Saudi Arabia: Surprise boost to domestic film industry

Saudi Actress Waad Mohammed at the Dubai International Film Festival

Saudi Arabia has surprised observers at home and abroad by announcing incentives to boost its film industry.

Film production, distribution and screening has been added to the labour ministry's list of approved economic activities, the official Saudi Gazette reports. At the moment there are few details, but the kingdom's small film industry is excited.

The subject matter of films are restricted in Saudi Arabia, as is the work of female actors. Cinemas themselves are scarce - there's only one in the entire country in the Gulf coast city of Khobar - because they are places where men and women might mix unsupervised. Some people are happy they won't have travel into next-door Bahrain or the Emirates to see a film, the Khaleej Times reports. But opinions on social media are mixed, with others worried films will have a negative impact on the kingdom's traditional society.

Leading producer Omar al-Jaber hopes the change will mean young directors aren't forced to go abroad to make their films, given the "lack of prospects in our own country". He tells Arab News the move could stimulate "employment opportunities and let young people realise their creative potential".

Saudi Arabia made news last year when woman director Haifaa al-Mansour shot Wadjda, a film about a young girl who wants to cycle in public but can't because of the local interpretation of Islamic law. Al-Mansour had to stay inside a production vehicle while directing the film so she wouldn't be seen among men on the streets of the capital Riyadh. It became the first Saudi film submitted for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.

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