Written by ModernMediaMix
Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Since 1980, Saudi Arabia hasn’t had much of a real film industry. Commercial movie theaters and filming movies inside the country have been prohibited without the direct supervision of the government.
In recent years, particularly after the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2010, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was affected, like other countries in the region, by these events and began to loosen up at many levels. Some of these forces have had an impact upon media and film.
For example, the government has started to ease restrictions on the freedom of expression and announced new regulations for production, publication and distribution. The new regulations allowed filmmakers to shoot movies inside the Kingdom in accordance with certain conditions.
Also, the regulations convert the power of sentencing anyone with a case related to media to a judging panel at the Ministry of Information, rather than the strict Sharia courts. Moreover, in 2012, the Saudi Council of Ministers issued a historic decision that dismantled the government media sector and turned some of its parts to semi-autonomous bodies.
All these developments coincided with changes in the status of women in the Kingdom. Religious radicals, supported by the government, have argued for preventing cinema because they oppose women appearing in films. A part of the changes are the expansion of work opportunities for women, and the appointing of thirty women in the Shura Council, the equivalent of parliament in other countries.
Since 2011, a group of Saudi filmmakers have succeeded in producing new cinematic experiences that are distinctly Saudi Arabian. The majority of these productions were focused on the suffering of Saudi women and children within the society. Mostly, they used simple instruments and amateur shooting equipment to make short films.
The Internet was their first window to reach their targeted audience, paving the way to television appearances and then regional movie theaters. Some have found their path to international film festivals, both in the Middle East and around the world.
Surprisingly, during these days, Saudi women emerged dramatically as directors, producers and actresses. Reem Abdullah, Remas Mansuor, Reem AlBayyat, Ahd Kamel, and many others took the Saudi public by storm through different roles in film and television.
While Haifa Al-Mansour, a maverick Saudi filmmaker, directed and produced “Wadjda”, the first full-length feature film to be directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia that was filmed entirely inside the country without direct supervision of the government.
“Wadjda” follows a little Saudi girl’s quest of buying a bicycle in a conservative society. The film won the praise of many critics and has been introduced in a number of regional and international festivals, notably, the Dubai International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival and the London Film festival. The film is expected to hit some U.S. theaters this year.
Saudi cinema is still in its infancy. Recent changes, although somewhat encouraging, are still modest in comparing to the challenges posed by customs and religious traditions which overwhelmed the Saudi cinema for decades. More time will be needed to tell whether these changes will lead to a quantum leap forward or if it is just a phase worthy of contemplation.
- Abdullah Al Daraan