For its landmark tenth edition, the Saudi Film Festival took place at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra). The festival has been a cornerstone of the Saudi film industry since it was first held in 2008. This year’s edition took place from May 2 to May 9, and saw the Saudi cinema scene’s most prominent and promising gather at Ithra to walk the red carpet, take in screenings of short and feature films and generally take over the Ithra Theater, Cinema and Plaza. Following the red carpet into Ithra’s Great Hall, attendees could also make their way to one of the festival’s key offerings — the Production Market, a meeting of the film community, production companies and leading authorities in the film industry who preside over the Festival’s competitive side.

Production Markets have long been a feature of international film festivals, but the Saudi Film Festival’s version is the only one that serves the Saudi film industry exclusively, offering various career furthering opportunities for aspiring and established filmmakers, as well as a chance for production companies to market their work and connect with potential clients and beneficiaries. For filmmakers, the Market is a place to be among peers, where members of the community mingle among the booths and industry bustle to make connections with possible partners on future projects. 

According to a lead Production Market organizer, visiting the Market allows attendees to learn in a day what might otherwise take weeks of research, from information on production companies — among those represented are major industry entities like the Cultural Development Fund, Film AlUla, Neom and MBC Group and local companies like the al-Hasa-based Close Media — to national film initiatives and the latest industry technology. Attendees can also learn by observing peers pitch their films to the Production Market judges and award-granting production companies, as well as by presenting their own projects. Whether successful or not, by pitching, filmmakers learn about their film, themselves and industry demand, so that they may refine their knowledge, style and skill for pitching in the future. In short, the Market gives members of the Saudi film community access to the business side of the industry, and helps them learn how to navigate it. In the national context of a rapidly growing cinema culture – the Kingdom now leads West Asia in box-office sales – this could hardly be more timely.

This year’s films sent us contemplating the vastness of the Saudi landscape in epics like “Hajjan,” “Within Sands” and “Horizon,” racing alongside elite athletes in documentaries “Khayyalah,” “Saad,” and “Qaddaha,” appreciating local traditions in “Lullaby” and “Ramadan Spirit” and much, much more. This edition of the festival boasted 76 films from all over the Kingdom, the Gulf and beyond. Every story started as an idea, and in this uniquely collaborative field only came to life through the coordination of a host of talents. This is why spaces like the Production Market – a meeting place of industry connections – are essential, setting the stage for the play of technical expertise, creative talent and logistical and financial support that must align to make a film project a reality. 

Of all the exhibits, events and conferences held annually under the Great Hall’s star-studded ceiling, the Film Festival’s Production Market arguably supports the Saudi creative economy most directly. For a few days every spring, the Great Hall’s stately expanse becomes a space to get excited about Saudi film, recognizing its cultural and economic value as part of the Kingdom’s growing cultural and creative sector. Most palpable at the Market’s closing ceremony, however, is the joyful and unrelenting spirit of a creative community rising. 


By Saba Aldughaither

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