Cast and crew’s delight as Dunya’s Day becomes first Saudi film to premiere in Kingdom

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A still from the movie "Dunya's Day" (Supplied)
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(Photo: Supplied)
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(Photo: Supplied)
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Updated 11 January 2019

Cast and crew’s delight as Dunya’s Day becomes first Saudi film to premiere in Kingdom

  • The film tells the story of Dunya as she struggles to organize an important party after her household staff fail to show up to help

RIYADH: Raed Alsemari on Thursday night became the first Saudi film director honored with the premier of a locally-made movie in his home country.
An audience of more than 200 people watched his short comedy, “Dunya’s Day,” on the IMAX screen at the Vox Cinema at Riyadh Park during an invitation-only event organized by the General Culture Authority, represented by the Saudi Film Council.
In addition to a Saudi director, the film has an all-Saudi, all-female cast, was shot on location in the Kingdom and will shortly become the first Saudi film shown at the renowned Sundance Film Festival.
The film tells the story of Dunya as she struggles to organize an important party after her household staff fail to show up to help.
Alsemari, a post-graduate student of film at New York University, welcomed the audience before the screening, making sure to let them know that they were “allowed to laugh” — and laugh they did. The film entertained a delighted crowd who rewarded the director with a hearty round of applause as as the credits rolled.
After the screening, Alsemari thanked his family, friends and the cast and crew. He revealed that most of those involved in the production were volunteers working an a film for the first time.
“We were like a family on set,” he added.
The main cast includes Sarah Balghonaim as Dunya, and Sarah Altaweel and Rahaf as Dalal and Deema, her best friends. Balghonaim joined the project to help with casting, but when Alsemari was unable to find an actor he liked for the title character, he asked Balghonaim to take the role.
By making a film with an all-female cast, Alsemari and the actors were keen to highlight the fact that Saudi women have stories that deserve to be told, and that films need not be driven by male characters. Inspired by classic Hollywood movies such as “Mean Girls” and “Heathers,” Alsemari wanted to put his own, Saudi twist on those stories.
“I wanted to tell a story about an Arab woman who was neither a victim nor a saint,” he said. “She’s in a position of power in the narrative. That was important for us.”
To prepare for the film, the actors immersed themselves in their roles.
“We even referred to each other by our character names during the shoot,” said Altaweel. “We were completely into it.”
All three stars were generous in their praise of Alsemari, particularly his skill as a director.
“It’s such a blessing working with a director who knows exactly what he wants, and knows the characters perfectly, especially for a first-time film actress,” said Rahaf. “He understood us, he understood our needs and he was always careful to involve us in every step of the process.”
Faisal Baltyuor, the CEO of the Saudi Film Council, highlighted the organization’s desire to support local projects such as “Dunya’s Day,” and encouraged would-be Saudi filmmakers to take the first step toward realizing their visions.
“We have so many stories to tell, from every small town to every coast in the country,” he said. “Do not hesitate. Start on your next film and let us help you.”
While they were enjoying the premiere of their film, the cast and crew also still seemed to be in shock after the recent announcement that it will be screened at Sundance Festival, which begins on January 24 in Utah.
“It still hasn’t sunk in fully yet,” said Alsemari, “but it feels incredible. I’m so excited to make it out there.”
“I’m so proud of the entire team,” said Balghonaim. “I’m especially proud that the first Saudi Sundance film features an all-female cast.”
“It has to be said, however, that the experience itself was rewarding enough; the Sundance thing is just a bonus,” said Rahaf. “I know everyone says stuff like that but that’s what I honestly feel.”
In the midst of all the excitement, Alsemari is already thinking about what to do next and hopes that next time he’s back to screen a film in Saudi Arabia, it will be a full-length feature.
“I’m working on graduating now, but who knows?” he added.

KSA’s Eastern Province residents welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

Updated 19 March 2019

KSA’s Eastern Province residents welcome Sharqiah Season visitors from far and wide

  • The Sharqiah Seasonfeatures over 80 events in cities acrossf the Kingdom's Eastern Province
  • Events in the upcoming weekends feature sports events as as well as concerts

RIYADH: Residents of the Eastern Province are no strangers to foreign visitors — the nation’s oil heartland has been welcoming them for years. But more have been arriving with the opening of Sharqiah Season, featuring over 80 events across the region’s cities.

Organized as a collaborative effort by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage alongside the General Entertainment Authority, the General Culture Authority and the General Sports Authority, it is the first of 11 scheduled festivals planned across the country in 2019.

Faisal Al-Rayisi, an employee at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, told Arab News he was surprised by the number of people arriving for the festival. 

“People are not only coming from Saudi Arabia, but from all over the Gulf as well — Kuwait and the UAE in particular,” he said. “I’ve even seen foreigners from Europe and Asia coming through. Time was, we used to go to Dubai for our entertainment, but now people from Dubai are coming to us.”

He also mentioned how happy he was to see the festivities coming to the Eastern Province. “Jeddah has this slogan, ‘Jeddah is different,’ but now that we’re seeing the first Sharqiah Season in our region, and all of these amazing activities and concerts are happening here, I think we can safely say ‘Sharqiah is different’ now.”

The Sharqiah festival aims to deliver an extensive entertainment experience for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom.

The festival features events in Eastern Province cities, including Dammam, Dhahran, Alkhobar, Al-Ahsa and Jubail. Future seasons will focus on different areas of Saudi Arabia, with different entertainment options for each city. Upcoming seasons will focus on different areas, and also different parts of the year, such as Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority, said in a statement that  the organization’s participation in the festival aligns with its goal of improving the quality of life in the Kingdom, and discovering local talent in various entertainment industries.  

He also highlighted the importance of the entertainment sector and its contribution to the economy and the creation of jobs for locals, all important aspects of Vision 2030.

The opening night of Sharqiah Season on Thursday drew crowds of Saudis to the Alkhobar Corniche, despite strong winds and sprinklings of rain earlier in the day. Groups of friends stopping to take selfies and families with young children in tow wandered through the Entertainment Boulevard, lined with food stalls selling karak and koshari.

Earlier in the day, the mega event began with the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of Leonardo da Vinci at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). 

The exhibit showcased some of Da Vinci’s original sketches, with several screens showing videos detailing how his designs have continued to inspire scientists and inventors in the modern era.

Sharqiah Season continues until March 30, with upcoming weekends featuring sports events such as the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat race, as well as concerts in Dammam featuring Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.