Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

Located 1,100 kilometers from Riyadh, AlUla is a place of natural beauty and heritage. (Supplied)
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Updated 10 April 2021

Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

  • New film commission will shine a light on Saudi Arabia by attracting international producers

DUBAI: A new regional film commission is launching in Saudi Arabia, Film AlUla, which is being set up by the Royal Commission for AlUla in the northwest region of the country.

Located 1,100 kilometers from Riyadh, AlUla is a place of natural beauty and heritage. It is home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, which is a 52-hectare ancient city.

AlUla is also home to other historical and archaeological sites, including an old town surrounded by an ancient oasis and the Lihyan Kingdom, which is considered one of the most developed cities of the first millennium B.C. in the Arabian Peninsula.

Extreme E, the off-road electric race championship, will hold this year’s inaugural race in AlUla.

Arab News spoke to Stephen Strachan, film commissioner at Film Alula, to learn more.

Give us a little background on AlUla’s new film commission, Film AlUla. 

Film AlUla is a new regional film office, established in 2020 and launched officially earlier this year by the Royal Commission for AlUla at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was met with a positive reaction from both the film industry and international media.

Film AlUla has been tasked with the mission of promoting the county of AlUla as a filming destination and attracting local, regional and international productions to shoot films, TV series, commercials and documentary projects. The Film AlUla team is made up of local and international industry professionals who offer a range of services, expertise and resources to support production projects in AlUla. 




A view of an old town in ALUla surrounded by an ancient oasis. (Supplied)

What is Film AlUla’s objective? 

We have a range of objectives. Firstly, we want to attract production companies to shoot film projects in AlUla so as to showcase this county of outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance, which has, until recently, remained undiscovered by filmmakers and the world at large.  

This in turn will encourage tourists from around the world to visit AlUla, and to discover the region and the rest of the country, in support of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision. Developing our film industry also puts us in a position to shine a spotlight on the wealth of Saudi talent and to provide a platform to champion and support emerging and established creatives here.  

We aim to build a film hub centered in AlUla that generates local and regional employment and educational opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the film industry.  

What is the investment in the film and production industry in the city?

AlUla has been identified as one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising destinations. We are confident that the stunning landscapes, wide range of diverse locations and millennia-old archaeological sites will attract film productions and make AlUla a major filming destination. Preserving our heritage sites and landscapes remains a priority in AlUla and the sustainable building of our local screen industries.

A robust financial strategy is in place to make the AlUla region the Kingdom’s cultural capital. Archaeological, cultural and touristic complex plans are underway so we can support film productions with world-class infrastructure and a range of accommodation options, from luxury and unique hotels to eco-friendly, desert canyon resorts, designed to raise the profile of AlUla on the international stage.

What are the incentives being offered to producers?

Production companies are encouraged to get in touch with the Film AlUla team directly to discuss our financial incentives. 

Production companies can also benefit from a range of incentives such as free bespoke production support; location scouting; expert knowledge of filming in AlUla and the rest of Saudi Arabia; assistance in sourcing equipment and professional crew locally and regionally; and, of course, year-round sunshine.

With a temperate climate nine months of the year, AlUla presents filmmakers with an uninterrupted extended period of time during which to shoot their productions. 

What are the procedures and guidelines for local and foreign companies to shoot their productions in AlUla?

We are very excited to open AlUla’s doors to film production and share with the world the wealth of beauty, history, and diversity on display here. We welcome all types of production, and as a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), we follow best practices as laid out by the AFCI.  

We have a very effective regulatory system in place that is simple and straightforward to ensure production and crew have all the necessary permits in place. Hosted on our website is a Film Production and Location guide that provides a comprehensive overview of all the benefits of choosing AlUla as your production destination. Of course, preserving and protecting our landscape and heritage remain paramount. And, for anyone interested in filming in AlUla, we suggest you reach out to us so we can support you during every step of the process and ensure a successful and enjoyable filming experience.

For more information, please visit filming.experiencealula.com.

Can you comment on the Extreme E races being filmed in AlUla?

We are thrilled to be the first location featured in the inaugural Extreme E five-stop global race next month, designed to highlight the impact of climate change and promote switching to electric vehicles to protect the planet.  

