Going above and beyond: Hajar Al-Naim on shepherding local film talent

Going above and beyond: Hajar Al-Naim on shepherding local film talent
Al-Naim returned to her homeland to build the infrastructure that budding local and international filmmakers previously lacked in the Kingdom. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 May 2024
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Going above and beyond: Hajar Al-Naim on shepherding local film talent

Going above and beyond: Hajar Al-Naim on shepherding local film talent
  • Saudi producer’s training company nurtures below-the-line creatives

DHAHRAN: It has been a busy month for Hajar Al-Naim, a Saudi film producer paving the way for creatives by building a road map for the region’s burgeoning film industry.

Her company, Studio Production Training (SPT), has been taking its Saudi-centric model to new heights.

After earning her master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University in the US, Al-Naim returned to her homeland to build the infrastructure that budding local and international filmmakers previously lacked in the Kingdom.

Her company, launched in 2021, connects filmmakers with qualified below-the-line (BTL) talent, the support and film crew teams working behind the scenes on productions. Cinematographers, sound technicians, editors and specialists in makeup, hair and wardrobes play a vital role in film. High-level creative roles, such as screenwriters, directors and producers as well as the principal cast are known as above-the-line talent.




The short courses Al-Naim curates with experts in the field are held in Riyadh. (Supplied)

At SPT, which is headquartered in Riyadh, Al-Naim’s custom program provides training, mentoring, production resources and access to networks within the industry. “We’re on a mission to cultivate a robust infrastructure of BTL talent in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Naim told Arab News.

“The main goal of the fund is to inspire and attract the new generation to join the field of filmmaking, and we will work to train and develop them through our partnerships and initiatives,” Al-Naim said. “We seek to celebrate the voices of professionals in this sector, and we work to build a bridge between young talents and expert filmmakers to develop the industry and enhance the interaction between them, and bring them and their work to the world.

“We are the first of its kind in the Kingdom and I’m so glad that we’re making history, starting from our training program that we’re doing with the Cultural Fund,” she added.

“We’re filling in the gap in the industry where we can take all the participants who want to join the film industry and take them through our ecosystem from education into job placements.”

The short courses Al-Naim curates with experts in the field are held in Riyadh. From there, SPT recruits working professionals to bring them on to film sets. Al-Naim said that professionals of all stripes can find a niche in the industry.

“We want people from different industries to realize that they can use their skills in the film industry. The interior designers, the fashion designers, accountants, project managers … they can use their education and their degree and put it toward the industry,” she added.

The training programs are meant to be intense. Her team curates each course — which usually lasts two to five days — with an instructor, focusing on three pillars: Knowledge, mindset and safety.

“We’re trying to apply a high-caliber, world-class kind of training, because we want those international productions, when they come to the region, to not have to bring their whole crew to Saudi Arabia. They use our crew,” she added.

This year, the Saudi Film Festival returned to the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, in Dhahran. Al-Naim’s company offered prizes to specific filmmakers, all of whom were nominated for the Saudi Film Festival awards.

Amr Al-Ammari, who won the gold award for cinematography, shared his gratitude during the ceremony.

“Winning the award means a lot to me as it is recognition and appreciation of the effort and many years spent in filmmaking,” he said.

“The Cultural Fund has been a great support to me and my colleagues in the field by funding the film ‘Fever Dream,’ which enabled us to create an enduring story.”

Aside from her CEO duties at SPT, Al-Naim is also a founding member of the Saudi Film Council, which launched in 2018, and the founder and chairwoman of Her Films, a Saudi nonprofit dedicated to the elevation and empowerment of women in film.




The short courses Al-Naim curates with experts in the field are held in Riyadh. (Supplied)

“A lot of filmmakers appreciate all the initiatives that we’re doing because they know that it’s coming from me … they know that it’s coming from someone who struggled like them. They appreciate the experience that I went through to be able to step back and try to support them,” she said.

