As the Kingdom pushes its Vision 2030 agenda, it is aiming to become the Middle East’s film-production powerhouse.
It was reported by Saudi Press Agency that nearly a third of total visitors to Expo2020 Dubai were received by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s pavilion, an awe-inspiring design that masterfully blends the height of architecture with the latest digital technology to connect the Kingdom with the rest of the world. It truly captures a turning point in Saudi history as it aims to unite its traditional heritage with an open future.
We witnessed the same balancing act in December when 27 Saudi-made films were premiered at the 2021 edition of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah. The festival included a diverse selection of films and showcased what can be achieved through proper partnerships; major companies such as MBC Group, Vox Cinemas, and Saudi Research and Media Group were heavily involved and invested in the founding and developing of this project to cultivate and support the aspirations of Saudi creators. Additionally, the Red Sea Souk was launched to attract and connect distributors, sales agents, talented individuals, and producers interested in pursuing projects in the region, an opportunity that could potentially shape and direct the future of the film industry in Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the global film network.
It would appear as though Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is skilfully utilising digital media as the main medium to cement his reputation as a visionary and establish the Kingdom as the next destination for a new wave of Arab cinema. The Saudi government has expressed interest in supporting the production of 100 films by 2030. They also hope to have 2,600 screens by 2030, an impressive number for a country that lifted a ban on cinemas in 2018. Previously, Teflaz11, a Saudi creative studio, was announced to have signed with Netflix to produce eight new films. These headlines represent only a small fraction of the many initiatives and projects that are curated around the three major themes of Vision 2030: a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation.
As exciting and inspiring as these efforts are, we do have to ask what this really entails? How is this going to unfold in reality? The reality is that even though having the capital to secure the right kind of infrastructure, equipment and perhaps even creatives is surely a step in the right direction, Saudi still has to take many more steps to catch up with Dubai. Lebanon had always provided the most cost-effective option for rentals in the region, but the economic collapse could possibly provide Saudi with ample opportunity. Nevertheless, Saudi would still have to rely on Dubai to rent facilities and equipment if they want to pursue big productions right now. Moreover, even though Saudi has been enticing big-budget Hollywood films to choose Saudi as the preferred desert location instead of Morocco and Jordan, Saudi lacks the skilled creators and technicians, and strict rules and visa regulations of the Kingdom mean that attracting human capital would not be an easy task. On the other hand, Dubai has proven willingness and openness, both in cultural and legal terms, to welcome diverse talent from around the world.
However, I do not wish to dissuade anyone from investing in the future of digital cinema in Saudi Arabia. The truth is that these initial steps may very well invigorate and rejuvenate passion for cinema in the UAE as well as create a healthy competition that could surely grant Arabic cinema its rightful place globally. After all, the region’s watching habits are transforming and creating new opportunities for an eager and talented generation, and at the end of the day, that is all that matters because it is not facilities or equipment that make cinema, it is individuals who make cinema.
Alaa Al Rantisi, Managing Director, Advanced Media