Dammam: The “red carpet” was made of green artificial turf and women wore traditional black robes when the third Saudi Film Festival opened here on Thursday night.
About 400 enthusiastic film fans filled a hall for the opening ceremony at a culture and arts center. Although public cinemas are banned in the Kingdom, there is a growing interest in cinema and film making.
Saudis are voracious viewers of online videos and rank among the world’s top viewers of YouTube. Private film screenings are also held in the Kingdom, although the festival’s English program says it takes place “under the supervision” of its organizer, the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, and the Information Ministry.
Yellow and purple lights swirled on the ceiling before the hall darkened. A six-meter screen showed trailers from among the 70 Saudi productions competing at the five-day festival, while six speakers mounted high on the walls blared cinema-strength sound.
Women sat at the back. Men were in front on red chairs — not plush theater seats but the kind commonly used in banquet halls. They hooted and loudly applauded the opening remarks of festival director Ahmed Al-Mulla before watching a tribute to the late Saad Al-Fruraih, a pioneering Saudi television director.
The opening night gave a world premiere to three of the festival entries. Rakan Al-Harbi’s fantasy “Their Stained Hearts” tells the story of a museum for “terrorists” and the conversation a visitor has with a wounded bomber lying bloodied among his victims.
“Hope”, is a thought-provoking drama by Hajar Alnaim about mercy killing, and Mohammed Salman’s delightful documentary “Yellow” features taxi drivers in Qatif city.
Earlier, film fans crowded onto the “green carpet” in a courtyard, posing for photographs not by paparazzi but by the festival’s photo team with “media” emblazoned on their shirts. Al-Mulla said the red carpet that he planned did not arrive in time, but the green one did just fine.
It became a crowded platform for some young men who dispensed with their traditional white thobes and checkered shumagh headdress. Instead, they wore Andy Capp hats, bow ties, permed hair and twisted mustaches. Organizers hope the event will help develop the country’s nascent film industry.
The festival will culminate on Monday night when winners receive Golden Palm Tree trophies in the drama, documentary and student categories. Scripts not yet in production are also judged.
A filmmaker in Jeddah about a month ago organized the first Youth Film Fest. “I think this momentum is going to continue to build,” said Bentley Brown, an American who teaches at Jeddah’s Effat University for women, which offers the Kingdom’s only film making program.
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