Al-Naim’s face lights up when she speaks about her team. “I met Steve (Stephen Andrew Martin) when I was in (graduate) school. I’ve done my first movie with him, so we have a lot in common — and we love supporting others. And it’s interesting for an American white guy who comes from Texas originally to share the same values with me,” she said of her co-founder.

Martin brings his connections, expertise and passion to SPT.

“Communication is the key in our organization,” Al-Naim added, highlighting the importance of having a clear vision for the organization. “We have a document called ‘Compass,’ and we try to identify where we’re going, why we’re doing what we’re doing, how can we reach the right audience, and how can we leave them with the best feeling and experience.”

SPT’s first collaboration was with streaming giant Netflix as part of a program. Trained professionals that went through the program ended up on Netflix series.

SPT training sessions, for professionals and beginners, are held in-person at the Riyadh location, with class sizes kept to a maximum of 15 people.

Since its launch, about 300 trainees have benefited from SPT’s program.

The organization has previously brought in instructors from the UK and Turkiye, and recently began a collaborative sponsoring program with the US Embassy, for the American Film Showcase.

Despite some of the hurdles and red tape, Al-Naim is hopeful that the Kingdom’s filmmaking industry is bright. With ample opportunities opening for aspiring filmmakers, she sees the sector as a thriving hub to continue telling Saudi stories.

“It’s all going toward the right direction,” Al-Naim said.


Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan
Updated 23 June 2024
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Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

Saudi border guards foil smuggling attempts near Jazan

RIYADH: Border Guard land patrols have foiled an attempt to smuggle 135 kilograms of qat in Al-Dayer sector of Jazan Region. 
Also in Jazan region, border police thwarted an attempt to illegally transport 160 kilograms of qat in Al-Ardah. 
Legal procedures were followed, and the seized items were handed over to the concerned authority.
Meanwhile, two Pakistani residents attempting to sell 4.7 kilograms of methamphetamine in Jeddah. The individuals were referred to the Public Prosecution for legal action.


KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan
Updated 23 June 2024
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KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

KSrelief continues humanitarian activities in Lebanon, Sudan

RIYADH: King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center’s (KSrelief) philanthropist works in Lebanon and Sudan continues with its latest provision of medical support and basic food requirements for needy individuals.

In the Miniyeh region of northern Lebanon, the Souboul Al-Salam Social Association ambulance service being funded by KSRelief completed 56 emergency missions, which involved the transport of patients to and from hospitals as well as the provision of first responder services to individuals involved in traffic incidents.

In Sudan, the Saudi aid agency distributed 620 food packages to displaced families staying at the Shelter Center in Blue Nile State, or about 6,131 individuals receiving the subsistence items under the third phase of the Food Security Support Project for the country.


Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world
Updated 22 June 2024
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Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world

Saudi woman Sondos Jaan set to climb the highest peak in the Arab world
  • Adventurer tackles Mount Toubkal in Morocco

DHAHRAN: Sondos Jaan embarked on the journey to the highest peak in the Arab world on June 20.

It is the latest episode in Jaan’s love for mountain adventures, but to understand the fascination it is important to take a look back at her childhood.

She told Arab News: “I am from Madinah. I was born in a city where I could see a mountain from my bedroom window, and as I walked the streets I would see mountains.”

A picture of Sondos Jaan aged about 5 on the top of a mountain with her father. (Supplied)

Those peaks were an important part of her early childhood. There are pictures of Jaan aged about 5 on the top of mountains. She said: “I call these pictures ‘Sondos between two mountains,’ the real mountain carved in nature, and my father.”

During family camping trips, she would sneak away the moment her family was not paying attention in order to climb a mountain.

HIGHLIGHTS

• For her latest adventure, Sondos Jaan is climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters.

• The climb has two routes: The first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

She added: “I would hear my father calling me, telling me to stay put and to wait for him. My dear father would come to me and we would then climb together, step by step, him telling me where to place my feet until we reached the summit, and then we would descend together, just the two of us.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her father was the first adventurer she knew. He was always prepared, she says, and “his car was always ready for a trip.”

