How resumption of movie screening provided a global platform for local Saudi talent

Walaa Bahefzallah (R), casting director of Saudi film Champions, alongside the cast at the 2021 Red Sea Film Festival, including Fatima Albanawi (C). (Supplied)
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Updated 27 April 2024

How resumption of movie screening provided a global platform for local Saudi talent

  • Since cinemas reopened six years ago across the Kingdom, cumulative box office revenues are approaching the $1 billion mark
  • The Red Sea Film Foundation and the Saudi Film Fund support homegrown talent through programs and partnerships

RIYADH: This month, Saudi Arabia marks six years of movie screenings after a 35-year gap. Back then, the idea of a flourishing domestic film industry seemed improbable. Today, it has become a reality.

Since cinemas reopened on April 18, 2018, multiplexes have prospered, with accumulative box office revenues hitting almost $1 billion. Even the closures of the pandemic years were not enough to halt the industry’s meteoric rise.

Cities across the Kingdom now boast their own world-class movie theaters, screening the latest international blockbusters, regional hits and domestic productions, while homegrown film-making capability is now routinely spotlighted at local film festivals.

Saudis gather at a cinema theatre in Riyadh on April 30, 2018. (AFP)

With the launch of the Red Sea Film Festival in December 2021 and the establishment in 2020 of the Saudi Film Commission under the Ministry of Culture, many Saudis who were working in production houses overseas are now relocating to the Kingdom.

“The year 2018 marked a significant turning point for Saudi filmmakers and audiences as well,” Saudi film producer Mohammed Al-Turki, who was named CEO of the Red Sea Film Festival in 2022, told Arab News.

“The Saudi box office is growing rapidly. These achievements reflect the filmmakers’ passion for crafting captivating stories that are deeply embedded in our culture and resonate with an engaged local audience.”

The launch of the Red Sea Film Festival in 2021 prompted many Saudis who were working in production houses overseas to relocate to the Kingdom. (Red Sea Film Festival)

Saudi filmmakers are making their mark both locally and internationally. Among them are Tawfiq Al-Zaidi, the Qudus brothers, Ali Al-Kalthami, and Mishal Al-Jasser, said Al-Turki. “All tirelessly striving to deliver their finest work.”

The Red Sea Film Foundation, which was created in 2019 after the cinema ban was lifted, has become a catalyst for the industry’s expansion, staging one of the Middle East’s biggest film festivals in partnership with other major gatherings in the world cinema calendar.

RSFF has developed a variety of programs and initiatives specifically tailored to filmmakers from the Arab world, Africa, and Asia, with a special focus on Saudi filmmakers.

“Our programs include the Red Sea Fund, which offers financial support to film projects at various stages from development through to post-production,” said Al-Turki. “The Red Sea Labs provide a range of training workshops and courses for filmmakers.”

Winners and jury members posing on stage at the end of the second RSFF’s awards ceremony on December 8, 2022. (AFP)

Additionally, the Red Sea Souk acts as a networking hub, providing numerous developmental programs.

“Among our recent successful initiatives is our collaboration with the Series Mania festival, which has enabled several promising Saudi filmmakers to advance their television projects and gain exposure at one of the world’s foremost television festivals,” said Al-Turki.

“We continue to launch many value-adding programs aimed at nurturing rising Saudi talent.”


• $1bn Cumulative box office revenues since Saudi cinemas reopened.

• $100m Saudi Film Fund created to stimulate domestic film industry.

The Kingdom has established several initiatives to support the industry. Most recently, a SR375 million ($100 million) Saudi Film Fund was unveiled by the government’s Cultural Development Fund in partnership with local investment firm MEFIC Capital and Roaa Media Ventures, a holding company that promotes local media projects and talent.

The fund will collaborate with major international studios to invest in film production that provides content reflecting Saudi culture and values.

Such government initiatives are also spurring the private sector. In 2023, Syed Ali launched 40Films KSA to work with local and international clients.

Ibraheem Alkhairallah on the set of Saudi film “Sattar,” where he portrayed the character of Abdulkhaleq, an undercover officer pretending to be a wrestling coach. (Supplied)

“This cinematic renaissance has made a positive impact on our business, fueling commitment to nurture more and meet the top standards being set daily in the market,” Ali, a Pakistani businessman based in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“The Kingdom is not just a consumer of global cinema; it is a creator, contributing its unique voice to the rich tapestry of world cinema. Saudi filmmakers are narrating stories that captivate audiences both at home and around the globe.” 

