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.


Saudi artist turns her farming passion into creative work

Al-Obaid offers a fusion of art and farming through her project. (Photo/Hadeel Al-Obaid)
Al-Obaid offers a fusion of art and farming through her project. (Photo/Hadeel Al-Obaid)
Updated 14 sec ago

Saudi artist turns her farming passion into creative work

Al-Obaid offers a fusion of art and farming through her project. (Photo/Hadeel Al-Obaid)
  • Al-Obaid makes these hand-painted pot bags from scratch, sewing the bags according to pot size, and then she selecting a drawing to apply to the fabric, usually flowery

JEDDAH: Hadeel Al-Obaid, a Saudi artist from Eastern Province, with over 20 years of farming experience, took a leap of faith when she turned her childhood hobby into a unique business idea.

Offering hand-painted pot bags, Al-Obaid was creative enough to mix between art, farming, and gifting.

She told Arab News: “I inherited the love of farming from my late father — he taught me a lot of gardening skills since I was 13. So, at first, I used to share on social media tips and tricks on how to take care of plants and a few posts of my paintings.”

Al-Obaid offers a fusion of art and farming through her project. (Photo/Hadeel Al-Obaid)

Al-Obaid has gained extensive knowledge about plants. “I have a good relationship with my plants, I want everyone to benefit from my experience — and I am glad that my art-related business is also related to farming,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Al-Obaid had the time to practice painting styles inspired by Korean and Japanese art, and also by her indoor home garden and flowers. That was when the idea of her project, “Lavender touches,” was sparked.

“As a self-taught artist, in the beginning, I started with painting on the table serving mats, dinner table linens, and coasters, which (was) admired by many. Then, due to the number of indoor and outdoor plants I am surrounded by, I thought of adding a touch of art to these pots by covering them with hand-painted fabric bags to make them look more vibrant.”

Al-Obaid makes these hand-painted pot bags from scratch, sewing the bags according to pot size, and then she selecting a drawing to apply to the fabric, usually flowery. Then she colors it using paints, and finally, she applies an interesting Arabic phrase or a quote.

“I draw only flowers on the canvas bags after I sew them, most of which are inspired by my home garden (plants) such as peace lily, tulip, French hydrangea, common zinnia, Arabian jasmine, lavender, and pansy,” she said.

The name of her project, “Lavender,” is also inspired by her favorite color and flower.

Al-Obaid said that the main aim of her project, next to offering a fusion between painting and plants, is to change the gifting concept of flower bouquets.

“I personally think that the idea of gifting a flower bouquet to anyone on different occasions is respected, however, it is over-consumed and it really lacks the element of surprise, and if replaced with a well-decorated plant of any type, it will be more valued,” she said.

Al-Obaid also offers custom-made pot bags with customers’ selection of colors, shapes, types of flowers painted, English or Arabic names, or phrases about different occasions, as well as different types of indoor home plants and flowers.

“Each painting takes from an hour to three hours depending on the flower type,” she said.

The fabric pot bags also feature a water resistant color of a velvety texture, to maintain the beauty of the paintings once the plant is splashed with water, and can be found on Instagram @lavender_touches.


Memorandum signed to combat desertification in Al-Baha region

Memorandum signed to combat desertification in Al-Baha region
Updated 08 August 2022

Memorandum signed to combat desertification in Al-Baha region

Memorandum signed to combat desertification in Al-Baha region
  • The areas of cooperation and understanding stipulated in the MoU include various topics regarding Al-Baha region such as vegetation development projects
  • The MoU also focuses on creating an attractive investment environment that contributes to achieving the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 and the SGI

RIYADH: The National Center for the Development of Vegetation Cover and Combating Desertification signed a memorandum of understanding with the Strategic Office for the Development of Al-Baha region on Sunday.

It was signed under the auspices of center’s CEO Dr. Khalid Al-Abdulqader and the office’s CEO Abdulaziz Al-Naeem, aiming to enhance mutual understanding between the two organizations in the field of vegetation development and investment.

The MoU also focuses on creating an attractive investment environment that contributes to achieving the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 and the Saudi Green Initiative, which launched a comprehensive effort to reverse environmental degradation and climate change through regenerative development, conservation, and sustainable practices. 

The areas of cooperation and understanding stipulated in the MoU include various topics regarding Al-Baha region such as vegetation development projects, as well as coordination and communication about the SGI.

Other topics include exchanging knowledge and experience, and organizing tourist programs and events in the region.

The MoU is part of a series of contracts and agreements concluded by the NCVC, and falls within the framework of its efforts to combat desertification, reduce sand encroachment, and preserve natural resources to achieve an improvement in the quality of life and create sustainable economic development.

