JEDDAH: The burgeoning Saudi filmmaking scene has been given another boost with the selection of “Saleeg” for screening at June’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France.
The annual event is considered the oldest and most important animation festival in the world. Launched in 1960, it brings together hundreds of global animation enthusiasts and experts to celebrate creative animation styles and techniques.
“Saleeg” is 9 minutes, 39 seconds, produced in 2022 using various puppetry techniques and was filmed in Amsterdam, Holland, at 5 A.M. stop-motion animation studios.
The film is a family drama with voices in Arabic (Saudi dialect), subtitled in Urdu, Tigrigna and English, and will make its international premiere at the festival.
The production is competing in the Perspectives Short Films category against 18 others from countries including China, Germany, Spain, India, Brazil, Turkey, Mexico and Canada.
In an interview, the Saudi film director Afnan Bawyan told Arab News that she chose filmmaking as a career as part of her search for meaning in life.
“I found out that films are an expressive language that combines several languages in one medium such as storytelling, drawing in colors, making characters, writing dialogues, creating time and space, and engineering life concepts.”
Bawyan is originally from Makkah and gained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She is mostly self-taught but has attended various workshops provided by the Saudi Film Commission which have featured international experts.
“Writing the script took time, intermittently from 2019 to 2021, during which I developed 20 drafts, but the production took us around 10 months,” she said.
Stop-motion films usually take more time than other productions because they rely on the building of miniature locations and buildings, as well as the design and manufacture of special puppets that can be controlled effectively, she explained.
“We … take a photo for every tiny move we apply to the puppets, and so on until we have 24 frames per second of the movie, to have a smooth movement that makes us feel that the scene is happening naturally,” Bawyan said.
She said “Saleeg” was filmed over 65 days, longer than most other Saudi feature films that normally take between 17 and 45 days.
The name of the movie is inspired by the traditional Saudi Hijazi dish from Taif City in the Makkah region.
“I found that this name is very accurate, just like the well-known animation ‘Ratatouille,’ we do not know what the ingredients are, yet we (feel) we may want to try it,” Bawyan said.
The film discusses various issues in Saudi society including rapid urbanization, and the tension between traditional and contemporary ways of living, particularly how the elderly is affected.
Bawyan said she drew on her personal life and circumstances to create the characters and setting. Her main character is Hajar, named after her mother, who faces several challenges that forces her to adapt, but it is a story that has a “beautiful ending.”
She hopes that the festival would help her get a wide audience for the film, learn more about animation and highlight the Kingdom’s culture.
“This film will allow me to share an original Saudi story with an international audience so that they can learn about our local stories.”
“Saleeg” is Bawyan’s first film to be fully written and directed by her, but she previously worked as a script supervisor on seven Saudi feature films.
Moreover, she has participated in the Red Sea Film Labs, a platform for filmmakers, writers and industry professionals, with multiple programs to help them achieve their vision and projects. And she won the Lab Award in 2021 during the first edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.
“Saleeg” is a joint production between Bawyan and filmmaker Maryam Khayat. “Khayat has developed a special strategy to present the film at several international and local festivals,” she said.
“Every time ‘Saleeg’ receives a nomination, a mention, or an award, I become very astonished. This is my first short script and my first directing work, and I did not expect anything at all. All I did was developing, thinking, thinking again about the story and the directing vision.”
The film will also be screened at the ninth edition of the Saudi Film Festival in May.
The Saudi Film Commission Tweeted: “We are pleased to have the film (Saleeg) — the winner of #Daw’_Film_Competition premiering at the #Annecy_International_Animation_Film_Festival, competing for the Best Animated Short Award in the (Perspectives) category. We wish you all the best! #Film_Commission.”