Saudi filmmaker Mujtaba Saeed, who is based between the Kingdom and Germany, says he has also benefited from the boom in the Saudi entertainment industry and will begin working on a film to be shot in the Eastern Province at the end of this year.

The film, titled “Drowning,” will be funded by the Red Sea Film Festival, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, and the Saudi Film Commission. “Without this support I would not have been able to shoot the film,” Saeed told Arab News.

“The great developments in the Saudi film industry have greatly contributed to the growth of my work as a young director. Through increased opportunities for collaboration and greater support I have access to resources and support that were previously unavailable to me.”

Two young Saudi film directors have been presented with trophies after winning the second edition of a 48-hour filmmaking challenge. (AN Photo/Ali Khameq)

During the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, the Saudi Film Commission announced an incentive program aimed at transforming the Kingdom into a global hub for film production. This included 40 percent returns for productions that hired local crews, among other initiatives.

The incentive program was announced a few months after the RSFF established the Red Sea Fund to support Arab and African filmmakers and directors. The $10 million fund has backed more than 250 projects since its launch.

It is through schemes such as these that the RSFF aims to foster “cultural connections,” providing a platform for up-and-coming film talent in the Kingdom, said Al-Turki.

The Saudi Film Commission is responsible for numerous initiatives that have helped bolster the Saudi industry at home and abroad by providing young Saudi filmmakers with opportunities.

One example is “Norah,” a Saudi production that will be screened at the 77th Cannes Film Festival this year in its “Un Certain Regard” section. It will be the first time a Saudi movie has been selected for the prestigious festival.

Produced by Saudi Tawfik Alzaidi, “Norah” is the first Saudi movie shot entirely in the AlUla region.

Poster of Saudi movie “Norah.” (Supplied)

Supported by the Red Sea Fund, the film also clinched the top prize of a funding award from the Saudi Film Commission’s Daou Competition — an initiative launched by the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture in September 2019 to bolster Saudi film production and nurture the country’s next generation of filmmakers.

Set in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s, the film follows Norah, a young Saudi woman who lives in a small village, who is introduced to Nader, an artist. Norah asks him to paint her portrait and soon an artistic relationship develops between them. 

The film, Alzaidi’s debut feature, explores the period of Saudi conservatism and the various forms of art that were banned. It examines how art can facilitate communication between people and foster social change.

In the run-up to the sixth anniversary of the lifting of the cinema ban, the Saudi Film Commission organized the fourth edition of the Gulf Cinema Festival, which ran from April 14 to 18.

This was the first time the festival was managed by a government agency, underlining the recognition of the socio-cultural and economic importance of the film industry for the Kingdom.

The Gulf Cinema Festival brought together several pioneers of Gulf cinema to share their visions and experiences in film production. (Supplied)

In a speech during the opening of the festival, the Film Commission’s CEO Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Qahtani said “this edition of the festival represents a crucial milestone in cultural cooperation among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and embodies our wise leadership’s commitment to enhancing collaboration among us,” according to SPA.

“This festival, which brings us together today, reflects the strong connection between ambition and the cultural strategy of the GCC countries, which play a significant role in enhancing cultural exchange, expanding infrastructure, drawing inspiration from successful experiences, and encouraging Gulf talents to offer more,” he said.

The booming Saudi entertainment industry is also attracting directors from across the world to shoot and produce films in the Kingdom.

Over the last 18 months, the landscapes of NEOM in the Tabuk region have been featured in several international films, including Ruper Wyatt’s “Desert Warrior,” starring Anthony Mackie and Sir Ben Kingsley; “Dunki” directed by Indian filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani starring Shahrukh Khan; the first regional reality TV show “Million Dollar Island;” and the “Rise of the Witches,” the region’s largest-ever budget TV show. 

As deals continue to be made and incentives offered for making movies in Saudi Arabia, the future looks bright not only for domestic movie theaters but also for local, regional and international filmmakers and producers intending to work and collaborate in the Kingdom.

“Despite these accomplishments, this is merely the start,” said Al-Turki. “Saudi cinema has much more to accomplish.”

Italian shipbuilding giant floats Saudi Arabia partnership plan

Updated 8 sec ago

Italian shipbuilding giant floats Saudi Arabia partnership plan

  • Fincantieri stands out in the shipbuilding industry for its innovation, says CEO

RIYADH: One of the world’s biggest shipbuilders will work in partnership with Saudi Arabia to strengthen the Kingdom’s maritime sector, with a focus on sustainability and the development of “green shipping.”

