Riyadh: The second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival held in December 2022 showcased some fresh, young names ready to drive the development of Saudi cinema, carrying the banner of this new industry into the future.
The event also reflected how far movie making has already come, both in quantity and quality.
Seven feature films and 18 short films were shown at the festival, which was held between December 1 and 10, with several produced by the Saudi Film Commission. Speaking to Al Majalla, SFC head, Abdullah Al-Ayyaf, signalled that there is more to come.
One of the films that won SFC funding, Noura, is emblematic both of Saudi cinema’s advance and the moves to transform the Kingdom into a vibrant destination for Arab and international film production.
Directed by Tawfik Al-Ziydi, Noura is the first Saudi feature film to be shot in AlUla city, after the Saudi Royal Commission incentivised cinematic production in this historic region, including the launch of a special resort for production crews to stay while shooting their films.
The AlUla region was also where the international movie Kandahar, starring Gerard Butler, was shot. Dania Al-Hamrani filmed her documentary, Deerat Ajdadi (My Ancestors Homeland), in Jeddah. Also a recipient of SFC funding, it reflects an awareness of the diversity in modern cinematic production, in terms of environment, artistic genres, and themes.
These developments have all been supported by a slew of production incentives. Most notably, the SFC said it would cover up to 40% of the cost of films made in the country.
The SFC nominated Muhammad Al-Salman's Song of the Crow to represent Saudi Arabia at the 2023 Academy Awards, but it was In the Sands, written and directed by Muhammad Al-Atawi, that won the Special Jury Award at the festival, which was chaired by the globally-acclaimed American director Oliver Stone.
Both films were recipients of SFC funding via its Daw (Light) In Support of Films contest.
The Saudi film Shayabni Hani, by Kuwaiti director Ziad Al-Husseini, won the Audience Award from the AlUla Foundation, contributing to the growing momentum that modern Saudi cinema is experiencing as it is establishes itself on the international cinema scene.
Meanwhile, other feature films screened under the "New Saudi Cinema for Feature Films" category were well received by audiences and critics alike. They were Settar by Abdullah Al-Arak, Abd by Mansour Asad, and King of the Ring by Muhammad Saeed Hareb.
Saudi Film Commission CEO, Abdullah Al-Ayyaf, sees many promising opportunities emerging out of the vibrant cinematic movement currently taking place in the Kingdom.
In an in-depth interview with Al Majalla (to be published in full later), he said that "empowering human capital is an essential pillar of the Kingdom’s soft power, and Saudi creators, both men and women, are the ones who will define this image, reflecting the cultural, social, and economic renaissance that the Kingdom is experiencing."
"Empowering filmmakers," Al-Ayyaf added, "is the most crucial step in producing local films representing the Kingdom's culture, identity, and heritage. We support Saudi filmmakers to ensure that they continue to make local films and participate in international production projects that our film sector attracts."