CANNES: In a serene desert area speckled with giant rock formations that frame an ancient city, a UNESCO World Heritage site has become the latest film destination being sought after by international filmmakers.
Saudi Arabia’s AlUla has attracted both local creatives and big-budget Hollywood productions. At the 76th Cannes Film Festival, Executive Director of Film AlUla Charlene Deleon-Jones shared the organization’s initiatives to create a sustainable film ecosystem during a Variety Fireside Chat session.
“We’ve seen massive changes from somewhere where previously you wouldn’t necessarily have been going to the cinema, to somewhere that is ready and open to support filming from around the world. Not just domestic film, but international film,” she said.
Film AlUla has invested in the local film infrastructure — the facilities currently include 150 self-contained villas to accommodate visiting crew, set to be 300 by October, with two state-of-the-art soundstages set to launch in October.
Deleon-Jones Said: “We’ve been gifted the land around the studios as far as the eye can see. It’s prime for backlot and development as well.
“When you have government involved in opening up locations, it can become incredibly bureaucratic and difficult to do things. So how do we ensure that we’re compliant and not being wasteful with government funds, but making it as easy as possible for anyone who’s interested in film and have asked to film with us?”
In order make the process as smooth as possible, Film AlUla established a dedicated team of specialists to help with pre-production stages, scouting for locations and providing images according to script treatments and storyboards, and they also help with any required visas and paperwork.
Upcoming blockbuster “Kandahar,” starring Gerard Butler, was shot predominantly in AlUla and was the first Hollywood production to film entirely in Saudi Arabia.
Film AlUla is facilitating a community screening, dedicated to Saudi Arabia-based cast and crew members, including those who supported the production with transportation and catering services.
AlUla will soon serve as a backdrop for various local and international productions, including films from the US, Bollywood, and Korean film industry.
Deleon-Jones said: “The challenge is getting that right balance between watering grounds for domestic and regional productions, and also being available for international productions.
“We have a very strong connection in association with the Red Sea Film Foundation and Festival. And I think what’s really fantastic about the work they do is it’s very open. They look at developing homegrown talent from a Middle Eastern and African perspective as well.
“From a creativity perspective, we’ve hosted Middle East and African filmmakers in various different labs, and that’s something we intend to continue to invest time and energy in,” she added.