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.


Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh
Updated 02 February 2023

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh

Digital Cooperation Organization hosting 2nd General Assembly in Riyadh
  • DCO’s General Assembly will be the platform to notarize international cooperation between governments
  • Organization aims to enhance global collaboration on the digital economy

RIYADH: The Digital Cooperation Organization will host its second General Assembly in the Saudi capital, bringing together DCO member states to discuss strategic directions and initiatives to enable digital prosperity for all nations.

“The 2nd General Assembly aims to address challenges associated with the cross-border expansion of the digital economy and facilitate dialogues to promote more cooperation to achieve digital prosperity for all,” the DCO tweeted.

Ministers representing DCO member states, along with high-level delegations from DCO observers and representatives from guest countries and international organizations, will convene for the General Assembly to discuss the state of the digital economy and the challenges facing all nations in achieving equitable global digital growth and development.

Deemah Al-Yahya, secretary-general of the DCO, said: “Digital technologies have immense potential to transform economies and empower groups, including women and entrepreneurs with new opportunities, especially (given) that 70 percent of the new value created in the global economy over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled platforms. So, it is of critical importance that all nations have the same ability to leverage the power of digitalization to achieve their goals.

“The DCO was formed to accelerate digital transformation through collaboration and knowledge sharing among all stakeholders to empower nations to develop strategies and programs to drive their own digital development and equally participate in the global digital economy,” she said.

The second General Assembly will be the first-ever in-person meeting of the DCO member states, marking two years of progress for the international organization, which was founded to help achieve social prosperity and growth by unifying efforts to promote interest in the digital economy.

“I am very pleased that the ministers from DCO member states will convene in Riyadh, the headquarters of the DCO, for the second General Assembly to mark two years of progress toward the DCO’s goals, and to continue the discussions on how we can achieve digital prosperity for all in collaboration with our international observers from the ecosystem stakeholders representing the private sector, academia, think tanks and civil society organizations,” Al-Yahya said.

The monumental event will also reflect the qualitative leaps made by member states in their shift toward a tech-powered economy.

The DCO is a global digital organization founded in 2020 by seven member states — Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — but has recently added Morocco, Djibouti, Cyprus and Rwanda to its ranks.


Riyadh’s Gamers8 festival gets bigger, better and bolder

Riyadh’s Gamers8 festival gets bigger, better and bolder
Updated 14 min 5 sec ago

Riyadh’s Gamers8 festival gets bigger, better and bolder

Riyadh’s Gamers8 festival gets bigger, better and bolder
  • Second event has a $30m prize pool this summer

RIYADH: The world’s largest esports and gaming festival comes to Riyadh this summer for the second time, with a world-record prize pool of $30 million.

Kicking off on July 6 under the title “Gamers8: The Land of Heroes,” the eight-week event will feature an array of esports competition, live music by renowned artists, shows, community gaming and education platforms, and secondary activities.

Taking place at the purpose-built venue in Riyadh Boulevard City, the event is looking to become the target destination this summer for gamers and entertainment seekers alike, according to chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation Prince Faisal bin Bandar.

Prince Faisal said: “The Land of Heroes is the place for world-class esports champions and gaming universe lovers. It is the ultimate occasion where you can compete for glory and become a hero walking among the worlds of your chosen story.

“Showcasing the most popular titles on the planet will be amplified even further this summer. To be frank, when we mean bigger and better this summer, we truly mean it. We cannot wait to reveal what we have in store for ‘Gamers8: The Land of Heroes.’”

Following the success of last year’s inaugural festival, which saw 1.4 million visits, the second edition doubles the grand prize pool of $15 million.

In 2022, gaming leagues from across the globe battled in top five titles, including Rocket League, Fortnite, Dota 2 Riyadh Masters, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, and PUBG Mobile.

It witnessed the participation of 391 top players from 61 countries and 113 international teams.

While the 2023 entertainment calendar has yet to be released, it promises bigger and better elite competitions, unlocking new challenges and experiences every week.

