Saudi Arabia: The future of filmmaking in the Gulf

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With daring filmmakers, untold stories and entertainment-starved young people, Saudi Arabia has all the makings of a local movie industry- except for actual movie theaters – a problem which was just solved by Saudi Arabia’s millennial and reform minded crown prince. Saudi Arabia said on Monday that public cinemas would be allowed in the conservative kingdom for the first time in over 35 years.

As the traditionally austere kingdom cautiously embraces more forms of entertainment, local filmmakers are exploring a new frontier in Saudi art, using the internet to screen films and pushing boundaries of expression – often with surprise backing from top royals.

“Saudi Arabia is the future of filmmaking in the Gulf,” said Butheina Kazim, co-founder of Dubai’s independent cinema platform “Cinema Akil,” pointing to a crop of Saudi films that have emerged in recent years. The film “Wadjda” made history in 2013 by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn’t nominated for the Oscars.

The movie follows the story of a 10-year-old girl who dreams of having a bicycle, just like boys have in her ultraconservative neighborhood where men and women are strictly segregated and where boys and girls attend separate schools. The film was written and directed by Saudi female director Haifaa al-Mansour, who shot the film entirely in the kingdom.

Also, the Saudi film “Barakah Meets Barakah”, by director Mahmoud Sabbagh, made its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The movie, which has been called the kingdom’s first romantic comedy, tells the story of a civil servant who falls for a Saudi girl whose Instagram posts have made her a local celebrity.

These success stories only prove one thing, the emergence of a Saudi film. There are so many incredible stories in Saudi Arabia to tell, whether they are stories of success or challenge and lifting ban will surely bring all the talented filmmakers and actors of Saudi Arabia together to fulfill the dream-making Saudi film the future of filmmaking in the Gulf.

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