Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city of Makkah. (SPA)
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Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city of Makkah. (SPA)
Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city of Makkah. (SPA)
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Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with the holy city of Makkah. (SPA)
Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project
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Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 July 2022

Childhood memories of Hajj pilgrimages inspire Saudi filmmaker’s latest project

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed is currently developing a script that draws heavily on his relationship with Makkah. (SPA)
  • Mujtaba Saeed’s script draws parallels between Makkah and Berlin, and explores the contrasts between traditional values and the modern world

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.




Mujtaba 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. (Supplied)

“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.”

HIGHLIGHT

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’s other projects include ‘Drowning’ or ‘Gharaq,’ which recently won the Best Feature Film Script award at the Saudi Film Festival. (Supplied)

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.




Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed.

“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.


GCC chief stresses importance of enhancing prospects for cooperation with China

GCC chief stresses importance of enhancing prospects for cooperation with China
Updated 22 sec ago

GCC chief stresses importance of enhancing prospects for cooperation with China

GCC chief stresses importance of enhancing prospects for cooperation with China

RIYADH: The secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council stressed the importance on Sunday of enhancing prospects for joint cooperation between the bloc and China to serve common interests.

During a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing in Riyadh, Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf extended his congratulations to the government and people of China on the occasion of its National Day which fell on Saturday.

The two officials discussed topics of common interest including regional and international developments, and reviewed cooperation relations between the GCC and China to achieve interests.

They also reviewed the latest developments in free trade negotiations between the two sides and their interest in strengthening and developing trade and economic relations.


Saudi festival Outlet 2022 sets new Guinness World Record

Saudi festival Outlet 2022 sets new Guinness World Record
Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi festival Outlet 2022 sets new Guinness World Record

Saudi festival Outlet 2022 sets new Guinness World Record
  • The festival includes 3 million items manufactured by more than 1,500 international brands

RIYADH: The Outlet 2022 shopping festival, being organized by the General Entertainment Authority, has won Guinness World Records recognition as the largest pop-outlet center.

Covering an area of 146,623 square meters, festival activities started on Saturday in Riyadh. It includes 3 million items, manufactured by more than 1,500 international brands, and discounts of up to 70 percent on fashion, accessories, and cosmetic products designed by international experts.

Farah Ahmed, who lives in Al-Rehab neighborhood where the outlet is located, described it as “impressive,” while Mohammed Al-Bugami, a Saudi private-sector employee, praised the “top organization” he witnessed on the first day.

“I have no words to describe how great and well-organized this festival is. I would like to thank the organizers for their efforts in making this shopping festival a reality,” he said.

Entry to the festival is free and outlet sections include home accessories, leather-made items, bridal gowns, suitcases, and electronics.

The fashion section includes products by names such as Zara, Massimo Dutti, GAP, Ralph Lauren, Diesel, Lacoste, Roberto Cavalli, Versace, and Mango. Additionally, visitors can choose between various sports shoe brands, including Adidas, Puma, and Nike.

GEA chairman, Turki Al-Asheikh, thanked Kuwaiti actresses Hayat Al-Fahad and Suad Abdullah, and Saudi actor Bashir Al-Ghunaim for taking part in the official festival promo that gained millions of views.

The GEA aims to encourage private-sector organizations to develop entertainment activities in the Kingdom. It was established in line with Saudi Vision 2030 to organize and develop the entertainment sector in the country and provide options and entertainment opportunities for all segments of society.


KSRelief provides COVID-19 vaccines, health services in Yemen

KSRelief provides COVID-19 vaccines, health services in Yemen
Updated 02 October 2022

KSRelief provides COVID-19 vaccines, health services in Yemen

KSRelief provides COVID-19 vaccines, health services in Yemen
  • This comes as part of the Kingdom’s efforts to support Yemen and its people

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) provided health services to displaced people in Yemen, as well as Coronavirus vaccines in the country, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday. 
 
KSRelief has been providing support to Yemen’s national vaccination campaign, implemented by the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population, in 12 governorates. 

KSRelief worked with the ministry from Sept. 24 to 28 as part of efforts to vaccinate a wider group of the population against the virus, according to SPA. 
 
Through the campaign, 446,966 people were vaccinated and 2,242 members of the Yemeni vaccination team were trained.

KSRelief also deployed 320 volunteer teams and 180 mobile teams to vaccinate the targeted population, SPA reported. 

