Stars in their eyes: US film school seeks Saudi talent

Haifaa Al-Mansour
Haifaa Al-Mansour

Haifaa Al-Mansour

:: The re-opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is drawing interest from international film schools seeking to recruit the next generation of filmmakers from the Kingdom.

The New York Film Academy is sending a team to Riyadh next month to promote its degree programs as the country opens cinemas for the first time in 35 years.

“The re-opening of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia is a huge breakthrough. It’s the pre-condition for the development of a local industry and I think that’s really important,” Professor Chris Berry of the department of film studies at King’s College London told News Agency.

“People in the Arab world are very aware of the decline of the Egyptian cinema. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and through the 1980s and 1990s, the Arab world was dominated by a Cairo-based industry.

“That industry went into decline for lots of reasons, including Hollywood’s efforts to get into that part of the world — so there has been a lack of local industry, distribution and local content.”

The Saudi government said on Dec. 11 that commercial cinemas would be allowed to operate in the Kingdom from as early as March 2018.

Within weeks, cinema operators including Vue International had announced plans to develop movie theaters across the country.

That move may spur interest among young Saudis to pursue film studies and emulate the success of directors such as Haifaa Al-Mansour, whose 2012 drama “Wadjda” earned a Best Foreign Film nomination at the 2014 BAFTA Awards in the UK.

“Her story about traveling overseas to get trained and somehow being able to make this film in Saudi Arabia is indicative of this determination to move things forward,” said Prof. Berry.

“So it’s interesting that the government in Saudi Arabia seems to be moving in a similar direction.

“There have also been exhibitions of video art and other kinds of audio visual material from Saudi Arabia that have been going around in various shows around the world, indicating a much stronger audio visual literacy, if you will — but also more of an ability to deploy audio visual media than maybe people would have expected.”

The New York Film Academy will visit Saudi Arabia to host information sessions from March 12 to 14.

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