Author: Razan Baker | Arab News
Publication Date: Thu, 2007-08-30 03:00
SAUDIS now want to be part of the region’s filmmaking industry. Those who have achieved something have proved they are tough, reliable and strong enough to stay and welcome others as they develop.
The passion for filmmaking among saudis has spread, especially in the past four years. It probably began when Haifa Al-Mansour, the first-ever Saudi filmmaker, produced a seven-minute short film entitled "who." following her debut, the old belief that filming in Saudi Arabia had no future began to die. Advertising agencies started to support and nurture young talent and now the Saudi film industry is growing.
This summer has been witness to the birth of three films that have been produced, directed and played by Saudis.
The movie — "the forgotten village" — is a horror movie by Abdullah Abo Talib. It premiered in Cairo on aug. 21. The documentary on Saudis in America by Fahmi Farahat will debut on sept. 8 in Los Angeles. The short film, entitled "stick with it," will premiere in jeddah sometime soon and has been directed by Anggi Makki.
The Forgotten Village
This project is part of a new facet in the production of Saudi movies — horror. “Ever since we were children, we have watched excellent horror movies in English language from the West. Now is the time for us to do something similar. It was not very acceptable in the beginning for a horror movie to be in Arabic language. So in order to break the ice, we managed to include foreign actors from France and Canada,” said Abo Talib by phone from Cairo.
He explained that the film is a Saudi movie with a new twist based on a novel by Tarek Al-Dakhiel. He said the story is about two groups, one comprising Saudis and the other of foreigners, who both get lost in the desert. The groups then meet at a deserted and forgotten village where their beliefs and superstitions are the subject of a one-hour forty-minute film.
The film, which was completed after ten months of work, cost SR3.5 million and was financed by Media Art Company. It was shot in Khulais, a city in the west of the Kingdom.
According to the director, Khulais was carefully selected because it has a feeling of the past. Time, he said, was spent preparing the area to make it easy to film there. “It’s a remote place and lacks facilities. Something that forced us to go back and forth to a city close by every few days,” he said.
“Of course shooting the scary scenes was successful because the place was already scary and fear came naturally,” the director said jokingly.
Casting the actors was also interesting; about 88 applications were received. Most applicants appeared on ads or participated in a play or drama.
The movie will soon be shown on different channels and will also be sold in stores.
A trailer for the movie can be seen at www.forgottenvillage.com/fgmovie.mov.
Stick With It
Setting a budget for Muhammad Makki’s thirty-minute short movie, a 19-year-old business administration student at King Abdulaziz University, was not a problem.
Makki said that although Saudi Arabia does not support filmmaking, people can still pursue their dreams and through motivation, support and teamwork can help bring Hollywood to Jeddah.
He explained that he basically thought of the idea of making a film and discussed it with his friends. All of them participated in the script writing and editing, and depended on themselves and the tools that were available to make their dream a reality. They kept collecting ideas and believed it was time to turn the ideas into something creative.
The English language film is about four friends — each with a dream of becoming a businessman, a basketball player, a rock star and a rap singer. They stick to their dreams despite what they go through.
Within two months “Stick With It” was complete. They had some difficulties with the sound since it was a low budget movie, but they overcome that by using English subtitles. They rented a microphone, which cost SR30 per day and got hold of an affordable used video camera. They were abused once while filming in front of a man’s house, but managed to find another location.
“People just looked at us and did not seem to care — as if they were used to it and that was good,” he said. “Whenever one of us had an exam or family commitment, we had to postpone the shooting. That’s why it took us two months to finish,” he said.
Saudis in America
For 25-year-old director Fahmi Farahat and his team, the time now is critical. They are waiting for sept. 8 when their hour-long documentary will be released. The documentary, financed by zahra pictures, cost $10,000.
Speaking about the film, Farahat said foreigners continue to ask saudis their opinion of what happened on 9/11, about islam, their tradition and culture. "that is why i thought i wanted to present something to explain things to them," he said.
Ahmed Zahra, producer of the documentary, advised him that allowing students to express their feelings would make his message heart-penetrating and convincing. Hence the project began and it took him about two years to complete it. "sometimes i didn’t even see the morning sun as i kept editing the scenes. It was crazy," he said.
Though few saudis, especially women, wanted to be part of the documentary, the producer said he found many who were unwilling to participate. He was not upset by those who refused, and understood that people are not used to expressing themselves.
"They prefer to keep everything to themselves, but some are opening up now," he said. Besides the joy of producing the documentary, Zahra said he had a phobia of flying in an airplane. "however, after filming in a single-engine plane, i am over it and i am no longer frightened," he said.
"Saudis in the us were impressed and Americans too showed a great deal of curiosity. This was encouraging to us," he said. Farahat is one of many saudis, who have been interested in films since childhood — but was thwarted from pursuing his dream because of the way in which society views filming industry. His father, however, believed in his abilities and advised him to follow his dream. Now that he has studied film and directed several documentaries, he wants to come back to the kingdom to work with established film and advertising companies.
"it is too early to open my own. It is a trend now but it would not be helpful to have too much competition. We need to work together to become better," he said. He also noted that some recent Saudi films had been unsuccessful since they depended too much on new faces. "if they had famous Saudi actors such as Nassir Al-Gasabi and Abdullah Al-Sadhan, i’m sure they would have succeeded," said Farahat.
The Saudi paranoia about becoming the first in everything, even in this field, is distressing to Farahat. "it is what you do after that," he said, adding he had wanted to participate in the jeddah film festival in mid-july but did not hear about it until it was over.