia rose to $238 million in 2021 — a 95 percent increase from 2020.

Importantly, there are now numerous incentives for young Saudi filmmakers to develop their craft at home. The Saudi government is investing billions in building a film industry with international and regional ambitions.

During the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah in December, the Ministry of Investment announced that the Kingdom would support the production of 100 films by 2030.




A Saudi film fan taking a selfie next to a sign showing the logo of the Red Sea Film Festival last year at the entrance of old Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)

For many young Saudis this is a dream come true — even if they cannot quite believe their eyes. Until 2018, aspiring filmmakers often had to shoot in secret, dodging religious police to do so. The challenges became so frustrating for many with ambitions that they left to produce films and build careers abroad.

“Saudi filmmakers have always been there, fascinated by storytelling, but it is so fresh that film is now becoming an industry in Saudi Arabia,” Sarah Taibah, a Saudi actress and film writer, told Arab News.

“This is now a surreal dream that has now actually become a reality and I am so glad to be part of this industry at this early stage. People are now hungry to hear our stories.”

The boom is prompting many Saudi filmmakers and professionals who have been based and working abroad for years to come home and work in their own country. Ahd Kamel, 41, a well-known actress and filmmaker, is one of them.

“There was a ban on films my entire lifetime — it was taboo,” Kamel told Arab News. “When I started doing films I was told: ‘Absolutely, not. This is not something you can do.’ I had to define myself as a filmmaker on the other side of the river. It’s been 40 years of my life. It’s baffling, amazing and wonderful. When you are young you are pigeon-holed about what is happening but now, I can see that in a lifetime, things can really change.” 




As the Kingdom pushes its Vision 2030 reform agenda, it is aiming to become the Middle East’s new film industry powerhouse and instill in Saudis a love of watching and making movies. (AFP/File Photo)

In 2012, Kamel played a conservative teacher in the film “Wadjda,” which was directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first Saudi feature directed by a woman and the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. Kamel is now preparing to shoot a new film in the Kingdom about her family’s driver, who died recently.

Mona Khashoggi, a film and theater producer who was based in London for 20 years, has now returned to her hometown of Jeddah to take part in what amounts to a cultural revolution.

“Even when we didn’t have cinemas, we are all very cultured and many Saudis had cinemas in their homes,” she told Arab News. “What I want to see in Saudi films is not films about oppression that the West is expecting and stereotyping but stories about the youth and women who are now building their lives in this new reality in the Kingdom.”

A major attraction for foreign investors is the fact that 70 percent of the Kingdom’s 34 million population is under the age of 30 and have money to spend. Telfaz 11, a studio specializing in locally relevant content and Saudi Arabia’s youth culture, is growing rapidly thanks to internal and foreign investment.

Alaa Yousef Fadan, Ali Al-Kalthami and Ibrahim Al Khairallah founded Riyadh-based Telfaz 11 just over 10 years ago, and immediately set about revolutionizing content creation for young people via YouTube.

INNUMBERS

* 138 Films screened at Red Sea International Film Festival in December 2021.

* 60 Countries whose films were shown at Red Sea International Film Festival.

* 36 Saudi-made films shown at Saudi Film Festival in Jeddah in July 2021.

In November 2020, Telfaz 11 struck a deal with Netflix to produce eight feature films as the streaming platform sought to break into the Middle Eastern market. Then, in December, Telfaz 11 secured a multimillion-dollar funding line from a consortium of high-profile local financiers.

It acquired Last Scene Films, a production house also based in Riyadh, and is setting up Wadi Cinema, an independent cinema house in a joint venture with Muvi Cinema, the first home-grown cinema brand in the Kingdom.

The company has big ambitions. Faden says he and his partners will use the latest funding “to build its development and production slate ... . The company’s focus is to be the premiere destination for filmmakers and talent throughout the world.”

The changes are nothing short of revolutionary. Cinema, however, was not completely foreign to the Kingdom, even in the days when it was banned. Film fans remained determined to watch movies in the company of fellow enthusiasts.

The Saudi Film Festival, which will in its eighth edition in June 2022, was founded in Dammam in Eastern Province in 2008 by Ahmed Al-Mulla and colleagues at the local Literature Club.




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)

“A lot of people in the 1980s and 1990s, like me, loved cinema, but didn’t have cinema in public to watch,” Al-Mulla recalled.

