Ithra’s first Saudi Cinema Nights celebrates filmmaking in KSA

The screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. (Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)
The screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. (Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)
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Updated 19 March 2022

Ithra’s first Saudi Cinema Nights celebrates filmmaking in KSA

The screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. (Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)
  • The event, organized in collaboration with Red Sea International Film Festival, included a curated selection of shorts and features

DHAHRAN: Fans of Saudi cinema filled the plush, multi-colored theater seats at Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, on Tuesday, March 15, as the venue co-hosted a new event celebrating local films and emerging talent in the Kingdom.

“In collaboration with the Red Sea International Film Festival, we are having an event titled Saudi Cinema Nights,” Mansour Albadran, the cinema coordinator at Ithra’s performing arts unit, told Arab News.

“It is a signature event by the (RSIFF) and we decided to have it here in Dhahran for the first time.”




The screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers. (Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)

The event was like a masterclass in modern Saudi cinema, as viewers were treated to a curated selection of recent films exploring the Saudi condition, all of which were made local directors and producers and featured local actors. The screenings were followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers.

The first film was “Quareer,” the title of which is derived from an Arabic word that roughly translates as “glass bottle.” It is an anthology featuring five short films made by five female directors — Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi, and Noor Alameer — as part of their graduation project.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The first film was ‘Quareer,’ the title of which is derived from an Arabic word that roughly translates as ‘glass bottle.’ It is an anthology featuring five short films made by five female directors — Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi, and Noor Alameer — as part of their graduation project.

• Next up were two films by pioneering journalist-turned-filmmaker Faiza Ambah, who presented her debut Arabic-language film ‘Nour Shams,’ along with ‘Jawwi,’ a short documentary about the making of the film.

• Audiences then watched ‘Route 10,’ an action movie, directed and co-written by Omar Naim, about two privileged siblings who set off on a road trip from Riyadh to attend a family wedding in Abu Dhabi and are faced with internal and external threats along the way.

Each vignette tells a story about a Saudi girl or woman living in the Kingdom in the past decade or so, recent-enough history to be easily identifiable to anyone in the audience over the age of 21.

The title was chosen to reflect the fact that Saudi women can be fragile but also strong and capable of taking on any challenge or role required of them.




Saudi Cinema Nights at Ithra. (Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)

After the screening, the directors spoke about their experiences of creating and telling their stories of Saudi women and how much it means to them for it to be shown in their home country.

Next up were two films by pioneering journalist-turned-filmmaker Faiza Ambah, who presented her debut Arabic-language film “Nour Shams,” along with “Jawwi,” a short documentary about the making of the film.

They were filmed in various neighborhoods of Jeddah where, for about seven months during the pandemic, Ambah introduced filmmaking to an area largely untouched by cinema. She worked with local youths during the production, most of whom were between the ages of about 10 and 13 and had never seen a film in a theater.

Without realizing it at the time, she was also documenting a part of the city that would soon be redeveloped. As a result many of the neighborhoods in which she filmed are now gone, demolished to make way for new construction plans, and so her film became a valuable archive of historical footage.




(Supplied/Ahmed Al-Thani)

Ambah returned to her roots for the screening on Tuesday; she grew up in Dhahran before leaving to work for Arab News in the late 1980s.

In 2015, she wrote and directed her debut film, “Mariam,” about a French Muslim girl who faces a dilemma when the hijab is banned in schools. In one scene in “Nour Shams,” a character shouts, “The French hate the Arabs,” possibly a nod to the earlier film.

During a post-screening conversation with Ithra’s cinema coordinator, Mohammed Almousa, Ambah talked about the challenges and joys of working in her home country and sharing neglected narratives.

Audiences then watched “Route 10,” an action movie, directed and co-written by Omar Naim, about two privileged siblings who set off on a road trip from Riyadh to attend a family wedding in Abu Dhabi and are faced with internal and external threats along the way.

One of stars, Baraa Alem, talked after the screening with Albadran about how difficult it had been to shoot a film at “the height” of the COVID-19 pandemic, when cast and crew had to take PCR tests every few days.

He also spoke about how he had also been coping with a recent personal loss; his father passed away shortly before filming began, and Alem said he had thrown himself into his role as a result.

All of the films screened on Tuesday were chosen by a committee and screened during the RSIFF in December.

