JEDDAH: As Saudi Arabia prepares to reopen its cinemas, a panel of experts in the film industry gathered to discuss the future of cinematic story-telling in the Kingdom and the challenges that lie ahead.
The Saudi Art Council, in collaboration with the American Film Showcase, brought together local and international experts on Monday to share their thoughts and opinions about what needs to be done for the Kingdom’s cinema industry which is on a growth path after a 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted late last year.
“There needs to be a law infrastructure for the cinema, so people can be directed in the right direction,” said Saudi actor and comedian, Hisham Fageeh, one of the panelists.
“Making films is a process of reducing damage because there is so much that can go wrong,” said Fageeh, who co-produced “Barakah Meets Barakah” — a film submitted for consideration in the best foreign language film category at the Oscars in 2016.
US consul general in Jeddah, Matthias J. Mitman, introduced the panelists at Monday’s event, before handing over the discussion to moderator Nestor Vences, the communication manager of the American Film Showcase.
“If you know what you want, you should go after that immediately, because not a lot of people usually know what they want,” said another panelist, filmmaker Anu Valia — whose recent short film “Lucia, Before and After” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Jury Prize for US fiction.
“Consistent encouragement is 80 percent of the work for me,” she told the audience, which had both experienced and rookie directors and writers among them.
“When you see someone like you doing what you want to do, it suddenly becomes possible,” said the writer, director and producer, who is also part of New York Film Festival’s Artist Academy.
“Youngsters … need to learn from their mistakes,” said the third panelist, Jasim Al-Saady, when asked for advice for young content creators.
“Be open to failures and don’t hesitate to express yourself,” said Al-Saady — a production manager and assistant director for “Hologram for the King,” “Journey to Mecca” and “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden”.
Valia agreed, saying: “When people criticize you for your work, just take what is constructive and discard the rest. Keep improving, do not let that criticism stop you from doing new things again.”
On March 1, Saudi Arabia started issuing licenses for cinema-operators in the Kingdom.
By 2030, it expects to open 300 cinemas with 2,000 screens, building an industry it hopes will contribute more than SR90 billion ($24 billion) to the economy and create 30,000 permanent jobs.
Fageeh — who was the first Saudi to perform in Gotham Theater and headline an Arabic standup comedy tour in US and England — encouraged home-grown filmmakers to continue their work.
“When we open a cinema, we need to have a slot for local content-makers, because hearing your accent, your dialect and verdict on screen is magic,” he told the audience.
The three experts openly shared their own experiences, both traumatic and successful, before mingling freely with the audience at the end of the discussion.
“I feel very proud of our country’s progress, that our country is improving finally in our mentality,” said Ghazal Hameed, 23, who was among the audience.