‘World needs to see Kingdom through Saudi films’

‘World needs to see Kingdom through Saudi films’
Updated 20 February 2015

‘World needs to see Kingdom through Saudi films’

‘World needs to see Kingdom through Saudi films’

RIYADH: More than 60 short films will compete for "Golden Palm Tree" trophies in the 2nd Saudi Film Festival that begins in Dammam on Friday, festival director Ahmed Al-Mulla said.
Organizers said they hope the five-day festival will open eyes in Saudi Arabia to the possibilities of film despite objections from a section of the population that cinema will "Westernise" the Kingdom.
"I think we in Saudi Arabia have beautiful culture to tell the world," said filmmaker Abdullah Al-Eyaf, the head of the festival jury.
"Why should we wait for this country or that country ... to tell stories about Saudi Arabia?"
Most of the filmmakers being showcased are under the age of 25, said Al-Mulla, who sees his role as helping them to develop.
As well as screening films, the festival will include workshops on scriptwriting, music and directing, and talks by industry figures from around the region.
Among the films to be shown is "Grand Marriage", a documentary directed by Faisal Al-Otaibi that tells the story of a two-week wedding ceremony taking place in the archipelago nation of the Comoros.
Haifaa Al-Mansour, the country's first female filmmaker, has been invited to attend but she lives outside Saudi Arabia and is unlikely to show up.
In 2013 her film "Wadjda" became the Kingdom's first to be listed as a candidate for a foreign-language Oscar, although it did not make the final shortlist. It told the story of a rebellious girl who dreams of owning a bicycle.
Without cinemas, "sadly there is no way" to show such films publicly in Saudi Arabia, Al-Mulla said, though many end up on video websites such as YouTube. Others are sometimes featured at small, special screenings.
Saudi Arabia has no film industry to speak of, said Al-Eyaf. "The whole system is not there," Eyaf said, adding that having a festival is "one of the most important things" in trying to develop a film culture.
This year's event comes seven years after the first Saudi Film Festival, which Al-Mulla also directed. He said this year's festival was organized "in the right way" by the Society for Culture and Arts, a nongovernmental group where he volunteers.
Al-Mulla expects an overflow audience at the society's 600-capacity screening hall on Friday's opening night.
The festival received more than 120 film submissions, of which around 66 met the requirements to be shown, including that they be less than 59 minutes long and cannot have been shown on YouTube or on television.
"We received a lot of nice films," Al-Mulla said, adding that 10 will have their premieres at the festival, where the screenings will be free and open to the public.
Thirty-four scripts which have not yet been produced will also vie for a Golden Palm Tree trophy.
The winning scriptwriters and filmmakers will get grants to help fund future projects, from a prize pool totaling SR180,000.
Al-Mulla said the festival entries cover a wide range of subjects including crime, society and history. There is even an animated movie and a "very strong" film about human rights.
He said that while the festival must ensure it respects Saudi Arabia's culture and traditions, there is no formal censorship. "I think we can screen anything political," he said.
Al-Mulla said he hopes cinemas will one day open in the Kingdom because film is "part of culture, part of loving life."
But first, he said, film lovers will need to convince "people who are scared of art and culture."
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