How Saudi Filmmakers Are Taking Over This Year’s Cannes Film Festival

by Mervat Mohsen.

Arabs are taking a leap of faith in men and women artists participating in the film industry. Saudi Arabia has resiliently committed to a vision of progress in films, vowing to release 100 films by 2030.  In the wake of a ban lift on movies in the Kingdom in 2018, it is believed a major Saudi studio has signed on with Netflix for the production of eight new films. The Saudi studio, Telfaz 11 is also said to have multi-million dollar funds with a target to brand the Saudi kingdom as a Hollywood-like powerhouse for the production of far reaching movies.

Confident strides in the movie business are bearing fruit.  The 75th Canne Film Festival (May17th-May 28th) is honouring mega star Tom Cruise, branded as the ‘last movie star’ for his stellar remake of the movie Top Gun; and, alongside the stellar actor, the Arab world is represented. The Saudi Film Commission and other Saudi partners, including the Red Sea Film Festival are setting up shop on the French Riviera. Arab stars are studding the red carpet alongside foreign fellow colleagues. Saudi actress Mila al Zahrani attended a Red sea Film Festival event organized within the Canne festivities. Egyptian actress Tara Emad and Jordanian producer Nadia Eliewat have also pitched in. Saudi actress Fatima Albanawi has caught eyes in Cannes with an outfit Lebanese designer Rami Kadi and the assistance of a Saudi stylist Rawan Kattowa.  Her date with fame came in 2016 with the award winning Saudi movie,  ‘Barakah meets Barakah’ in 2016. The film was also selected in the foreign film category at the 89th Academy Award.  In her own right, Albanawi is a story teller, from the thousands of stories, she has directed a short film, ‘A Blink of an Eye’. 

The high level Saudi delegation at Cannes, includes the Saudi Film Commission representatives,  Saudi partners from the Red Sea Film Festival, media hub Neom and the giant MBC media company. The Marche du Film or Film Market established in 1959 stands as the most impressive global film forum for film related marketing platforms. The film market will introduce rising talents from Saudi Arabia in addition to a conference.  The latter, according to media sources,  hosts Saudi producer Ayman Khoja, Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy and Tunisian director Lotfy Nathan to panel on the future of Arab films.

Already Saudi Arabia has entered the blockbuster fray with three epic movies; Kandahar, Desert Warrior and Cherry. Cannes is becoming a demanding market for works of art from the Middle East, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Young Arab talents and budding film festivals such as the Red Sea Festival and the Gouna Film Festival have turned eyes in Europe despite their young years and getting in tow with the giants out there.

Via Imdb

In a handful of years, Saudi Arabia has founded the Saudi Film Festival. Launched in 2008, the Film Festival is well into its eighth edition in efforts to develop film and coach new recruits to the industry.  The Kingdom has also launched the Red Sea Film Festival in 2021 to great acclaim on the international level. The latter has seen the participation of 138 movies in its first edition, representing 60 countries. It is heavily represented in Cannes in parallel with the Saudi Film Commission.   

When the Saudi Film Festival opens in June 2022, only four years after ban was lifted on screening in the Kingdom; and 14 years since its launch in Damman in 2008, it will be no surprise if Hollywood greats will be flocking to the kingdom for collaboration. Voices are calling for women to make movies about women and the latter are already turning heads in Cannes.

WE SAID THIS: Make sure to check out: 5 Middle Eastern Film Festivals That Jumpstarted New Careers.