Saudi Arabia will make its Cannes Film Festival debut next month as the Kingdom says it’s participating in the event for the first time. Saudi’s presence will be repped by a selection of nine short films by young local filmmakers which will screen at the Short Film Corner on May 14 and 15. The newly-launched Saudi Film Council will also set up shop in a pavilion where it will hold a range of industry events.
The two most high-profile recent films to emerge from Saudi are Haifaa Al Mansour’s 2013 Wadjda and Mahmoud Sabbagh’s 2016 Barakah Meets Barakah. Both of those were the Kingdom’s rep for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, and both debuted at festivals other than Cannes. While the Official Selection for this year’s Cannes is still to be unveiled on Thursday, it’s thought that experimental Saudi title Joud has been submitted for consideration; its inclusion would up Saudi’s profile even higher.
Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux welcomed the the Kingdom to the Croisette in a statement today. “I am thrilled that Saudi Arabia has launched the Saudi Film Council with a clear focus on nurturing its filmmaking talent and sharing Saudi stories with the world,” he said. Its participation “is a great way of opening up global opportunities for its creative talent. The many young filmmakers among the Saudi delegation will have access to the world’s most prestigious film festival, including meaningful interactions with leading, international film industry professionals.”
The SFC pavilion will offer opportunities for delegates to interact with Saudi filmmakers, participate in roundtables with Saudi industry representatives and to understand the Kingdom’s industry ambitions through its various initiatives and programs.
Saudi is going through a seismic change as part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision 2030 program that seeks to reduce the Kingdom’s dependence on oil and tap into the entertainment industry. He’s lately been on a U.S. tour to discuss the moves he’s making and meet with Hollywood and tech leaders as the Kingdom also seeks to invest offshore.
Back at home, a 35-year ban on public moviehouses has been lifted and will see the first official release land on April 18 with Disney/Marvel’s Black Panther. The majority of Saudi’s population is under 30 years old and it is seen as a deep-pocketed and ripe market for moviegoing as well as content production and distribution.
Says Dr Awwad Alawwad, Minister of Culture and Information and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Saudi’s General Culture Authority, “The Kingdom looks forward to its debut presence at the festival, celebrating and supporting the diversity of talent and opportunities within the Saudi film industry. With a rich tradition of storytelling, Saudi Arabia is embarking on the development of a sustainable and dynamic industry that supports and encourages all stages of a film cycle and offers an incredible range of locations for the world’s filmmakers to discover.”