“Keif Al Hal,” Saudi Arabia’s first feature-length pic, finally receives its long-awaited bow in the Mideast with its Oct. 23 preem in Bahrain. Pic’s producers Rotana then will roll out a regionwide release that sees the film open Nov. 8 in the U.A.E., Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt. Pic had its world preem at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
One glaring omission is Saudi Arabia itself. Cinemas have been banned in the conservative kingdom since the early 1980s. To get around this, producers have inked a deal with paybox Showtime Arabia to offer the pic on pay-per-view once the theatrical release is over so that Saudi audiences can finally see it.
“Keif Al Hal” (How are Things) details the struggle between moderates and religious extremists in one Saudi family. Directed by Palestinian-Canadian Izidore Musallam, pic stars Saudi heartthrob Hisham Abdel-Rahman, the 2005 winner of the Lebanese satcaster’s popular pan-Arab version of the “Star Academy” skein.
Pic also is notable for featuring Saudi Arabia’s first actress, Hind Mohammed. Both Mohammed, who appears unveiled in pic, and Abdel-Rahman have found themselves subject to threats from conservatives in the country. Nevertheless, pic’s producers hope “Keif Al Hal” will be a springboard for film reform in Saudi Arabia.
“It doesn’t make sense that Saudis can’t see the first Saudi film on the bigscreen. We’re hoping that the film will encourage other Saudi filmmakers, actors and actresses, as well as the authorities, to allow film shoots in the country and open up cinemas in the future,” says exec producer Turki Al Shabanah.
Pic was lensed in neighboring Dubai due to lack of film infrastructure in Saudi, as well as officials’ refusal to grant permits.
Though progress remains slow, there are signs that filmmaking in Saudi could be opening up. Saudi femme helmer Haifa Mansour — who co-wrote and exec produced “Keif Al Hal”– is prepping her debut feature for Rotana. Lensing is due to begin by the end of the year.
And there are persistent rumors that Saudi authorities may finally be relaxing their ban on cinemas. Last November, officials allowed the first public screenings in more than 20 years when they showed animated films to an audience of women and children.
The country’s first film fest was launched in July: The inaugural Jeddah Visual Festival made its bow with a selection of domestic shorts screened for an invited aud of helmers, writers and producers.
“It’s a very exciting situation. There are a few Islamic people who don’t like the film or what’s going on, but generally people are hopeful for what will happen in the future,” says Rotana Audiovisual’s general manager Ayman Halawani.