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A Saudi film industry
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 10 - 04 - 2009

THE recent announcements regarding the upcoming Jeddah Film Festival, the kick-off two nights ago of the European Film Festival and the recently completed Asian Film Festival are encouraging signs, following the enormous success of the Saudi comedy, Menahi, that the seeds of a domestic film movement have been planted. The fact that a number of films have been made in Saudi Arabia – ranging from professional documentaries to do-it-yourself projects produced by groups of friends – means that the seeds have germinated and now must be nurtured carefully and intelligently.
There is nothing close to a film industry in Saudi Arabia and despite all the rosy talk about an “emerging industry” in the UAE and elsewhere, there is no real film industry in any Arab country. Films are made but they are so few that nowhere is there a national cinema nor an industry. Only when there is a functioning production sector, a functioning distribution sector and a functioning exhibition sector can the concept of a film industry be seriously considered.
Nevertheless, filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers in Saudi Arabia are at an awe-inspiring juncture of the process. The massive exposure to the creativity and seemingly unlimited financial resources of Hollywood via satellite TV certainly spurs thoughts of creating similar products domestically. But anyone who attended the Asian Film Festival or the European Film Festival has realized that intriguing and meaningful stories are not dependent on massive sums of money, massive explosions and lots of CGI.
The task faced by the Saudi creative community is how to translate the Saudi experience onto film or video, as the case may be. It is one thing to learn how to tell stories on film by watching the products of cultures that have been at it for a long time. That is both inevitable and invaluable. But local audiences and then the rest of the world will only take note of films made in Saudi Arabia by Saudis if the stories they tell are Saudi.
Influence and imitation are two different aspects of filmmaking and the latter is usually a sign of weakness. The technical skills of both Western and Asian cinema are something to emulate but their stories are their stories and are interesting to us because there are some human traits and concerns that transcend cultures. The same can be true of films made by Saudis, as well, as long as Saudi filmmakers have found their own voice and are using it to tell their own stories, be they in the form of comedy, drama or any other genre. __


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