Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
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The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
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The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
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The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
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The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 17 April 2024
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Gulf Cinema Festival celebrates region’s rising stars

The fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh is taking place this week. (Huda Bashatah)
  • ‘We learn from each other,’ Omani director Muzna Almusafer says
  • Success of industry ‘enhances Kingdom’s soft power on global stage,’ Saudi director Musab Alamri says

RIYADH: Leading lights and rising stars from the region’s blossoming film industry have been gathering this week at the fourth Gulf Cinema Festival in Riyadh.

Among them is Omani director Muzna Almusafer, whose movie “Clouds” is in the running for a prize of SR50,000 ($13,300) in the shorts category.

Set in southern Oman, the film tells the story of a war veteran and widower as he navigates the crossroads of societal expectations and his values.

“It was a dream for me at the beginning, to write such a story … something very sensible, something very honest, something from my own life and what I encountered in my life,” Almusafer told Arab News.

“I don’t know if I will win, but I’m winning this,” she said. “I’m winning knowing you, knowing people. For me, this is an honor and this is a win itself.”

Speaking about the movie industry in Oman and Saudi Arabia, she said: “We learn from each other. It’s not about who is first and who is second. It’s about who can reflect better and who can say things better. And better is always depending on us as people, how we look at things and depending on the audience.

“As artists, we can teach people how to look at life from a different point of view.”

Two of the keys to the success of the region’s movie industry were funding and drive, she said.

“Funding is the first thing, because when you want to pay actors, when you want to pay a scriptwriter, it’s always money at the beginning.

“But then also your drive. It has to be lit all the time. You should have this fire inside you. You shouldn’t stop. Once you stop, you don’t have it. So it’s important that you continue and you know and you learn.”

Saudi movie director and critic Musab Alamri said the landscape of cinema in the region was changing.

“Previously, the UAE held the top position in box office sales. However, since 2022, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the leader in ticket sales revenue. Saudi Arabia now holds the top spot in the MENA region and ranks 14th globally in terms of revenue generation,” he told Arab News.

Where Qatar and the UAE were once the leaders in financial support for movie projects, Saudi Arabia was now in the driving seat, he said.

“Saudi Arabia has witnessed the emergence of significant financing opportunities, including the Red Sea International Festival Fund, the Cultural Development Fund, Daw Film and production support programs at the Ithra Center.”

The film “Norah” by Tawfik Alzaidi was an example of how far the industry had come, Alamri said.

The film, which received funding from the Saudi Film Commission under its Daw initiative, garnered a nomination for this year’s Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section, he said.

“Such successes highlight the significant impact of these programs in fostering the growth and recognition of Saudi cinema on the international stage.”

Despite a decline in feature production across the Gulf, the Saudi film industry was riding high, Alamri said.

“Throughout the past year and into the first quarter of 2024, there has been a monthly release of Saudi films in cinemas and on digital platforms such as Netflix. Saudi cinema has also gained prominence in international film festivals, with six Saudi feature films showcased at the recent edition of the Red Sea International Festival.

“This surge in Saudi cinema not only contributes to the local economy but also enhances Saudi Arabia’s soft power on the global stage.

“I anticipate that within the next eight to 10 years, Saudi Arabia will achieve self-sufficiency in film production, eliminating the need for direct government support. Saudi films will garner significant recognition at prestigious international festivals including Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto and Berlin.”

Saudi actor Baraa Alem said government initiatives, local and regional film festivals and the rise of independent filmmakers had all contributed to the “cultural richness” of the region’s movie industry.

The recognition received by movies like “Norah” and “Four Daughters,” which was supported by the Red Sea Fund and nominated for an Academy Award, was evidence of “that hard work,” he said.

Speaking about the Gulf Film Festival, he said: “By providing a forum for filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences to connect and engage, the festival not only celebrates the region’s cinematic achievements but also stimulates dialogue, creativity and innovation … (and contributes) to the continued growth and development of the Gulf film industry.

“As filmmakers from the gulf we share similar cultural values and identities.”

