Film festival pushes freedoms in cinema-free Saudi

Saudi Arabia launches second film festival with small but significant steps to overcome conservative objections.

Film festival pushes freedoms in cinema-free Saudi
The screen got bigger this year and the luminaries slightly more illustrious.

Saudi Arabia, a country so socially conservative that it has no public cinemas, launched its second film festival this week with small but significant steps to overcome conservative religious objections and follow the example of other Gulf Arab states where the public flocks to movie theatres.

"Of course, any time there is something like this going on I consider it a step forward, no matter how small the step is," said Dima Akhwan, a student studying in the United States.

"This is something that fills young people's spare time. There isn't a single girl from my generation I know who doesn't want there to be cinemas here."

Saudi Arabia had some theatres in the 1970s but its powerful conservative clerical establishment later managed to snuff the industry out.

But in recent years dozens of young Saudis have begun making movies, running to catch up with their cousins in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait where films are made, festivals held, and theatres filled.

As Saudi Arabia's most liberal city, Jeddah is trying to push the boundaries with this week's cinematic offerings -- though even the phrase "film festival" is still seen as too provocative.

"We hope this will be the beginning of creative and entertaining communications in harmony with the values and understandings of our society," said Jeddah mayor Adel Fakieh, choosing his words carefully at the opening of its "Festival of Visual Art" on Wednesday evening.

Nineteen Saudi films are competing for prizes for the first time in Saudi Arabia, alongside films from Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Russia and Japan. Many are amateurish, but show a desire to explore an artistic medium long out of reach.

"A production process has begun, so there's no doubt that with these films there will be cinema houses soon," said director Mamdouh Salem at the Jeddah Chambers of Commerce, where the four-day festival is being held.

Salem's documentary film Laylat Badr ("Full Moon Night") won whistles of approval from the auditorium, enchanted by its depiction of singing, dancing, food and folktales from the Jeddah region of Saudi Arabia, known as the Hejaz.

Child of the Sky ("Tiflat al-Samaa") looks at domestic violence, as a young child tries to deal with a drunken father who has gone off the rails after his wife's death.

Director Ali al-Ameer said he realized some issues concerning Saudi society are discussed abroad more than at home.

"I discovered after some research that this is a phenomenon but the question was why is there no media discussion?" he said.

"We shouldn't have things we run away from. We're like any other society, Arab or otherwise. If we have problems, we should discuss them realistically."

Middle East Online

Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Temmuz 2007, 07:50