With original content and fresh storytelling, Saudi Arabia’s local breakthrough talent are smashing box office records and driving a new wave of Saudi cinema.
The kingdom now boasts a developing ecosystem, state-of-the-art film facilities and financial incentives, empowering Saudi creatives to capitalize on these unprecedented support systems and make films that are finding audiences, acclaim and commercial success.
Filmmaker Abdullah Al-Arak dominated headlines at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival with his groundbreaking comedy, “Sattar.” The film, set against the world of freestyle wrestling, experienced breakout success, knocking “Avatar: The Way of Water” from the top spot at the local box office. “Sattar” became the second Saudi feature to secure a theatrical release in the U.K., arguably making it one of the most prominent Saudi films to date.
Al-Arak, who also directed “Netflorex” (2022) and “Ureem” (2020), described the support for “Sattar” as “unbeatable,” noting that the movie received a lot of love from audiences and the industry, both at home and abroad.
“The success of our film is all down to an outstanding cast and crew,” he says. “We look forward to producing many more films that resonate with local and international audiences.”
“Sattar” follows the underdog story of Saad (Ibraheem Alkhairallah), a wrestling enthusiast who gets the opportunity to pursue his childhood dream and try his hand at the sport. Despite being humiliated at an audition, Saad, fuelled by his need to make money for his upcoming wedding, partners with an unconventional manager (Abdulaziz Alshehri) in hopes of making a name for himself in Riyadh’s underground freestyle wrestling scene.
Alkhairallah, who also executive produced and wrote the comedy, explains the film was “born out of a vision,” adding, “We worked hard to make sure the final product reflected what we wanted to show. It has been a phenomenal experience, from dreaming up the idea to seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they watched it on the big screen.”
He continues, “Audiences are extremely hungry for content they can relate to and laugh about. Jokes and phrases that they understand. It’s an Elysian Field for dreamers and makers. With strong ideas and hard work, everything is possible.”
The Arab world has a collective population of over 500 million people in the Middle East and North Africa, so there are ample opportunities for local content creators, especially as streamers and production companies aim to cater to this huge market.
Filmmaking duo Faris and Sohayb Godus, colloquially known as the Godus brothers, exemplify the new generation of directors aiming to make entertaining, visually arresting and artistically innovative films. The brothers found success with their debut feature-length film in 2020, the coming-of-age story “The Book of Sun.” Their second feature “Ahlam Al Aser” (“Midday Nightmares”) won funding from Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Development Fund and is now in post-production. The film follows a disreputable retired footballer who found fame before the internet, but must now cooperate with his influencer daughter to rediscover popularity with a new audience, while working to overcome their strained relationship.
Faris Godus, who directs and edits “Midday Nightmares,” explains, “This is a great time for Saudis to create authentic, original works, especially with local films breaking the box office. It’s inspiring for everyone and encourages us to prove ourselves.”
He adds, “We learn something new every day that we are on set. Everyone is learning together; it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of collaboration. It’s so inspiring and it always encourages me to keep making films.”
Sohayb Godus, who produces and acts, echoes the sentiment, adding, “The nature of filmmaking always pushes us into taking new challenges. Challenges and risks require a leap of faith in order to achieve greater things. Thankfully, we are surrounded by friends and partners in this industry who believe in what we are doing.”
Currently, Saudi Arabia is home to several incubators that support and empower emerging Saudi film talent, including the Red Sea International Film Festival. Last year, the now-crucial platform showcased a wide-ranging selection of almost 40 Saudi productions and co-productions, including features, documentaries and shorts. Financially, programs such as the Red Sea Fund offer a series of year-round initiatives supporting Arab and African filmmakers across development, production and post-production. In a further boost to the local industry, the Cultural Development Fund has a $234 million Film Sector Financing Program offering financial packages to local and foreign firms to boost Saudi content.
Additionally, Ithra Film Production, a prominent force behind independent filmmaking in the country, hosted the ninth edition of the Saudi Film Festival this month. It also collaborated with Film Clinic to co-produce the anticipated adventure film “Hajjan,” a follow-up feature from Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky, whose debut, “Yomeddine,” launched from competing in the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018. Acclaimed Egyptian film producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy was among the producers of the film, which shot in the Saudi planned city of Neom and elsewhere in Tabuk province, as well as in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Set to premiere in 2024, “Hajjan” follows the relationship between a camel and a boy who is thrust into the world of camel racing. The cast includes Abdul Mohsen Al-Nimr, Ibrahim Al-Hasawi and Shaimaa Al Tayeb.
“Saudi Arabia’s filmmaking ecosystem has much to offer including a wide range of incredible locations and competitive financial incentives,” says Abdullah Al-Eyaf, CEO of the Saudi Film Commission, which was founded in 2020 to oversee the kingdom’s evolving film sector. “We are making significant progress in developing an even better ecosystem that will support local filmmakers and welcome international filmmakers to shoot their next project in Saudi. There is a huge appetite for content here and the opportunities are endless.”
To learn more about the Saudi Film Commission, please visit here and follow the company’s official account on Twitter.
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