The festival ends on Thursday.


Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices

Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices
Updated 46 min 56 sec ago
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Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices

Cate Blanchett speaks at Arab Cinema Centre panel on refugee voices

DUBAI: The Arab Cinema Centre (ACC) held a sold-out panel titled “Displacement: Cinematic Perspectives,” at the 77th Cannes Film Festival’s Plage des Palmes.

The panel discussion — held in collaboration with the International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) — saw journalist Hadley Gamble engaging in a conversation with UNHCR goodwill ambassador and Australian actress Cate Blanchett, filmmaker Daniela Repas, and photographer Barat Ali Batoor in a session moderated by popular Lebanese host Raya Abirached.

The conversation aimed to shed light on the power of cinema in portraying and addressing the challenges of displacement.

Commenting on the necessity of ensuring refugees are properly represented on screen, Blanchett said: “People who are displaced have a voice, they have a story… Their stories are so incredible and inspiring. I’m always bewildered as to why more films don’t speak directly or obliquely to this,” adding that, “the more we exclude these voices from our narratives, the more we’re othering them.”

The IEFTA also collaborated with the ACC on this year’s edition of the Critics Awards for Arab Films.

Launched in 2017 by the ACC at the Cannes Film Festival, the event provides a platform for a jury of more than 200 international film critics to honor the best of recent Arab cinema across numerous awards categories.


Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards
Updated 48 min 3 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla scores trophies at Global Production Awards

DUBAI: The Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency Film AlUla on Wednesday received the Emerging Location Award and Film Commission Award at the Global Production Awards held on the sidelines of the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

The award show recognizes efforts in producing and filming movies and shows. It highlights projects that set high standards in sustainability, diversity and local economic benefits from production activities.

Charlene Deleon-Jones, the executive director of Film AlUla, said in a statement: “Less than five years ago, Film AlUla was established to develop a vibrant film industry, while diversifying the local economy, providing opportunities for local filmmakers and fostering global collaboration.

“Since then, we have been dedicated to building the infrastructure, policies, and teams that will transform the lives of a generation of filmmakers and filmgoers alike,” she added. 

Film AlUla this week hosted a screening of clips from short films by the first four winners of the AlUla Creates Film Programme, which supports Saudi female directors. The winners received mentoring to turn their ideas into festival-ready films.

On May 23, the film “Norah,” shot entirely on location in AlUla with an all-Saudi cast, will become the first Saudi feature to appear as part of the official selection at Cannes in the 77-year history of the festival.


Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   

Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   
Updated 22 May 2024
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Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   

Saudi filmmakers showcase their upcoming short films in Cannes   

DUBAI: Saudi filmmakers Hana Alfasi, Maram Taibah, and sister duo Raneem and Dana Almohandes showcased snippets of their upcoming short films — which are being created as part of the ‘AlUla Creates: Film Program’ platform — to a select audience of industry professionals this week at the Saudi pavilion during the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Alfasi, director of “When the Shelves Hymn,” told Arab News: “It’s a great opportunity to have industry professionals attend a screening of a scene from our new short film.

Raneem and Dana Almohandes. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

“We hope this film will find its way to A-list festivals, gaining the spotlight it deserves through screenings like the one we’re having today,” she added.

Alfasi hopes that the screening will connect her and her team with more professionals as she prepares to direct a feature film, for which she will need additional financial funding and support.

Taibah’s “Malika” is a short fantasy film about a young girl who goes on an adventure to find her dying grandmother’s lost crown, only to discover unexpected parts of herself, the filmmaker said. 

Maram Taiba (L). (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

“I’m very proud of what we made. It was such a delightful process to work with such talented visionaries starting from my producer, cinematographer, and casting director to the postproduction team,” Taibah said.

Taibah believes that Saudi Arabia has many untold stories. 

“Each filmmaker in Saudi is showing one piece of the tapestry and mine shows the magical side of our culture and the treasured relationships we have with our grannies,” she said. “I hope to share the magic of the film and raise anticipation for the completed piece here in Cannes.”

