Less than four years after lifting a ban on cinemas, Saudi Arabia is to host its first major film festival from Monday as it eyes a lucrative new industry.
Movie houses were barred for decades until April 2018, but over the next 10 days, actors and directors will tread the red carpet at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.
It will showcase 138 long and short films from 67 countries in more than 30 languages.
The festival is also expected to honour Haifaa al-Mansour, the first female Saudi director, who shot “Wadjda” in 2012, the winner of a number of international awards.
“The thought of organising a film festival in Saudi Arabia was unimaginable just five years ago,” said Egyptian art critic Mohamed Abdel Rahman.
Saudi Arabia’s annual box office could reach $950 million by 2030, according to a report by multinational accountancy firm PwC.
– Underground industry –
“Before cinemas reopened in 2018, the industry was working underground,” said Saudi director Ahmed Al-Mulla who has run an annual Saudi Film Festival in the eastern city of Dammam since 2008.
Industry observers, however, say the Saudi film sector still lacks expertise, as well as investment.
MBC Studios, the production arm of Saudi-owned Arab media giant MBC Group, went online in 2018 with huge budgets.
But it’s not just about big budgets, said Al-Mulla.
“Cinema is the soft power that can pave the way for the success of the social and economic changes that are underway (in the kingdom).”
“Cinema is not only an art but needs to be transformed into a culture in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Mulla said.
Originally published as From cinema ban to film festival: Saudi rolls out red carpet