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Saudi participation in Cannes Film Festival debut kingdom’s artistic renaissance journey

Saudi participation in Cannes Film Festival debut kingdom’s artistic renaissance journey

Saudi Arabia has recently participated in Cannes Film Festival for the second time after its first debut in 2018, in what can be marked as the first step towards the kingdom’s artistic renaissance.

At the Saudi pavilion at the 74th Cannes Film Festival, King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) announced the production of two new films in a bid to revitalize the Saudi film industry.

One of these films dubbed Sea of Sands will be produced by the celebrated Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy. The second film, Valley Road will be produced by the Saudi award-winning independent filmmaker Khalid Fahad.

Hefzy was the president of the Cairo Film Festival and received the Order of Arts and Letters, France’s highest honours.

Majed Z. Samman, Head of Performing Arts & Cinema at Ithra said that the centre aims to boost the role of creative industries in Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030 launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Samman revealed that the two movies will be released in 2023, adding that Ithra chose Cannes Film Festival for the announcement as it is one of the most renowned film festivals in the world.

He told France 24 in an interview that Ithraa works to encourage creativity and produce high-quality films that are shoot in the Kingdom to promote tourism.

This was apparent in the JOUD film that was produced by Ithra in 2018, which was filmed entirely within Saudi Arabia. The film challenges viewers to look below the surface of everyday experiences and contemplate its Arabic title, translated as “generosity in the face of scarcity.”

Samman explained that the centre aims to create a platform for Saudi creators to follow their dreams, adding that the Saudi Ministry of Culture and its Minister Prince Badr bin Abdulaziz provide all the production needs.

He stressed that the centre works to highlight the Saudi culture, values, and introduce them to Western societies. Furthermore, Ithra Film Productions has helped dozens of filmmakers bring their dreams to life. One of the largest film producers in the Kingdom, it has produced 20 films, of which 15 have received local, regional and international awards.

He added that are Saudi films have been selected in festivals in previous years, even here in France, for example, “Irtidad” produced by Ithra, was screened at the Clermont-Ferrand short film festival in 2019.

Sea of Sands

The film is a coming-of-age story centred around a young orphan Bedouin and a camel who form a special bond and embark on a journey across Saudi Arabia.

Hefzy said that the story of Sea of Sands is an unexplored topic, which attracted him to participate in the film’s production.

Hefzy is a known name at Cannes Film Festival, having had three films entered in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, and most recently a fourth film announced in the prestigious Critics’ Week section. A leading figure in the industry in the Middle East and Africa, he has written, produced and co-produced nearly 40 feature films in Egypt, the US, the UK and the Arab world.

“Ithra has played a significant role in supporting independent filmmakers from Saudi Arabia at a critical time just as the Kingdom’s booming film industry begins to take shape,” said Hefzy. “I am thrilled to work with them and all the Saudi and Arab talent who will be joining this exciting project.” The film is set to be filmed in various locations around Saudi Arabia.

Hefzy said that the two films would play a huge role in the development of the Saudi creative and film industry, adding that he hopes that the audience would welcome them.

He revealed that he dreams that the Arab film industry would reach out to the world, and that was one of the reasons behind the announcement at Cannes Film Festival.

Valley Road

Fahad’s film follows the odyssey of Ali, an autistic young man who gets lost on the way to see a doctor in a nearby village. Ali finds himself alone in the middle of nowhere, where a series of obstacles and challenges cannot stop him from discovering the world ahead of him.

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