The Almohandes sisters felt “honored” to showcase their movie “Mosquito” to industry experts. 

“Since the beginning of our careers, we always looked forward to showing our films at Cannes and here we are and we’re extremely grateful to the AlUla Creates program for making this happen,” they said. 

The sisters just wrapped up the post-production phase of their animated film, which is about an ambitious mosquito who wants to become the Umm Kulthum of the mosquito world, and she goes on a journey to make her dream come true.

Raneem and Dana have big dreams themselves.

“Our dream is to show our stories and share our voices with international audiences,” they said. 

“It’s just the beginning with this short film and we aim to have the first Saudi musical here at Cannes very soon.” 


Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 

Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 
Updated 21 May 2024
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Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 

Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turns heads in Cannes 

DUBA: Saudi fashion star Nojoud Al-Rumaihi turned heads this week at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, wearing a blush ensemble by Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi, founder of Paris-based label Ashi Studio. 

The pink two-piece set from the designer’s 8PM collection featured a strapless corset-style top with simple yet intricate embroidery, and a criss-cross back.

The skirt had a mermaid silhouette with a train that trailed on the red carpet. To complete the ensemble, the set included fluffy, feathered detached sleeves. 

The fashion icon, with her makeup done by Dior Beauty, styled her brunette locks in a short retro bob. She accessorized with Marli jewelry.

Al-Rumaihi attended the premiere of the highly-anticipated movie “The Apprentice,” directed by Ali Abbasi.

As Donald Trump’s hush money trial entered its sixth week in New York, an origin story for the Republican presidential candidate depicted a critical portrayal of the former president in the 1980s.

“The Apprentice” stars Sebastian Stan as Trump. The central relationship of the movie is between Trump and Roy Cohn (Jeremy Strong), the defense attorney who was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s Senate investigations.

Cohn is depicted as a longtime mentor to Trump, coaching him in the ruthlessness of New York City politics and business. Early on, Cohn aided the Trump Organization when it was being sued by the US government for racial discrimination in housing.

According to AP, “The Apprentice” is a potentially explosive big-screen drama in the midst of the US presidential election. The film is for sale in Cannes, so does not yet have a release date.

She donned a long-sleeved dress adorned with white florals. (Getty Images)

Al-Rumaihi was not the only Saudi celebrity in Cannes this week. 

Actress Maria Bahrawi attended The Red Sea International Film Foundation Industry Networking Event which took place on Sunday, at which she donned a long-sleeved dress adorned with white florals, featuring pastel hues of purple, yellow, and orange, elegantly cinched at the waist.

She wore a black jumpsuit with a white cape attached to the sleeve, sourced from Dubai-based Etoile La Boutique. (Getty Images)

She also graced the celebration of “Norah,” a film in which she stars, hosted by Film AlUla during the festival. For the occasion, she opted for a black jumpsuit with a white cape attached to the sleeve, sourced from Dubai-based Etoile La Boutique.


Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza

Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza
Updated 21 May 2024
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Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza

Speakers, headliners pull out of UK’s Great Escape festival over Gaza

DUBAI: Keynote speakers and headliners scheduled to take part in the UK’s annual Great Escape music festival in Brighton refused to appear at this year’s event due to the war in Gaza.  

According to The Guardian, numerous acts withdrew due to a pro-Palestinian boycott targeting the event’s sponsorship by Barclays Bank. Campaigners allege that Barclays has increased its investments in arms companies that trade with Israel.

Bands Boycott Barclays (BBB), the organization spearheading the campaign, asserted that the bank was engaged in “laundering its reputation” through its association with the music festival, a claim that Barclays refutes.

A BBB spokesperson told the BBC that 163 acts, four showcases and two venues had pulled out of the festival.

The Great Escape is an annual music festival held in Brighton, showcasing emerging artists from around the world. It features hundreds of performances across various venues, along with industry panels and networking opportunities.

It is the event that has been key in launching the careers of artists such as Stormzy, AlunaGeorge, Fat White Family and Anna Calvi.