When Al-Mulla became a member of the board of the Literature Club, he began discussing with other members how to screen films. For nearly two years, they managed to discreetly screen films, including local productions, every Sunday night.

“We had many clashes with the other side who believed cinema was forbidden,” he told Arab News. “But we believed we had the right to see movies, and this is part of our culture and part of our mandate as the Literature Club.”

In 2016, two years before cinemas were officially reopened in the Kingdom, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture joined the club as a strategic partner and, since then, the Saudi Arabian Society of Culture and Arts has organized the Saudi Film Festival.

The current wave of producers, writers and actors have much to thank the enthusiasts in Dammam for in keeping cinema alive and nurturing early pioneers in domestic filmmaking.




Saudi actor Saed Khader (C) waves his award for at the opening ceremony of the fourth Saudi Film Festival held in Dammam City. (AFP/File Photo)

“It was all done underground,” said Al-Mulla. “There were no opportunities then to film or get financing. Everything depended on the individual.”

Last but not certainly not the least, cinema’s comeback in Saudi Arabia has given women, who now have many more freedoms than they did previously, a much stronger voice.

“Over the last few years, I have been getting more requests to do films about Saudi women,” Taibah, the actress, told Arab News.

“People want films by Saudi women that tell stories about Saudi women. This is all very fresh. I feel so blessed it is finally happening, because no one tells our story better than us.”


Arab hip-hop culture takes center stage at BeatRoots in Riyadh

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
Updated 06 July 2022

Arab hip-hop culture takes center stage at BeatRoots in Riyadh

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
  • Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News: “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to either perform or connect with each other

RIYADH: The Saudi hip-hop music scene was in the spotlight at the weekend when local talent took to the stage in Riyadh at BeatRoots, a special music event that took place on Friday at AlMashtal Creative Space, in collaboration with Bahraini record label Museland.

The event, inspired by New York-style block parties, featured live performances by six Saudi and Bahraini artists, plus graffiti artists, b-boy dancing, and a market selling sneakers, street fashion and vinyl records.

AlMashtal, a creative incubator, regularly hosts collaborations with creators of various kinds, including musicians, visual artists and fashion designers. Its goal is to provide a platform to help creative talents to develop their crafts, grow and showcase their work.

“We really like to focus on these local talents, these up-and-coming artists that need a space to express themselves, to have their own audience, a chance to showcase themselves in front of an intimate audience; the right type of audience, the right type of space,” Elham Ghanimah, AlMashtal’s creative labs curator, told Arab News.

The night began with a mellow performance by Bahraini musician and graffiti artist Du$t. His music is inspired by diverse elements such as B-boy dancing, graffiti and surrealist art. He explained that it is important for his craft that he thinks outside of the box when creating his music, and said that he is pleased to see his style of music building a following in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s amazing to see it growing here as well,” he told Arab News. “In Bahrain (we’ve done) the same event there, so to bring it here and to see that everyone is involved brings a nice feeling.”

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. It is already a regular event in Bahrain and now the label is expanding to other parts of the region.

“Everyone’s happy; the energy is really good, everything is positive, the crowd is really enjoying it,” Ghanimah said. “I think at the end, that’s really what matters.”

Many people assume the hip-hop scene is relatively new to Saudi Arabia but its origins can be traced back at least as far as the early 2000s, with interest in the genre fueled by the growth of the internet.

“In general, everyone focuses on hip-hop in English … It’s OK to get inspiration from the West but it’s also good to see what you have here, to connect with your own culture, with your roots,” Ghanimah said.

Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News: “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to either perform or connect with each other. That’s what I love about these kinds of events. I’ve met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have these spaces. The talent is already there; all we need is a chance to perform.”

In addition to Dattune and Du$t, the BeatRoots lineup included Fizzy, Septemba, Str8tup Rkls, and hip-hop artist, rapper, and crowd-favorite Albakri, who gave a hardcore yet heartfelt performance that included two as-yet-unreleased songs.

Albakri said his inspiration comes from looking inward, citing his culture and personal identity as huge influences on his work.

“I’m a guy of mixed identity: I’m Jordanian, I’m Palestinian and I’m Saudi. I’m all of these. So it’s just about how I can connect with those three cultures,” he told Arab News.