These efforts also aim to enhance cooperation and integration with government, private and non-profit institutions, and to unify and organize national efforts in implementing vegetation rehabilitation initiatives.

The NCVC is focused on developing, protecting and controlling vegetation cover sites, rehabilitating degraded ones, detecting encroachments on them, combating logging, supervising pasture management, grazing governance, and protecting and investing in forests and national parks.

It also supports, through its various projects, efforts to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions globally.

Under the slogan “sustainable parks,” the NCVC launched an awareness campaign on July 28 in cooperation with Aseer Development Authority and over 12 government bodies to enhance societal awareness on the necessity of protecting the vegetation cover in Saudi Arabia.


Saudi holidaymakers hit by rising foreign travel costs opt for staycations

Saudi holidaymakers hit by rising foreign travel costs opt for staycations
Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi holidaymakers hit by rising foreign travel costs opt for staycations

Saudi holidaymakers hit by rising foreign travel costs opt for staycations
  • Hotels, resorts throughout Kingdom offer summer deals to tempt cash-strapped travelers
  • The mountains of Taif are a popular staycation destination with incredible landscapes, panoramic views, outdoor adventures, fruit markets, rose farms, cafes, and restaurants proving a major draw

JEDDAH: Thousands of cash-strapped Saudi holidaymakers hit by rising foreign travel costs are opting for summer staycations.

Instead of heading abroad, droves of trippers are taking advantage of the Kingdom’s tourism industry boom to explore destinations closer to home.

Air fares and the costs of traveling abroad have soared after the coronavirus pandemic, prompting many hotels and resorts throughout the country to offer special deals on a range of getaways.

Vacations in Saudi Arabia or day trips to local attractions are proving increasingly popular.

Hamoud Abdulazez, who lives in Riyadh, said: “This summer, I have planned a short break and will take my family on a road trip to explore places in the neighborhood.

“We must face the reality of the situation, that travel budgets are double the amount nowadays. The best option for a holiday is to stay in this country.

“Also, many hotels and resorts have summer-season offers. Despite the extreme heat, the hospitality sector in the country accommodates to weather conditions and provides alternative entertainment activities,” he added.

Ali Rahman, an Indian resident living in Jeddah, said a rise in flight prices to India had forced him to reconsider his summer vacation plans and he was now looking at holidaying in the Asir region.

“Though traveling to India is not really far, the cost of a staycation in the Kingdom is less expensive than traveling outside the country,” he added.

Post-pandemic, many people now work from home or remotely. This has led accommodation providers to offer comfortable working spaces with high-speed Wi-Fi facilities.

The Kingdom boasts a variety of resorts and hotels in locations including Riyadh, Jeddah, Alkhobar, Taif, and Abha.

For adventure and entertainment activities Nofa Riyadh, a Radisson Collection Resort, offers a taste of Africa with its own safari park, along with horse- and camel-riding, water sports, bowling, cinema, buggy rides, cycling, mini golf, children’s entertainment, and an adventure zone.

Nofa Riyadh’s general manager, Fabrice Collot, said: “The resort team members are committed to creating memorable experiences for all our valued guests.

“From arrival, where guests are greeted by the bright smile of one of our front-office attendants, to anywhere over the resort, visitors receive warm and true hospitality. And our concierge will help people to discover every amazing amenity that the resort has to offer.

“A safari is just the beginning. There is an African village with incredible facilities and restaurants offering a vast array of food that guests can have served at their villa while relaxing by their private pool.”

For the beach, nature, and exclusivity, King Abdullah Economic City, on the Red Sea coast 100 kilometres north of Jeddah, is a family favorite.

Activities include go-karting at Juman Park, swan paddling on the Marina Canal, 4-D movies, a science and technology museum, water sports such as scuba diving, snorkelling, and kayaking at the private beaches, horse-riding, and a Lagoona Adventure tour.

With views of the Red Sea, natural lagoon, and mangrove, Bay La Sun Hotel and Marina, and Views Hotel and Residences, in KAEC, offer a range of amenities.

Mustafa Ainen, general manager of Bay La Sun Hotel and Marina and Views Hotel, said: “We are delighted to invite locals and expats to come for staycations and try this side of the country.

“We have created an environment where our guests can have the best personal time of relaxation along with unpretentious fine food and genuine services, big swimming pools surrounded by lush greenery and a snack bar, and a tennis court.

“Staycations save greatly on travel fees. With the current international situation, air fares and transportation costs in general have shot through the roof. As a result, residents in Jeddah, Makkah, and other regions nearby are happy visiting us as we are only a few hours away.”

The mountains of Taif are also a popular staycation destination with incredible landscapes, panoramic views, outdoor adventures, fruit markets, rose farms, cafes, and restaurants proving a major draw.