Paralleling last year’s agenda, Gamers8 will conclude with the Next World Forum, the first-of-its-kind esports and gaming platform. This will bring together industry leaders, global players, and investors from all over the world to engage in a sequence of panel discussions, workshops and activations. The forum hones in on the future of the industry.

Gamers8 is an initiative established under the Saudi Esports Federation that seeks to build an infrastructure around the gaming industry, create communities and ecosystems around esport, provide viable jobs for local creatives, and position the Kingdom as a global esports hub.

With more than 23.5 million Saudis considering themselves gamers, the esports festival hopes to create an avenue where people not only enjoy the games, but also forge a career path through their passion, Prince Faisal told Arab News in an exclusive interview last year.


Bulgaria pledge support to Saudi Expo 2030 bid, empathising the importance of bilateral relations

Bulgaria pledge support to Saudi Expo 2030 bid, empathising the importance of bilateral relations
Updated 02 February 2023

Bulgaria pledge support to Saudi Expo 2030 bid, empathising the importance of bilateral relations

Bulgaria pledge support to Saudi Expo 2030 bid, empathising the importance of bilateral relations

RIYADH: Riyadh’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo received new international support on Wednesday, as the Bulgarian cabinet decided to support the Kingdom’s candidacy, praising the historical relations between the two sides and the common ties that unite them.

Bulgaria takes into account the existing relations with Saudi Arabia and perceives the latter as a strategic partner in the Middle East. Bulgaria’s support and future participation in the 2030 World Expo are expected to promote further cultural and economic ties and boost bilateral relations in all areas of mutual interest.

The dynamic development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the wide application of new technologies, together with the preservation of traditions and the country’s commitment to combating climate change are among the advantages of Saudi candidacy. Support for Riyadh for hosting Expo 2030 is expected to make a significant contribution to trade and economic relations, increasing bilateral trade and investment between the two countries.

The Saudi capital, Riyadh, is competing with three other Cities. The Bureau International des Expositions - based in the French capital Paris nominated cities in four countries to host the important event, which includes, in addition to Saudi Arabia (Riyadh), South Korea (Busan), Italy (Rome), and Ukraine (Odessa).

Held since 1851, World Expos are the world’s largest platform to showcase the latest achievements and technologies and celebrate the cultural values that unite humanity.


Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister discusses strengthening relations with Iraq 

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister discusses strengthening relations with Iraq 
Updated 02 February 2023

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister discusses strengthening relations with Iraq 

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister discusses strengthening relations with Iraq 
  • Al-Saud highlighted the depth of relations with Iraq

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, affirmed on Thursday that economic relations with Iraq were developing significantly. 

Al-Saud made the statement during a press conference held in Iraq with the country’s Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein. 

Hussein said ‘security cooperation continues with Saudi Arabia’ and added they were ‘working to reduce tensions in the region.’ 

Al-Saud also highlighted the depth of relations with Iraq, which he stated had ‘witnessed great momentum recently.’ 

“We support the Iraqi government’s effort to enhance stability,” he said. 

Al-Saud added that stability was crucial in order for opportunities for prosperity to rise.


KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan
Updated 02 February 2023

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan

KSRelief delivers relief aid to Pakistan, Yemen, Niger, Afghanistan and Jordan
  • A shipment delivered by KSRelief containing 500 food packages benefited 500 families in Niger
  • Syrian refugee children in eight Jordanian governorates received school bags

DUBAI: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) distributed 350 food packages to those affected by the floods in Pakistan’s Sindh province. 

The relief center’s delivery benefited 2,450 individuals on Tuesday, state agency SPA reported. 

It also distributed 42 tons and 372 kilograms of food items in Yemen’s Marib, benefiting 132 families and 924 individuals in the area. 

Similarly, a shipment delivered by KSRelief containing 500 food packages benefited 500 families in Niger, while 400 food packages were sent to Afghanistan, benefiting 2,400 individuals in-need. 

Meanwhile, Syrian refugee children in eight Jordanian governorates received school bags from KSRelief in cooperation with the Jordan Hashemite Charity. 

The aim was to provide 29,881 male and female students with basic educational supplies.