When it comes to his unique sound, he said his main inspirations come from around Riyadh, in particular his producers Leo, Mufasa and Dice, as well as DJs and friends such as Bucky Grooves, Vinylmode and Baloo. The rapper said he hopes to establish his own record label one day.

“I’m very happy that someone from Bahrain looked into (Riyadh) and was digging for artists … Seeing people open up to the genre, seeing collaborations between the hip-hop genre, the dance/house/minimal genre … and having a space, being a collective — all of that matters to the genre and the music in general,” he said.

AlMashtal’s stated aim with cultural events such as BeatRoots is to open the doors for discussions, cultural and artistic exchanges, and the promotion of creative ventures across the Arab region.

“We wanna do more collaborations just to put everything forward in a positive way,” Ghanimah said.

“Not everyone gets a chance and if people do get a chance, not everyone gets the right chance and the right type of support.

“So, you’re getting to showcase yourself not just at any space but at a creative incubator where the whole goal is to nurture these creatives and help them reach their goals.”


Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites
Updated 06 July 2022

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services has been carrying out maintenance work in Makkah on roads leading to holy sites to help ensure the safety of pilgrims, improve travel to and from the holy sites, and help make Hajj experience easier, officials said.

The work includes installing protective barriers, fences, road signs and concrete curbs, and repainting road markings. Roads and buildings are also being repaired. The maintenance efforts have focused on improving the Hijrah route, along with the Jeddah and Makkah highways, but have also taken in parts of Makkah and the holy sites.

Some projects are already complete, including lighting along the Hijrah route and the extension of some Makkah highways.

The Ministry of Transport is responsible for planning and implementing air, land and sea transport in the Kingdom, including the maintenance of roads and coordination of the nation’s transportation system.


Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience
Updated 06 July 2022

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience
  • The program includes three exhibitions related to the holy sites and four religious and cultural initiatives
  • They were launched on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, represented by Kidana Development Company

JEDDAH: A series of special exhibitions and enrichment initiatives will take place at the holy sites during Hajj to provide pilgrims with enhanced spiritual and cultural experiences as part of an unforgettable Hajj journey.

The program was launched on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, represented by the Kidana Development Company.

In a message posted on its official Twitter account, Kidana said: “To achieve the #Saudi_Vision_2030 through enriching the religious journey, the cultural experience and caring for the #Pilgrims, #Kidana launches seven initiatives to enrich the experience of the pilgrims with the participation of governmental and private sectors.”

The seven events include three exhibitions related to the holy sites and four religious and cultural initiatives.

The Covenant Exhibition in Arafat will introduce pilgrims to the most prominent characteristics of Makkah and its residents. The Water Story Exhibition, also in the Arafat area, highlights the history of water provision during Hajj and the honor of the mission. It is presented in cooperation with the Al-Zamazemah Company, which is responsible for supplying and distributing water at the holy sites during Hajj and Umrah, and throughout the year.

The third exhibition, in Mina, focuses on the Kiswa, the cloth that covers the Kaaba. It will tell the history of the Kiswa, explain how it is made, and highlight the efforts made by the Kingdom to provide and develop all Kaaba-related services. The exhibition is being organized by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the House of Islamic Arts, and The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research.

The other four initiatives cover various cultural, Islamic and social topics, and will be presented in a variety of locations in collaboration with a number of specialist associations.

Coffee represents a strong element of Saudi culture that is closely linked to the identity and traditions of the country. In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture’s Year of Saudi Coffee initiative, coffee will be served to pilgrims in Mina. As part of the Hajj initiative, the pilgrims will also have a chance to learn about the distinctive characteristics of Saudi coffee, along with ways of preparing and serving it.

The second initiative, which will take place beside the Aqaba Hill Mosque in collaboration with the Saudi Tour Guides Association, aims to share the history of the location and the events that took place there.

The Kidana Development Company is organizing an initiative called A Photo and a Memory to help pilgrims remember and treasure the highlights of their Hajj experience, as part of which visitors will be presented with gifts.

Finally, the Aroma of the Holy Sites, which will take place at Mina during Eid Al-Adha, is a unique initiative designed to capture and share the essence of the holy sites.


AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities
Updated 45 min ago

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities
  • There are regular local flights to the UNESCO World Heritage site from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, and also from Dubai

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia: As part of the latest efforts to promote AlUla as an increasingly popular summer vacation destination, new schedules have been announced for direct flights from within the Kingdom and the UAE.