AlUla will make for an extraordinary and thrilling backdrop for the event. And with Extreme E set to be aired around the world, this is the perfect opportunity to capture the attention of global audiences, enabling them to see the majestic, cinematic landscapes and breathtaking natural wonders of the region for themselves.


Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”

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ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

Updated 15 May 2021

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

  • Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley

Tayeb Al-Ism is one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions. Visitors to the valley enjoy one surprise after another. The valley is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, 15 kilometers north of the coastal town of Maqna.

Palm groves and granite massifs surround the valley’s entrance, which is located between two massifs that appear to be split in half.

After leaving their cars, visitors follow a pedestrian bridge that gives hikers the impression that they are about to embark on a magical journey. Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley.

Shade and the large number of streams help to regulate the temperature, ensuring conditions in the heart of Tayeb Al-Ism are always pleasant.

Moses is believed to have spent his voluntary exile in Madyan, the ancient name of the Gulf of Aqaba, and reached Tayeb Al-Ism, hence the name “Valley of Moses.”


Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

Updated 15 May 2021

Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

  • Under a new system, citizens and residents between ages of 20 and 40 can receive payments for up to 15 months

JEDDAH: The details of a financial aid system for job seekers, which was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, have been revealed.

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

To be eligible for the aid, applicants will have to meet a number of conditions. They must be Saudi nationals or permanent residents of the Kingdom, between the ages of 20 and 40, able to work, and seriously and actively looking for a job.

They must not already be employed in the public or private sectors, or receiving a retirement pension, income from social security, or any other allowance. The owners of commercial enterprises are not eligible for the aid, nor are students or trainees at any stage of their education or training.

FASTFACT

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

In addition, an applicant will not qualify for aid if his or her wealth exceeds a certain amount, but the exact figure for this was not specified. Applicants must not previously have benefited from the job-search aid system or any other financial allowances paid to job seekers.

The authorities said the new system aims to regulate the system of financial aid for people looking for work and clearly define the rules for eligibility. In addition it is designed to support job seekers, motivate them to enter the labor market, and set out the rights, responsibilities and obligations of the Human Resources Development Fund and those who are looking for work.

Applications to the fund can be submitted online or through authorized representatives. Individuals whose applications are rejected have the right to file an appeal with the relevant authorities.

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Who’s Who: Sultan Al-Qahtani, spokesperson of KSA’s Citizen Account Program

Updated 14 May 2021

Who’s Who: Sultan Al-Qahtani, spokesperson of KSA’s Citizen Account Program

Sultan Al-Qahtani has been the spokesman and communication general manager of the Citizen Account Program since 2018.

Al-Qahtani, who received a bachelor’s degree in English translation from King Khalid University (KKU) in 2007, is an ambassador of the Charity Orphans Care Foundation (Ekhaa).

His KSA Awla initiative, which he started in 2010, has succeeded in helping thousands of young men and young women find suitable jobs. Moreover, he is a member of the Saudi Media National Association since 2020. 

After graduation from KKU, Al-Qahtani joined King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), where he worked as a creativity prize administrator for nearly 16 months.

During the same period, he served at the leading mobile service provider, Zain KSA, as a marketing administrator for 10 months and as an application supervisor for five months. He also led Zain’s public relations team for more than a year.

For four months, Al-Qahtani worked for the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) as a media and public relations officer.

In October 2012, he started a new job with the Saudi mining firm Maaden, where he provided protocol support to the company’s president in regard to his visits, conferences, tours, and social functions. In December 2013 he moved to SAP, a producer of software for the management of business processes, where he managed marketing events and social media activities in Saudi Arabia.

In April 2017, Al-Qahtani joined the General Entertainment Authority, where he was the media relations manager for nearly a year before moving to the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at), where he administered its communication department for six months.


Worshippers at Two Holy Mosques thoroughly screened from coronavirus disease

Updated 15 May 2021

Worshippers at Two Holy Mosques thoroughly screened from coronavirus disease

MAKKAH: Worshippers deemed resistant to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) attended the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah to perform Friday prayers.

All those taking part in worship were required to show Tawakkalna app proof of immunity to the virus and follow strict health and safety protocols.

Entry was allowed for people who had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, those where 14 days had passed since their first jab, and individuals who had recovered after contracting the virus.

The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has stepped up cleaning operations to 10 sessions a day at the Grand Mosque.