The organization also set up mobile medical centers at Waalan Camp in the Haradh District to provide treatment to displaced people, according to SPA. 

From Sept. 14 to 20, the clinics received 56 beneficiaries with various health conditions in different clinics and departments and provided them with necessary medical services.

The KSRelief clinics also provided 162 individuals with medication.

The vaccination campaign and health services all come within the framework of the Kingdom’s goal to continue to provide support to Yemen and its people, SPA said.


Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan 

Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan 
Updated 02 October 2022

Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan 

Saudi Arabia’s KSRelief continues humanitarian efforts in flood-hit Pakistan 

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) is continuing its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to flood-hit Pakistan, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.

The team distributed 2,095 food baskets, 40 tents, and 400 mosquito nets in various provinces to 14,665 people on Friday, according to SPA. 

The aid comes within the Saudi Relief Land Bridge, directed by King Salman, to support Pakistan and its people following the disastrous floods that struck the country. 
The torrential rains and flooding, which began in mid-June and lasted for weeks, has killed over 1,600 people and affected nearly 33 million people Pakistan.


Global experts discuss economic, social impact of Saudi coffee in Jazan forum

Global experts discuss economic, social impact of Saudi coffee in Jazan forum
Updated 02 October 2022

Global experts discuss economic, social impact of Saudi coffee in Jazan forum

Global experts discuss economic, social impact of Saudi coffee in Jazan forum
  • Experts gather to discuss industry’s economic, social and environmental impact
  • Culture Ministry launches grant to support research into coffee sector

JAZAN: Experts from around the world have gathered in Jazan for the Saudi Coffee Sustainability Forum, which got underway on Saturday.

Organized by the Ministry of Culture and held at the Grand Millennium Jazan, the two-day event will discuss the value chain of Saudi coffee and its economic, social and environmental impact.

Among the speakers and guests are Dr. Bandar Al-Rabiah, who heads the development impact department at the Agricultural Development Fund, Dhafer bin Ayedh Al-Fahad, director of the Jazan Mountain Development Authority, and Keren Kellard, a consultant at the National Center for Social Studies in Riyadh.

Al-Rabiah said at the opening session: “The idea isn’t just to increase productivity, we want to help the farmer to benefit from his plantation and to allow tourists to visit the farm and in effect generate a larger income for them.”

One of the highlights of the opening day was the launch by the Ministry of Culture of the Saudi Coffee Research Grant. Organized in partnership with Saudi Coffee Co. and the Public Investment Fund it aims to encourage local researchers to produce scientific papers related to Saudi coffee in three areas.

The first is the history of coffee in the Arabian Peninsula, covering everything from ancient trade routes to the events that led to its spread in Saudi Arabia.

The second relates to coffee culture, including the social practices, rituals and festive traditions within the Kingdom.

The third relates to cultural research into developing Saudi coffee through government procurement in order to promote a sustainable economy and preserve its heritage.

Mayada Badr, CEO of the Culinary Arts Commission, said: “The Ministry of Culture aims to strengthen the position of Saudi coffee. It aims to guide the community to the culture associated with coffee, to be proud of its distinctive identity, and to thank farmers and community members for preserving our culture.”

During the forum’s first session, Al-Fahad highlighted the efforts his team have made in cultivating the coffee industry in the Kingdom over the past 40 years, most notably with the establishment of an experimental facility that seeks to find the best agricultural crops for growing in the mountainous ranges in Jazan. He added that 900,000 coffee seedlings would be distributed for research use in the coming years.

Al-Fahad concluded his speech by saying the Culinary Arts Commission intended to establish the Saudi Coffee Museum in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and that the Kingdom had joined the World Coffee Organization.

The second session of the day discussed investment opportunities in coffee production and looked at sustainable methods of economic growth.

Karl Weinhold, a researcher in rural development and the coffee economy, said: “Most of my work revolves around how these people (farmers) can wrestle around with the institutions that they have been subjected to in order to achieve some sense of prosperity.”

Hassan Hajooj, a professor of economics at the College of Business Administration at King Faisal University, said that the coffee sector accounted for about 0.86 percent of Saudi Arabia’s gross domestic product in 2020 and that that figure was set to rise to 6.18 percent over the next five years.

The Kingdom, which had 22,000 coffee shops in 2021, produces about 300 tons of high-quality Saudi Khawlani coffee a year, which is consumed locally and exported to the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

The final session on the first day focused on the history and cultural influence of coffee.