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The Saudi Film Industry

Al-Anba, Kuwait, July 18

Last week, the Saudi newspaper Al-Riyadh devoted its main editorial to a somewhat unusual topic: the importance of the film industry. Cinema, according to the editorial, is not just meant to present events – fictional or nonfictional – on the screen, but has also become an important tool for the projection of soft power and for economic development. That is, more and more countries today invest in projecting their cultures and unique identities through the establishment of a local film industry or by partnering with film production companies around the world. The deep and accelerating transformations unfolding in Saudi Arabia, which have been set forth in the kingdom’s unique Vision 2030 [plan], are finally beginning to manifest themselves in other realms of Saudi society, including cinema arts. It is expected that the kingdom will open its doors to the film industry, which has attracted the attention of many countries, including superpowers such as China. Beijing has already reached out to government officials in Riyadh with the hope of partnering with Saudi Arabia on joint film ventures that would be filmed in the country. This is certainly not a novel idea, but most states have neglected to invest in their film industries. There are a few notable exceptions. Indian cinema, known as Bollywood, brings in over 14 million viewers a day, and its revenues continue to rise dramatically each year. Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, serves as the country’s second largest economic sector, helping the sub-Saharan state diversify its national income sources through an innovative avenue. Therefore, film should not be thought of only within the purview of the arts. An investment in cinema is an investment in a country’s economic stability and ability to send a message to viewers around the world. Saudi Arabia is beginning to catch up on this trend, and I have no doubt that other Gulf states will soon follow suit. – Salah Al-Sayer (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)