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the jeddah visual show festival
20. Jul 2006 at 05:24
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First Film Festival Opens in the Ultra-Conservative Saudi Arabia
      
Written by James MacGregor  Thursday, 13 July 2006 
 
The first Saudi Arabian film festival opened in the Red Sea city of Jeddah this week, in an ultra-conservative country where the silver screen is so controversial that the word "cinema" does not even get a mention in the title. "The Jeddah Visual Show Festival" started on Wednesday night screening two hours of home-grown short films. They will be screened three times a week for a month.

Public screenings of movies are taboo in Saudi Arabia, where religious scholars believe any depiction of the human form is forbidden in Islam and where the U.S.-dominated film industry, with films often depicting sex and violence, is seen as an immoral force.

Saudi Arabia is deeply conscious that it is the birthplace of Islam and shuns activity that is commonplace in other parts of the world. Cinemas, for example, could allow mixing of unrelated young men and women, seen as sinful by Saudia's Wahhabi religious establishment

The new festival suggests that even devout Saudi Arabia is having to re-evaluate what should or should not be forbidden. At a news conference the festival, director Mishael al-Enazi said, "The Ministry of Information and Culture said let's not call it cinema, that could imply God knows what -- let's say 'visual shows.' We hope that showing these short films will lead to more acceptance of cinema."

Despite reservations of clerics, some Saudis have started directing movies. Entertainment company Rotana, owned by billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, has begun producing full-length features.

Saudi the authorities allowed public screenings of children's cartoons last year. This was the first time films had been shown in the Kindom since the 1970s, when  Saudia's powerful religious establishment took a position against the art form.

"Saudis are going to show they can make good films too."
To avoid creating religious outrage, festival advertising seemed to talk down the content being screened.

"The films shown in this festival do not conflict with the customs and traditions of Saudi and they deal with national issues such as terrorism and daily life in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf," an official notice published in Saudi papers said.

The films shown dealt with bold themes like domestic violence, drugs and religious extremism. Saudi television broadcasts some dramas dealing with these same issues, but they are mostly made in neighbouring Kuwait, with Kuwaiti actors.

Saudi film critics in the audience welcomed the festival but were harsh about the films shown, saying they were amateurish, though clearly Saudi directors will need to get in more practice to improve what they can present.

The Jeddah Visual Show director's response to the critics was succinct, whilst at the same time flagging up his desired intentions:

"So there were mistakes, but if we are going to criticise then let's do the same for Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese or American films too," organiser Mohammad Sallam said in defence. "Saudis are going to show they can make good films too."

Comments

Good steps have been taken.

Written by Muhammad Raza  on 2006-07-13 20:38:28

Its a nice thing to start film festivals here in KSA.The youngsters like us want to watch movies but the only options we have are to either get new movies after 3-4 months of their release or go to other countries.But I would like to say that anyways KSA has stepped forward and a lot of improvements are being done to show the world that KSA has nothing to hide.Tourist visas have been opened,human rights have opened their offices,women issues are being discussed,mobile phones with cameras have already been allowed in public etc.In fact we also have 3.5 G services over here.So the thing is that KSA is opening up slowly but in a stable way.InshAllah all will go fine.

Ahalan Wahsalaan

Written by James macGregor on 2006-07-14 05:15:01

Thank you for your contribution Muhammad. I have lived and worked in KSA and I know that great strides have been made, but I am also conscious of Saudi Arabia's need for social developments to be undertaken cautiously within the land that is the birthplace of both the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and Islam.
It is good to hear that some feature films are being shot in Saudi now. Inshallah, it can only be a question of time before films seen on Saudi television will be seen first on the big screen in Saudi cinemas - which is what they were designed for. Perhaps cinemas with seating divided into family seats and public seats will appear soon in more Saudi cities.

How sad

Written by Adam Khan  on 2006-07-14 13:41:14

How sad that the people of Saudi Arabia live in such repression that they consider it great to have this pathetic little bone of freedom thrown to them.

One small step for mankind = One giant l

Written by Joe Petrelli on 2006-07-14 21:11:37

As someone who lived in Saudi Arabia for 16 years, this is a huge deal. The monarchy has such a tight hold on their citizens that they don\'t know that they live in such repression, truly indicating that forced ignorance is bliss.
Another thing to remember is that the country operates under Islamic law, using the islamic calendar. Thus it is the year 1427 in Saudi Arabia.
My stand? Take everything about Saudi Arabia with this giant grain of salt.

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