Saudi Arabia, which, as a cinema hub, has for obvious reasons much catching up to do with the rest of the world, has pulled out the stops and is functioning full-steam from its first-ever Pavilion in the Cannes Film Festival. The kingdom’s culture authorities announced a raft of measures here aimed at developing local talent and attract the big players of international cinema to shooting locations in the kingdom in order to boost its film industry. India – which has the world’s most productive film industry – figures prominently on the radar of the Saudi Film Council (SFC), which in its inaugural appearance in Cannes, announced a 35 percent cash rebate for money spent in the kingdom on film production.
The cash rebate on hiring local crew is even more generous – 50 per cent. “We are very excited to mark our first appearance at the Cannes Film Festival and Marche du Film with the launch of initiatives that support our overall goals for talent development and film and content production in the Kingdom,” said Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of the General Culture Authority (GCA), which oversees SFC. “They highlight two of our key pillars – nurturing and empowering our rich talent pool of aspiring and established filmmakers and introducing the global industry to the world of opportunities the Kingdom has to offer, as we seek to build an industry that draws on our heritage and supports the unique needs of our country, while at the same time plays a vital role within the global film community.”
The pace that the Saudi Arabian contingent in Cannes has set is, of course, necessitated by the fact that cinema was proscribed in the kingdom for 30 years until the ban was lifted last December. The SFC is now seeking to develop the Arab world’s largest film industry by the year 2030. “The idea isn’t to ape Hollywood or Bollywood cinema but develop a strong arthouse cinema with the help of homegrown talent,” a source said. According to the source, Saudi Arabia, which currently has only two movie-screening facilities in Riyadh, is looking at up to 600 screens in the Kingdom by 2022. These screens will be owned and run by Vox Cinemas, which has about 250 screens in the United Arab Emirates.
“Saudis travel to UAE to watch films. Very soon they will be able to watch any film they want in Saudi Arabia itself,” the source added. Cinema education is a key thrust area of the SFC long-term strategy. It has already tied up with institutes of the University of Southern California and the French film school La Femis. About 100 Saudi aspirants will travel to these schools, hone the craft of moviemaking and make short films. “We are also looking at partnering with at least one film institute in India,” the source said.