“We are very happy to have this event here in Ithra,” Albadran said. “We think this event will be a start of a long-term, unique relationship between Ithra and the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“Ithra is co-organizing this with the (RSIFF) as part of its efforts to reinforce its presence in the film industry as one of the oldest and, if you will, biggest players of the cinema industry in the Kingdom, and the Eastern Province specifically.

“We hope this event tonight will be an event that people will remember (along with the) movies they watch. Whether you’re a cinema lover or a filmmaker, we hope that you find (something) here.”


First Saudi balloon pilot has a license to thrill

First Saudi balloon pilot has a license to thrill
Updated 11 August 2022

First Saudi balloon pilot has a license to thrill

First Saudi balloon pilot has a license to thrill

JEDDAH: The first Saudi to become a licensed hot air balloon pilot in the Kingdom is ready to give back to the community after his “blessed and lucky” three-year training experience.

Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Wohaibi’s certification on July 27 by the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation marked the completion of a goal that began in Australia in 2019.

He told Arab News that his dream of becoming a hot air balloon was sparked while completing his master’s degree in Australia three years ago.

“I remember that day in 2019. I was watching a group of hot air balloons drifting slowly across the sky. The beauty of seeing the balloons moving peacefully almost serenely on the horizon is what hooked me the most. I was so close that I could hear the sound of its dramatic flame gas burner as it filled the balloon with heated air,” Al-Wohaibi said.

Al-Wohaibi has always had a liking for high altitudes, and had completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, as well as another bachelor’s degree in airworthiness management.

Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Wohaibi’s certification on July 27 marked the completion of a goal that began in Australia in 2019. (Supplied)

“I was very curious about the balloon experience, although I have been to many other adventure experiences, this one was the most beautiful; it was so peaceful,” he said.

Since that day in 2019, Al-Wohaibi was inspired to explore the culture and history of the hot air balloon and embark on his training journey.

“This is what I always wanted to do, and most importantly, it is what I want to share with my loved ones in the Kingdom,” he said.

Al-Wohaibi holds two private pilot licenses: One for fixed-wing aircraft, issued by the UK in 2015, and another issued by Australia in 2019.

In 2020, he was licensed to fly hot air balloons by the Australian Balloon Federation as well as the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Completing his training and gaining registration “was indeed an honor and has allowed me to explore more and gain a new experience,” Al-Wohaibi said.

He passed the Australian test in his first attempt and finished training in just five weeks, breaking a record for the fastest training time in the country.

“Completing the course in such a tight timescale was a challenging achievement; normally trainees would take up to 12 months to complete the course. However, I am so thankful for all the family support, as the training site was a three-hour drive away, which placed some strain on my family and I was doing my master’s degree as well,” he said.

“I feel so blessed and lucky as I was taught how to fly with the Australian national champion Paul Gibbs in the high country of Australia’s Victoria state. Gibbs is a highly accomplished pilot, with numerous awards and qualifications in the ballooning field.”

Al-Wohaibi is certified to fly larger balloons carrying up to 36 passengers and is allowed to travel within fly-in airports, “Getting qualified is just the start — mastering flying, acquiring new skills, and transferring the knowledge and experience is the goal,” he said.

And Al-Wohaibi is now ready to give back to his country and community by introducing people in the Kingdom to the culture of hot air ballooning, so that they can see the natural beauty of Saudi Arabian landscapes in peace.

“I want to transfer the knowledge and experiences I gained to benefit those interested in this sport in the Kingdom,” he said.

Al-Wohaibi is also keen to train new pilots and start a tourism flight business, contributing to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

As the tourism sector surges inside Saudi Arabia, Al-Wohaibi had the chance earlier this year to fly during a hot air balloon show in AlUla.

The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019. (Supplied)

The event was part of the AlUla Skies Festival, which brought more than 150 hot air balloon flights to the ancient site.

“I can see the drastic development of tourism and sports happening, and I think flying hot air balloons is a significant contribution for sure,” Al-Wohaibi said.

One of his main ambitions moving forward is to own a personal balloon, enabling flights through the “best locations” in the Kingdom and sharing the experience with friends and family.

“Having a good understanding of the weather, especially local weather and peculiarities, is crucial. Saudi Arabia features a very diverse meteorological environment, which in itself is a satisfying challenge,” Al-Wohaibi said.

“I will be launching from different cities around the Kingdom. I am also interested in being involved in as many international balloon events and competitions, nationally and internationally.”

The first hot air balloon experience was brought to Saudi Arabia in AlUla in 2019.


