First Published: 2017-03-14

Saudi film fest head wants govt investment in cinema
AlMulla says local talent needs to be trained, with government support in bid to encourage entertainment.
Middle East Online


RIYADH - The head of the main film festival in Saudi Arabia, where cinemas are banned, wants the government to invest in the sector as part of its campaign to encourage entertainment.

Ahmed AlMulla made the comments in an interview with AFP ahead of the fourth Saudi Film Festival, which runs from March 23-28 in the Gulf coastal city of Dhahran.

This year's festival is the first since the kingdom late last year began a cautious push to introduce entertainment, despite opposition from Muslim hardliners.

Among the events on offer for Saudi spectators have been the New York theatrical group iLuminate, the Comic-Con pop culture festival, and WWE wrestling.

"It's nice to see all kinds of events here and people coming from outside," AlMulla said.

But local talent needs to be trained, with support from the government, he said in a telephone interview.

"I think they must" fund it, he said, "because this is investment, the real investment".

Among directors of the 59 Saudi films to be screened at this year's festival are some who trained overseas, he said.

Saudi Arabia has created a government agency to support private firms organising entertainment events, under a wideranging "Vision 2030" plan for economic and social reform.

The plan also calls for development of an arts and media industry, but with public theatres and cinemas banned, the sector is starting from a low base.

"We are waiting for the change, really. We want to create it from inside, not hosting events only," AlMulla said.

"We have lots of talent working underground and nobody knows about them."

Despite the annual film festival, Saudi Arabia lacks a film industry although female students can study filmmaking at a women's university in Jeddah.

- Bigger than ever -

Saudi films have also won international recognition.

The romantic comedy "Barakah Meets Barakah" by Mahmoud Sabbagh was screened at last year's Berlinale, and in 2013 Haifaa Al-Mansour's "Wadjda" became the first Saudi film listed as a candidate for a foreign-language Oscar.

Saudis are voracious consumers of online videos and rank among the world's top viewers of YouTube.

Private film screenings are also held in the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking cleric warned in January of the "depravity" of cinemas and music concerts.

This is the third consecutive annual film festival after it resumed in 2015 following an absence of seven years.

The event is organised by Dammam's Society of Culture and Arts, and last year went ahead with permission from the local government.

AlMulla says this year's festival will be bigger than ever, even though he laughs off a question about how it will be financed.

"We'll arrange for that," he says, adding that some sponsors have been found.

The festival moves this year from cramped quarters at the arts society to larger grounds near a new cultural centre run by Saudi state oil giant Aramco.

The indoor and outdoor screening areas can hold almost 2,000 people.

Aside from the new venue, this year's festival will feature a "production market" where filmmakers can meet with local production houses "to make deals", AlMulla said.

The festival is also increasing its public education effort.

Students will be brought in to watch children's films, local and international experts will hold panel discussions, and the festival is to issue a book on late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.

The number of films and scripts vying for competition has increased but fewer applicants were accepted for screening in an effort to raise quality, AlMulla said.

The festival opens with a drama that resonates as the kingdom's efforts to expand entertainment face resistance from conservatives.

"Wasati" directed by Ali Alkalthami is based on the true story of extremists trying to disrupt a play at a university theatre in Riyadh 10 years ago.


Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed

Turkey insists no plans to remain in Afrin

Cairo voters show unwavering support for native son Sisi

Forum in Jordan explores new teaching techniques

Gaza Strip woes receive renewed attention but no fix is expected

Kurds, Syrian opposition condemn Afrin looting