Saudi Arabia’s Ithra Film Productions has launched a new film fund that aims to attract international filmmakers to shoot fully-financed movies in the kingdom on which local talents and crews can cut their teeth.
Ithra Film — which is a unit of The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, financed by Saudi Aramco Oil Company to promote cultural development – is looking to commission and fund up to five films annually. The level of funding was not disclosed, nor was the criteria for selection besides the requirement that they contribute to foster the growth of Saudi Arabia’s embryonic film industry.
“We invite international filmmakers to collaborate with filmmakers in the kingdom and join us on our journey to accelerate talent and sector development in Saudi,” said Majed Z. Samman, who is head of performing arts and cinema at Ithra, announcing the fund at the Cannes market during a panel at the Saudi pavilion.
“By working with local crews, we hope to facilitate an organic process of knowledge transfer and cross-cultural exchange that would elevate the local industry and enrich the global cinematic landscape,” he added.
Samman was joined on the panel, titled “Saudi Arabia: A Film Destination Opportunity,” by Charlene Deleon-Jones, who is executive director at Film AlUla, the film commission for a large swathe of northwest Saudi Arabia; Fatima AlBabtain, film financing manager at Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Development Fund; and Zeinab Abu Alsamh, general manager of MBC Studios and CEO of MBC Academy.
The deadline for Ithra’s open call for film proposals is Aug. 4. Projects will be selected by an undisclosed panel of Arab filmmakers.
Ithra Film Production, which is a major entity behind independent filmmaking in Saudi, earlier this month hosted the ninth edition of the Saudi Film Festival that was launched in 2008 before cinema was even legal in the country. Saudi’s religion-related ban on cinema was lifted in 2017.
Ithra’s more than 20 film productions to date comprise Saudi director Khalid Fahad’s dramedy “Valley Road” that premiered last year at the Red Sea Film Festival. The next one to hit the fest circuit is Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky “Hajjan,” a follow-up to his “Yomeddine” which competed in Cannes in 2018. “Hajjan” (pictured above) which is now in post, was shot mostly in the sprawling area situated along Saudi’s Red Sea coast in Tabuk. The film about a journey embarked upon by a boy and his camel across the desert mixes a cast of established Saudi actors and newcomers.