Saudi schools to undergo tech-based learning revolution, expert tells panel

Saudi schools to undergo tech-based learning revolution, expert tells panel
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi schools to undergo tech-based learning revolution, expert tells panel

Saudi schools to undergo tech-based learning revolution, expert tells panel

RIYADH: Extended reality technologies will soon revolutionize the educational environment in Saudi Arabia, NEOM Academy Managing Director Dr. Ali Al-Shammari has told a panel of leading tech experts.

Al-Shammari joined the panel to discuss the future of XR technology, which includes virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video content.

As VR headsets and software become more accessible than ever, fields including education are adopting the technology around the world to enhance knowledge-building, Al-Shammari said.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Shammari, also dean of e-learning and distance education at the University of Tabuk, said: “Medical science is actually the biggest field that includes some VR immersive learning environment technologies, including natural sciences like physics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry — and it keeps growing.”

Previously, the teacher-centered education system emphasized learning from a sole source while discrediting alternatives, he added.

“Right now, we focus more on students themselves, and how to provide them with the tools and resources in order to develop their skills, knowledge and values,” Al-Shammari said.

As technology begins to play a larger role in all facets of human life, Al-Shammari believes that it is an educator’s job to guide students on finding the appropriate communication methods to learn.

“In the past we used to have a one-size-fits-all model, where we put students all together regardless of the individual differences between them, because we want to have workers.

“We want to have students who can perform a certain list of tasks in a specific job. These days, students can learn on their own; they can learn from different resources … I am not going to say that technology will replace teachers, but I am saying technology will replace teachers who don’t know how to use technology,” he added.

“With personalized learning models, we focus more on the individual differences between students. We try to give them freedom to decide what they want to learn, and how they want to learn it,” Al-Shammari said, comparing new educational trends to past models of strict rote learning.

The prevalent public education system in most countries around the world is “seat-time based,” Al-Shammari said, meaning that students have to be in a classroom for a certain number of hours to be eligible to move forward to the next grade.

But the new personalized learning model taking off in the Kingdom focuses more on individual learning differences, such as interests, abilities, styles and personal beliefs.

And with the growth of that movement comes the introduction of cutting-edge technology: Immersive learning environments are constructed using XR technologies to create simulations that students can use to apply their knowledge.

“In an immersive learning environment, you are the actor. You perform the actions with this — you see the consequences of your actions, you get the immediate feedback and you write the story,” Al-Shammari said.

However, many parents are concerned over the use of technology in the classroom, and often compare it to recreational gaming.

But Al-Shammari said: “Sometimes it’s difficult to bring the reality to your classrooms. Think of the costs or the safety … If I want to teach you about, for example, snakes or explosive weapons, or something dangerous, I cannot bring that to the classroom. But I can put you in a situation where you can see all the environments around you.”

That also applies to the moral education of students. Instead of instructing students to react to a certain situation, you can, figuratively, be in someone else’s shoes and experience it personally through the use of XR technology.

“When I put you in an immersive learning environment and that environment is about homeless people, you will experience what it looks like to be a homeless guy — you will hear what people say about you … your value system will change,” Al-Shammari said.

As the newer philosophy of constructivism begins to play a prominent role in changing educational systems around the world, future technologies like the metaverse also have a role to play, Al-Shammari said.

“In the metaverse, I can learn based on my own speed, my own pace, the way I want and using the technology or the platform I prefer. It’s not like you have to learn that concept through VR, whether you like it or not…. I would say the metaverse is the next big thing in education,” he added.

And the rollout of these technologies could happen sooner than expected in the Kingdom. “I imagine that we will see K-12 in the next few months. I don’t wanna say years, but as I said, it’s growing very fast,” Al-Shammari said.


Tourist visa holders can now perform Umrah

Tourist visa holders can now perform Umrah
Updated 11 August 2022

Tourist visa holders can now perform Umrah

Tourist visa holders can now perform Umrah
  • 49 nations eligible under the new rules
  • Booking online or on arrival, says ministry

JEDDAH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has announced that the Kingdom will now allow visitors holding tourist visas to perform Umrah.

Citizens of 49 countries will be able to do so by securing their visas online at Visit Saudi Arabia, or immediately on arrival at airports.

The decision has been taken to allow as many people as possible to perform the ritual.

Those who qualify include holders of visas to the US and the UK, as well as those who have Schengen visas.

The regulations allow visitors to obtain a tourist visa, valid for 12 months, to visit other cities in the Kingdom.

