Director and producer Hajar Alnaim tells us about her work in Saudi Arabian film, and what is changing in the industry.
How would you describe the Saudi Arabian film industry?
We lack the perfect mix of things that define an industry, including regulation, funding and infrastructure.
But we’re making the effort to encourage growth. The most promising thing is that we have lots of talent. I don’t think our professionals are as skilled as their international counterparts, but I do believe they can hold their own in the Arab world.
Because they have great vision, lots of budding Saudi filmmakers are reluctant to work their way up from the bottom. This means we don’t have many crew, like props and wardrobe managers. It also means Saudi filmmakers can miss out on the experience needed to excel internationally.
Education is very important. We don’t learn about storytelling at school. I’ve observed that lots of our professionals are self-taught for lack of role models. That’s why I started a community for female filmmakers, Her Films KSA.
Tell us about Her Films KSA, your community for women in film.
I wanted to share my passion with like-minded women.
The community focusses on three things:
- exchanging knowledge
- networking and collaborating
- supporting each other.
We celebrate achievements together, answer each other’s questions, and invite filmmakers to approach us for female talent.
The best thing I can do to help grow the industry is offer my expertise. I recently had a meeting with a woman who wanted to study in the United States. I explained that studying a degree in film production is very different to studying directing. Without that inside knowledge, she could have made a huge yet uninformed decision.
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How has the government’s decision to lift the 35-year cinema ban in 2018 affected Saudi Arabian film?
I’m so pleased the government made that decision. Throughout the ban, it was hard to attract Saudi audiences to our films. And our productions weren't always good enough for the international stage.
Now, it’s great that we can go to the cinema and watch the latest blockbuster. It’s impossible to replicate that experience at home; being with an audience means you share their emotions. I think the Saudi spectator is very different to the international one. We don’t laugh at American jokes!
Saudi films are hitting box offices again and competing internationally. We’re encouraging more international filmmakers to consider Saudi Arabians as audiences for the future.
It’s a positive cycle. The more international film industries we attract, the more co-productions we can work on, and the more influential people talk about the region. That will drive tourism and help change the world’s perception of Saudi for the better.
What trends are you seeing in film consumption in Saudi Arabia?
Now that the ban has lifted, there’s huge demand to go to movie theatres. It seems to me people are fed up of streaming films at home because of the pandemic.
My impression is that the Saudi audience loves comedies and dramatic films that stir up your emotions. I’d say they’re less keen on psychological thrillers. Those films are hard to do well, and from my experience Saudi versions aren’t up to international standards.
What do you enjoy most about working in Saudi Arabian film?
We have unique directors with unique visions. I really enjoy working with them and learning from them. I think Saudi filmmakers have a unique combination of professionalism, vision, and perspective – which makes them real assets.
What are your hopes for the future of Saudi Arabian film?
I hope we start putting Saudi audiences first and telling their stories.
We live in a culture where men and women are often separated, for example at school. I need to learn about the experiences of women less fortunate than myself; I want to know what goes on in men’s lives. In the future, I hope we tell these stories on the world stage, in a professional and sensitive way.
Read the British Council’s report on film in Saudi Arabia.