Lights, Camera, Action on Saudi Arabia's First Film Festival

Lights, Camera, Action on Saudi Arabia's First Film Festival


I can see the trailer now. . . "In a world ruled by a strict theocratic monarchy . . . where the freedoms we enjoy are a distant concept . . . where everything you know is not as it seems . . . one man stands alone. . . "

OK, it’s not that dramatic, but it is pretty exciting. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is now holding its first ever film festival. The four-day affair is taking place in the eastern city of Damman — though roll up the racy red carpet — it will adhere to all Muslim rules: women and men will be separated during screenings, the festivities begin with a recitation of Quranic verse, and no alcohol will be served during the festival. Though the usual trademarks of a Sundance-y atmosphere are there — baseball caps and t-shirts with the festival’s logo were offered to everyone at the screenings. To see why this is such a huge leap, read more.

The idea of a film festival in a wildly religiously devout nation was unheard of just a few years ago, but with more and more Saudis gaining access to satellite television and DVDs, interest in joining the global film making community has risen dramatically.

Of course it's not all huge tubs of popcorn — many object strongly to this festival. Conservatives have overwhelmed newspapers denouncing the national film industry for lewd activities like promoting alcohol consumption and showing scenes where men and women interact. Though the festival was approved by the Information Ministry, members from the Committee to Prevent Vice and Promote Virtue stopped by to catch a flick and make sure everything adhered to code.

The Information Minister, in his opening night speech invited all to what may be Saudi Arabia’s introduction into global film making: “There’s a debate over the issue of cinema and movies, and it’s a debate that should continue. Film is a means to communicate with the rest of humanity and what should be judged is the content and not the means.”

Is this a positive step for Saudi Arabia? Can expression in film be introduced and keep with their strict traditions?

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