Those who have family visit visas are allowed to perform Umrah, by booking through the Eatmarna app.

To perform Umrah, visitors are required to obtain comprehensive health insurance, which includes covering the costs of COVID-19 treatment, accidents resulting in death or disability, and expenses arising from flight delays or cancellations.

Those wishing to perform Umrah from nations other than those who currently qualify, should apply for visas at the Kingdom’s embassies in their countries.

Documents required include proof of residence and employment, return ticket, bank statement proving financial stability, itinerary, and complete personal information.


Crisis and disaster management center inaugurated in Najran

Crisis and disaster management center inaugurated in Najran
Updated 11 August 2022

Crisis and disaster management center inaugurated in Najran

Crisis and disaster management center inaugurated in Najran
  • Gov. Prince Jalawi bin Abdulaziz says opening reflects seriousness with which Kingdom takes safety of citizens, residents and visitors

RIYADH: Najran Governor Prince Jalawi bin Abdulaziz inaugurated on Tuesday a new crisis and disaster management center in Najran after approval from the Political and Security Affairs Council.

The aim is to establish centers in all regions of the Kingdom.

Prince Jalawi stressed that directives to establish new crisis centers reflect the keenness of the government to ensure the safety of citizens, residents and visitors during emergencies.

He also highlighted the importance of working as a unit to strengthen cooperation and integration between government, civil agencies and Saudi society.

The official spokesman of Najran region, Mohammed Al-Ahmadi, briefed the governor on the center’s vision for excellence in managing crises and disasters at the national level, and strengthening the security and stability of the region by raising preparedness levels.

The center is tasked with supervising, monitoring and managing all national resources to confront crises and disasters — depending on the capabilities of the region.

It is also tasked with establishing a solid base for documenting cooperation and integration among all concerned parties in the region efficiently and effectively, and involving the community with government and civil sectors in awareness and volunteer initiatives and programs.

The governor watched a mock crisis scenario — a simulated chemical leak at King Khalid Hospital in Najran and the new Najran General Hospital — and methods to deal with it through the center in coordination with the concerned authorities.

He then toured the center and was briefed on security and service operations by the region’s police director, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Shammari, the director of civil defense in the region, Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Shahrani, the director general of health affairs in the region, Dr. Ibrahim Bani Hamim, the mayor, Saleh Al-Ghamdi, and the director of the Red Crescent Authority branch in the region, Mohammed Al-Faraj.


Saudi man hailed a “hero” after pulling drowning father and daughter from Austrian lake

Saudi man hailed a “hero” after pulling drowning father and daughter from Austrian lake
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi man hailed a “hero” after pulling drowning father and daughter from Austrian lake

Saudi man hailed a “hero” after pulling drowning father and daughter from Austrian lake
  • Askar Al-Hajri was visiting Hallstatt with two of his colleagues when he saw young girl fall from a 5-meter-high fence into lake
  • Social media users praised the Saudi citizen as a hero

AUSTRIA, VIENNA: Meet Askar Al-Hajri, he’s a Saudi citizen who was holidaying in Austria, and he’s a hero.

Al-Hajri was visiting Hallstatt, a village in Austria, with two of his colleagues when he saw a young girl fall from a 5-meter-high fence into a lake.
Now the Saudi Embassy in Vienna has hailed him a “hero” for his courageous actions.


“The girl was sitting on the fence as her father snapped photos of her before she suddenly fell into the lake,” Al-Hajri told the Saudi news channel Al Ekhbariya.
Hearing wails and screams from the lake, Al-Hajri said he was first assured when he looked over and found that the father had jumped to his daughter’s rescue.
But Al-Hajri said the situation quickly worsened when both disappeared under the water.
“That’s when I had to take action and save them,” he said during the interview.
Al-Hajri jumped into the lake and with the help of his colleagues, he said he was able to get the girl and her father out of the water.
“I had the feelings of a father watching his daughter in the lake. I did not hesitate for one second to jump in the lake with the thought that we either live together or die together,” he explained.
A video, which appears to be shot by one of the three men, showed Al-Hajri and one of his colleagues in the lake as a group of passersby were comforting the young girl on ground. It widely circulated online with social media users praising Al-Hajri as “a hero.”

 


In a tweet, the Saudi embassy in Vienna acknowledged the Saudi citizen “for his brave act.”
“We offer our gratitude to this Saudi hero,” the embassy said.