RIYADH: “Within Sand,” the first Saudi film shot in NEOM, will premier at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 6.
The film’s director, Mohammed Al-Atawi, spoke to Arab News about the process and challenges of making the film.
“Within Sand” follows Snam, a 23-year-old tobacco-merchant who breaks away from his trading convoy to reach his village quickly as his wife is about to give birth to their first child.
During his travels, Snam is ambushed by thieves who steal his tools and leave him for dead. In a quest to survive, Snam travels with a wolf trailing him while he struggles on his journey to keep his sanity as memories and the difficulties of loneliness torment him.
“In the film, I wanted to capture a genuine and organic relationship between a man and a wolf. I also focused on presenting the desert of north Saudi in a way that champions its mysterious beauty, not only the harsh nature of a desert,” said Al-Atawi.
The director shed some light on the inspiration behind the film’s name.
“Without spoiling a critical element in the story that inspired the name, the whole narrative takes place in the desert, and we witness Snam’s journey with the wolf, so the environment where the story takes place is significant to the story, and I wanted that to be reflected in the title,” Al-Atawi said.
Discussing the inspiration behind the film, Al-Atawi said: “The story of ‘the wolf companion’ is almost like a folkloric tale in Saudi culture, but it doesn’t have a lot of details about it. Hence, I took creative liberty and tried to approach it with complete creative control but also remain faithful to the original material.”
“During the development phase in The Red Sea Lodge, I had many meetings with director Mohammed Atteia, who was incredibly insightful in film craft and contributed a lot to how I approached some scenes,” the director said.
The Red Sea Lodge is a program Al-Atawi was part of that aims to empower cinematic talents by equipping them with the knowledge and resources to launch a successful career in cinema.
The director began working on the film in 2019 with his producer Reem Al-Atawi.
“COVID-19 postponed the shoot over three times, and at some point, due to weather issues, the shoot was delayed further. But our belief in the story is persistent, and we focused on making this film,” he said.
He highlighted that the writing process was continuous, with the final draft of the script being completed two and a half years from when he initially began writing.
“Writing a script can be time-consuming and creatively challenging, but it’s an organic process, where even during the shoot, I was writing new scenes as I felt more aware of the narrative and the film’s pacing,” he said.
The director added that the support he received from the Saudi Film Commission allowed him to bring the project to life.
The film was shot in the deserts of NEOM. “NEOM’s media sector chose it to be the first Saudi film to be shot in NEOM, and their support was vital in making the film in one of the best locations,” the director said.
Al-Atawi highlighted what it means to him to see his film featured in the Red Sea International Film Festival.
“First and foremost, it means we made a film that was appreciated by an international festival like the Red Sea, which is a significant accomplishment.
“It also means much more to me that the film’s first screening will be in Saudi Arabia, which is both an honor and a pressure to satisfy the Saudi audience’s expectations, which is not an easy task.”
To those interested in pursuing a career in the industry, Al-Atawi said that “having a career in film can be overwhelming at first, but it’s vital to have a passion for the craft. As challenging as it is, it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to create and share with an audience around the world.”