She said: “He would tell me stories when he returned from hunting trips, whether on land or at sea. I would imagine the stories as if he were the hero in one of the animated films I watched. Sometimes he would take me with him, and I felt like I was part of the story.”

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

Her love for adventure was instilled in her by her father from a very early age. And it seems mountain climbing is in her DNA.

Jaan said: “My father is my primary mountain-climbing coach, and I certainly inherited the spirit of adventure and love for travel, experiences, and camping from him.

Sondos Jaan from Madinah hopes that young Saudi girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about. (Supplied)

“He taught me swimming, horse riding, hunting, fishing, and the basics of camping.”

For her latest adventure, Jaan and a friend are climbing Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, which is a height of 4,167 meters. The climb has two routes: the first takes three days of climbing, and the second takes two days but is more challenging.

A file photo of Sondos Jaan when she was about five years old. (Supplied)

They started the climb early, continuing for about nine to 11 hours, followed by an overnight stay at an elevation of 3,200 meters above sea level.

She believes that elements of nature are instilled within each of us and it is our duty — and a privilege — to find and channel those elements.

She said that climbing to Everest Base Camp was the hardest trek she has yet attempted. It was a two-week journey and she added that she was not able to sleep, eat well or breathe properly due to oxygen deficiency in the two days leading up to arrival at the base camp. However, those were not the main factors behind it being her most difficult climb.

She said: “The (main) reason was simply managing expectations. I was emotional after walking all that time and reaching what was supposed to be the summit for that trip, only to realize it wasn’t even the summit.

“It was the main camp where climbers camp for two months every year before attempting to reach the Everest summit, allowing their bodies to acclimatize to the oxygen deficiency, training, and waiting for the right time to climb the summit.”

The experience taught her a valuable lesson, and she added: “I remember descending and as soon as we settled in one of the tea houses, I cried.

“They asked me why. I said I wanted pizza, crying real tears. The owners of the house tried hard to make pizza for me. I ate one slice and gave the rest to their dog. I reflected on my feelings and asked myself, ‘Why did I act that way?’ And the simple answer was, we didn’t reach the summit, we just saw it up close.”

She considers the thrill of the journey, and not only the destination, to be one worth embracing. She now believes that the feeling of almost giving up happens during every climb; she sees it as a healthy sign.

She added: “It is a reminder that I am human. It is also a reminder that I am capable of doing things that might seem impossible, not because I have superhuman strength, but because I am a human capable of overcoming challenges. This gives me the motivation to complete the climb.”

She believes her latest adventure also serves a greater purpose. Seeing Saudi women participate in various fields, especially sports, helps encourage her to keep striving for the highest heights.

She hopes that young girls reading about her adventures will feel encouraged to take up sports and hobbies they are passionate about, and that her experiences will help to push them to their limits to break stereotypes and barriers along the way.

She is to continue her climb, whether it be a mountain to conquer, or toward the goals of her gender.

For those starting out, she advised: “(You must) start with small, achievable goals and gradually increase the difficulty level. Ensure you have the right gear and training: it’s important to be physically and mentally prepared.

“Join a community or group of climbers for support and motivation. Most importantly, believe in yourself and enjoy the journey.”

 


Migratory birds bring ecological balance to Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
Updated 22 June 2024
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Migratory birds bring ecological balance to Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.
  • Nasser Al-Majlad: “They contribute to plant reproduction and diversity through pollination, while also helping to control pests by consuming insects, reducing the need for harmful pesticides in agriculture”

RIYADH: Every year, nearly 300 bird species use Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region as a migration path. The area’s diverse landscapes and balanced ecosystem create a natural sanctuary for these avian visitors.

Nasser Al-Majlad, president of the Aman Environmental Society in the Northern Borders region, highlighted the crucial ecological and cultural role played by migratory birds.