Abdulrahman Al-Sufiyani, deputy director of Gazelle Resort, said: “Many people visit Taif during the summers to escape the heat in the big cities and enjoy the cool weather of the hill stations.

“Our resort is located on a mountain with a view of the pool and a rustic coffee shop. The villas and suites are decorated in soothing natural hues with a private balcony that looks out over the majestic mountain allowing guests to have a mesmerizing experience and views of the moving clouds.”

Other exclusive summer staycation offers are available at numerous locations around the Kingdom such as at Dana Beach Resort in Half Moon Bay, Alkhobar, and the InterContinental Hotel in Abha.


PNU’s Apple Developer Academy celebrates first graduation

PNU’s Apple Developer Academy celebrates first graduation
Updated 08 August 2022

PNU’s Apple Developer Academy celebrates first graduation

PNU’s Apple Developer Academy celebrates first graduation
  • ‘The women graduating today from the Apple Developer Academy are creators, designers, coders and entrepreneurs’

RIYADH: The first group of students have graduated from Riyadh’s Apple Developer Academy, established last year in collaboration with Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, Tuwaiq Academy and the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones.

The all-women program brought together graduates on Sunday night to celebrate the study of the expanding iOS app economy.

Esther Hare, senior director of worldwide developer marketing at Apple, said: “The women graduating today from the Apple Developer Academy are creators, designers, coders and entrepreneurs. They have bright futures ahead, and we can’t wait to see how they will use their skills and experience to leave their mark on the region and the world.”

She added: “Already, many of our graduates here have lined up wonderful jobs as they launch their careers as iOS developers, UX designers, project managers and more. As we expand the program, we expect to eventually reach over 600 women each year with these world-class learning opportunities.”

The Academy helps women entrepreneurs and developers to begin careers in the app economy.

More than 100 students gained coding, design, marketing and professional skills over the course of nine months, and they now graduate with the full set of abilities required to take part in the iOS app economy, and even launch their own businesses.

“Our mission this year was to fully support our learners’ education ambitions, wherever they are and at whatever level, regardless of age, technical knowledge or background,” said Ohood Al-Nayel, director of the Riyadh Apple Developer Academy.

“We were very mindful from the beginning in equipping each and every Apple Developer Academy learner today with relevant real-world knowledge and skills, to ensure the region’s app development environment of tomorrow is an exceptional one,” added Al-Nayel.

The Academy began offering in-person classroom instruction in February. The facility is housed at PNU, which has the largest women’s university campus in the world, offering students access to top-class amenities including dorms, athletics facilities and quick links to Riyadh.

“Following my time at the Academy, I am proud to witness my own change and evolution,” said Academy student Samah Bamumin.

In order to connect with businesses for career and funding opportunities, students took part in a job fair before the graduation ceremony.

“It was an absolute honor to witness how the Apple Developer Academy delivered skilled developers, designers and entrepreneurs to the Saudi market,” said Ahmed Dulli, executive manager of mobile development at Elm Company, one of the Kingdom’s largest development houses that offers custom-made solutions for the government and private sector.

“There is a dire need for iOS developers in the Kingdom, especially with iOS being the most used mobile platform in the country. Therefore, we truly appreciate Apple’s efforts for supporting that.”

To help aspiring business owners, developers and designers find and create jobs in the booming iOS app economy, Apple has established more than a dozen Apple Developer Academy locations around the world.

Academy graduates go on to launch their own companies, develop and market apps on the App Store, and volunteer in their communities.

Applications are now open to all women across the region. Students do not need to have a connection to PNU, nor do they need a university degree or any coding experience.

Commenting on why the Apple Developer Academy is offered at no cost, Hare said: “We believe apps for everyone should be designed by everyone and we want to ensure that passionate learners have the opportunity to be part of this program, regardless of financial ability. Across the world, we offer this program at no cost so that we can increase equity, access and opportunity.”

Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih said that within weeks, Apple will launch a special logistics zone at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh to manufacture and export devices to markets in the region.


Saudi Arabia automatically extends visitor IDs for Yemeni residents

Saudi Arabia automatically extends visitor IDs for Yemeni residents
Updated 08 August 2022

Saudi Arabia automatically extends visitor IDs for Yemeni residents

Saudi Arabia automatically extends visitor IDs for Yemeni residents

RIYADH: Yemenis living in Saudi Arabia will have their visitor IDs automatically extended for six months, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

In an SPA statement, the General Directorate of Passports said eligible residents can apply for the six-month extension until Dec. 7.

The extension applies to Yemeni residents who regularly renew their visitor IDs, the authority said.

Beneficiaries would be required to pay the fees in a service available until Aug. 23.

“The extension will be done automatically without the need to visit the passport departments,” the authority said.

The new ID will be delivered to the resident via the Saudi Post, the statement read.