Under the theme Live the World’s Masterpiece Summer Untold, the campaign also highlights the world-class tourism and entertainment offerings at AlUla, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with special activities and excursions in the coming months and accommodation options.

Beginning this month, Saudia will offer three weekly direct flights from Riyadh to AlUla, increasing to five a week from Aug 1. As of July 4, flights are operating from Jeddah to AlUla every day of the week except Fridays. And beginning on Aug. 1, visitors from Dammam can fly direct to AlUla on weekdays. Meanwhile, Flynas offers flights between Riyadh and AlUla every Sunday.

Flynas also offers flights to AlUla from the UAE. They depart from Dubai on Fridays and return flights depart every Sunday. The airline has said it plans to increase the frequency of the flights by September. In addition, Flydubai offers two flights a week to AlUla, on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the attractions of AlUla is its weather, which is is slightly cooler than many other parts of the country during the scorching Saudi summer. As a result, it is a popular location for visitors keen to enjoy outdoor activities such as cycling, camel riding, swimming or hiking during the day and stargazing at night.

Unique attractions include Jabal Al-Fil, or Elephant Rock, a stunning natural rock formation. Meanwhile fans of local culture and heritage can sign up for guided tours of historic locations such as Hegra, AlUla Old Town, and about half a dozen other options in and around around Dadan, Jabal Lkmah and other locations.

More adventurous or active visitors might consider having a go at ziplining, rock climbing, hiking on the hidden valley trail, or taking in the views from the air on a helicopter tour. For those who prefer to relax and enjoy a slower-paced vacation, stargazing remains a favorite activity for many, and there are also live concerts and other performances to enjoy in the Old Market Town.

In the Old Town of AlUla, visitors can chat and haggle with local vendors or tour the handicraft pavilions, where nature is the main component of traditional crafts.

When it is time to rest and recharge, visitors can sample the menus at many local restaurants, including Tama at Habitas, Suhail Old Town, Pink Camel Pastry Boutique and Circolo.

For businesses looking for an unforgettable location for a conference or team-building retreat, spaces at the majestic Maraya are available to rent. Recognized in 2020 by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest mirrored building, it offers capacity of up to 500 seats and stunning scenery all around.

The accommodation options include the popular Shaden, a four-star resort 32 minutes from the airport that offers 125 rooms and villas; and Habitas, a five-star resort 45 minutes from the airport that will reopen on July 25 after maintenance work. In addition, Caravan by Habitas offers 22 recreational vehicles.

“We will turn AlUla into a living museum, creating memories that visitors will share with the world,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman once said. “Heritage is the main asset of AlUla. We have to use this asset to offer visitors a unique journey through time where they can enjoy a living museum.”


Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum
Updated 06 July 2022

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday took part in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2022, which is concerned with the sustainable development goals and working to accelerate their progress.
The forum, which is the main UN platform to follow up on the progress of the 17 SDGs and review its plans for 2030, is being held under the title: “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
The Kingdom’s delegation is headed by the Ministry of Economy and Planning, with the participation of representatives from the ministries of education, finance, health, human resources and social development, environment, water and agriculture, communications and information technology, and the General Authority for Statistics.

 


The Kingdom’s delegation to the forum is led by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and Planning for Policies and Economic Planning Ayman bin Ishaq Afghani.
The forum, which will continue until July 15, will address goals aimed at rebuilding better after the pandemic, and a global outlook on developing the full implementation of the 2030 SDG agenda.
It will also focus on the goals of quality education, gender equality, life under water and on land, establishing partnerships to achieve the goals, and the importance of international cooperation and commitment to achieving the SDGs, taking into account low-income and least developed countries.
Afghani stressed the critical importance of the forum, saying: “The world is currently going through an important phase that requires all of us to cooperate and know what we need right now, and where we should be in the next stage, so that efforts can yield real results that will benefit the local and global levels.”
During the forum’s activities, the Kingdom’s representatives will highlight the roadmap plan developed by the country in coordination with stakeholders to achieve the SDGs, and the progress made through programs, initiatives and projects in line with the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030.
The 17 SDGs center around a call for all countries to work to promote prosperity and economic growth, and these goals include a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and employment opportunities, while addressing climate change and environmental protection.