Fincantieri, an Italian company and Europe’s largest shipbuilding group, highlighted its commitment to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 agenda at a conference under the theme “Where Vision Meets Maritime Excellence” held in Riyadh on Wednesday.

Saudi decisionmakers from related sectors in Riyadh joined Italian officials in a range of sessions at the forum.

During the event, Fincantieri CEO Pierroberto Folgiero outlined the shipbuilder’s plans to collaborate with Saudi companies in line with Vision 2030.

“Our commitment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is steadfast,” he said.

Fincantieri stands out in the shipbuilding industry for its innovation, and has a leading role in the naval, cruise, and oil and gas sectors, Folgiero said.

The CEO highlighted the importance of developing green ships, designed to minimize the environmental impact of maritime operations, as part of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to achieving net-zero emissions by 2060.

Digitizing shipyard operations through innovations such as AI also aligns with the goals of Vision 2030, Folgiero said.

“Today, the shipping industry and the maritime industry, in general, is coping with environmental regulation. For us, it is not only a source of compliance, but also a source of distinctiveness. So, we believe that in the maritime sector, in the shipbuilding sector, mastering energy transition and new technologies will be a source of competitiveness and distinctiveness,” he said.

“That is why we are engaged in all the solutions (regarding) energy transition at sea. We are a new engine. We are in biofuels. We are in methanol. We are in LNG. We are in ammonia. We are in hydrogen. We are everywhere there is innovation at sea.”

Maria Tripodi, undersecretary of state for foreign affairs at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, discussed the significance of keeping operations and businesses sustainable.

Fincantieri’s ships are built to produce zero carbon emissions, which helps to protect the environment and marine ecosystem, she said.

Khalil Ibrahim bin Salamah, deputy minister for industry affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, said: “Localization for us is a key factor. Key components are crucial, but the whole supply chain is equally important.”

Saudi Arabia’s envoy opens ‘Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved’ exhibition in US

Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington.
Updated 23 May 2024

Saudi Arabia’s envoy opens ‘Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved’ exhibition in US

  • The work by Saudi Arabia artist Ahmad Angawi was presented by the Saudi Embassy and the International Finance Corporation
  • Al-Mangour is a traditional Hijazi craft that consists of wooden latticework forming a mesh-like screen

RIYADH: Princess Reema bint Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s US ambassador, opened the exhibition “Al-Mangour: Loved and Beloved” in Washington on Wednesday.

The work by Saudi Arabia artist Ahmad Angawi was presented by the Saudi Embassy and the International Finance Corporation.

The exhibition, held at the IFC’s headquarters, showcases the beauty of Al-Mangour, the traditional Hijazi craft that consists of wooden latticework forming a mesh-like screen.

Al-Mangour is a traditional Hijazi craft that consists of wooden latticework forming a mesh-like screen. (@rbalsaud)

The craft reflects the spiritual relationship between humans through a story of two halves that form one unit — the “loved and beloved.”

The exhibition included musical performances and traditional cuisine.

In her speech, Princess Reema stressed the importance of traditional arts in strengthening cultural identity and solidifying national heritage, and building bridges with other nations.

She lauded Angawi for preserving and developing the traditions of the Hijaz region.

Among those in attendance were the IFC’s Director Makhtar Diop, officials, diplomats and artists.

Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan

Updated 23 May 2024

Saudi ambassador presents credentials to emperor of Japan

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Japan, Ghazi Faisal Binzagr, on Thursday presented his diplomatic credentials to Emperor Naruhito during a reception at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The envoy, who took up his post in January, conveyed to the emperor the greetings and appreciation of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and their best wishes to the government of Japan and its people for their continued progress and prosperity, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said.

MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer

Updated 23 May 2024

MDLBEAST building a creative tribe through music, says chief creative officer

  • Ahmad AlAmmary talks about MDLBEAST vision, his own musical background for 6th season of ‘The Mayman Show’

Riyadh: MDLBEAST is building a tribe for the region’s music lovers through its initiatives such as the Soundstorm festival, the platform’s Chief Creative Officer Ahmad AlAmmary, also known as DJ Baloo, said. The Saudi veteran DJ and producer with over 20 years of experience under his belt sat down with Arab News’ “The Mayman Show” for the launch of its sixth season, talking about MDLBEAST’s ambitions and his own background.

His role taps into his ability to find solutions on many levels, he shared.



“It’s been my role since the onset of this whole project. My background sits between design thinking, brand development, and brand strategy, and music,” the CCO said, adding that the role feels like a perfect fit for him.