FASTFACT

The migratory birds have a positive impact on soil health and ecosystem balance by aiding in soil aeration and seed dispersal near bodies of water.

“They contribute to plant reproduction and diversity through pollination, while also helping to control pests by consuming insects, reducing the need for harmful pesticides in agriculture,” he said.

According to a report by the Saudi Press Agency, Al-Majlad also emphasized the positive impact birds have on soil health and ecosystem balance by aiding in soil aeration and seed dispersal near bodies of water.

NUMBER

300

Every year, nearly 300 bird species use Saudi Arabia’s Northern Borders region as a migration path, Saudi Press Agency reported.

He also stressed the necessity of protecting migratory birds from poaching and environmental problems. The National Center for Wildlife has enacted strict anti-poaching legislation, he noted.

The Aman Environmental Society has launched awareness campaigns and created water basins to support and sustain migratory birds.

 


Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies

Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies
Updated 22 June 2024
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Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies

Saleh Al-Shaibi, senior caretaker of the Kaaba, dies
  • Funeral prayers held after Fajr on Saturday at the Grand Mosque
  • His responsibilities included opening and closing the Kaaba, cleaning, washing, repairing its Kiswa (covering), and welcoming visitors

MAKKAH: Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi, the senior caretaker of the Kaaba, died in Makkah on Friday evening. Funeral prayers were held after Fajr on Saturday at the Grand Mosque.
Al-Shaibi, who held a doctorate in Islamic studies, was a university professor and an author of several works on creed and history. He was the 77th key holder of the Kaaba since the conquest of Makkah.
His responsibilities included opening and closing the Kaaba, cleaning, washing, repairing its Kiswa (covering), and welcoming visitors. He took over the guardianship after the death of his uncle, Abdulqader Taha Al-Shaibi, in 2013.
His son, Abdulrahman Saleh Al-Shaibi, told Arab News that saying farewell to his father was one of the hardest and saddest moments of his life. He added that the family accepted Allah’s will for a man who was always close to everyone and dedicated his life to serving the family.
He went on to say that his father had been suffering from illness recently but had remained patient and steadfast. The entire community shared in the family’s grief and expressed their sorrow and pain for the loss of the Al-Shaibi family’s pillar.
Al-Shaibi chaired the Department of Creed at Umm Al-Qura University for over two decades. Known for his scholarly approach and love for knowledge, he explored religious and doctrinal issues deeply. An academic at heart, he left a significant and lasting impact.
King Fahd bin Abdulaziz appointed him to the Saudi Shoura Council, and Al-Shaibi served as the deputy to his uncle in the guardianship of the Kaaba until becoming senior caretaker.
His son Abdulrahman added that he had served as his father’s deputy in the guardianship of the Kaaba for five years, after which his cousin Abdulmalik Al-Shaibi had taken over.
He said that his father had wished him to hold the guardianship and the key to the Kaaba after him. However, if this wish is not honored, the guardianship and the key will be handed over to his uncle Abdulwahab Al-Shaibi.
Nizar Al-Shaibi, the cousin of the deceased, told Arab News that it was a sad day for the family. However, the outpouring of love, solidarity, and support from all segments of society, who had rushed to offer their condolences, had helped to ease the burden of their grief.
They had expressed their gratitude for the life of the deceased, who had dedicated his life to the guardianship of the Kaaba and enhancing its reverence.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque mourned the death of Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi.
It said in a statement: “With hearts content with God’s decree, the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque and all its employees extend their deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, Sheikh Dr. Saleh bin Zain Al-Abidin Al-Shaibi, the senior caretaker of the Holy Kaaba.”
Khaled Al-Husseini, a writer and expert on Makkah’s affairs, expressed his deep sorrow over the death.
Al-Husseini described Al-Shaibi as a man of knowledge and learning, who, alongside his honored role in the guardianship of the Kaaba, was a scholar, academic, and lecturer at Umm Al-Qura University. He had generously shared his knowledge with successive generations which had benefited from his expertise over 20 years.