“Creatively, you know, every day is its own day. There’s no system for creativity. Its context is whatever comes your way, whatever problem you’re solving — that’s where your creativity sits,” he said.

AlAmmary said it was MDLBEAST’s goal to become involved in all facets of the creative music industry since its launch in 2019.



“From the onset, the big splash was Soundstorm, but we had every intention of launching our record labels, our music conferences, and XP Music Future,” he said.

The platform launched around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which provided an opportunity for it to focus on entertaining.

“So, whether or not you (could) go to an event, we were still around there to … provide the music and to provide the entertainment,” AlAmmary said.

After pandemic restrictions eased, it allowed him and the team to stay on the path they paved. MDLBEAST started with flagship live events and some record labels.



“We had … launched MDLBEAST Records, Qabo, Wattar, Maestro-Lab and, most recently, Mahoul Records. Each of these labels, for example, serves … a niche. Above and beyond, our conference is a really unique experience that gathers people from around the region. We have a day and night experience. During the day, it’s all about learning and networking, connecting, and collaborating. And at night, that turns into a regional music showcase,” AlAmmary said.

MDLBEAST highlights up-and-coming brands that are leading the underground scene of Saudi music across a variety of genres, the CCO said.

“It’s just been, you know, a lot of fun … but also a lot of … work. We’re turning around projects left and right,” he said, adding that the platform is now “diving into venues” with the launch of Beast House, for example, “Riyadh’s first music and creative members club,” according to the MDLBEAST website.



“We developed these smaller pop-up events, with more intimate settings,” AlAmmary said, explaining that the events take place in spaces that have been abandoned, giving MDLBEAST space to flex its creative muscles.

“We can take over and create an experience that is very unique,” he said. “We saw that with Tahlia in Jeddah and Irqah in Riyadh, the abandoned hospital … We’re looking at all of these different spaces and projects as … fun experiences that we can create for our people and platforms for musicians to shine.”

Speaking about his own background, AlAmmary says he owes his creative attributes to his very musical family.



“My eldest brother, Khalid, actually, he was kind of like the cultural center of our family. Everything from film to music, design, art, you know, we always had a deep interest in the arts because of his influence. Especially with me and house music — that’s where I learned it. I learned it from Khalid,” he said.

The DJ and producer developed an interest in music at an early age.

“By the time I was 17, I already had a collection of music,” he said. “Years later, you know, I started to get things like a residency in Bahrain … I would just travel to Beirut and the gigs would appear.”


3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi

Updated 23 May 2024

3rd European Film Festival set to launch in Saudi

  • VOX Cinemas will host 21 European films over the one-week event
  • The line-up features movies that have won awards including Oscars and the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival

RIYADH: The third European Film Festival begins next week, taking place in both Riyadh and Jeddah for the first time.
The event, which will run from May 29 to June 6, is being launched by the European Union Delegation to the Kingdom in conjunction with the embassies of EU member states and Arabia Pictures.
It will be hosted at VOX Cinemas Century Corner in Riyadh and the newly opened VOX Cinemas Jeddah Park in Jeddah.
This year the festival is bigger than ever, with 21 European films from countries including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
The line-up features movies that have won awards including Oscars and the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the Cannes Film Festival.
EU Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Christophe Farnaud said: “I am glad that the European Film Festival has become a landmark event on the Kingdom’s cultural calendar. The festival has been expanding year by year and this time around we are not only showcasing more movies, but also bringing the festival to Jeddah. I hope that this will allow even more Saudi film enthusiasts to attend the festival’s many film screenings and side events.”
Ahmed Teama, CEO of Arabia Pictures, expressed his pleasure at extending the collaboration with the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia for a third consecutive year.
He lauded the festival as one of the most significant cinematic events in the Kingdom, highlighting its unique appeal to a devoted audience of international cinema enthusiasts.
Aimed at facilitating cultural exchange and promoting European cinema, the festival will also foster contacts between European and Saudi filmmakers.
Among the guests will be Oscar-winning Austrian film director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who will give a special masterclass.
Also attending will be director Kyriakos Tofaridis and screenwriter/director Mijke de Jong as well as Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney, from Cyprus, the Netherlands and Ireland respectively, who will meet the audiences and run an open conversation with filmmakers and film enthusiasts.
All side-events are free of charge and will take place at VOX Cinemas Century Corner in Riyadh.
Cinema enthusiast Meshal Al-Mutairi told Arab News: “I have seen movies during previous EU film fests and like their movie selection.”
For more information about the festival program or to buy tickets, visit or