Top Middle East free-to-air broadcaster MBC Group’s production arm O3 Productions and Image Nation Abu Dhabi have announced a partnership to co-finance and co-produce a slate of films from Saudi Arabia that will target local, regional and global audiences.

Most details of the four new features are being kept under wraps, but genres are “likely to include, action, thriller, real-life dramas and comedies,” according to a statement.

The projects will aim to film in Saudi and utilize local talent in front of and behind the camera. Development has begun on all of them, with production set to start in 2019.

One of the films is being written by Saudi comedian and screenwriter Fahad Al Butairi. The project titled, “Love Above the Law,” is a comedy about a middle-class Saudi man who marries a girl from the Badiya, the country’s rural community, and the two discovering they actually have a lot in common, the statement said.

The deal between Saudi-owned MBC and Emirati-owned Image Nation, which is a Middle East production powerhouse, follows opening of the first movie theaters in Saudi last month after a 35-year religion-related ban on cinemas was lifted last December.

It follows a previous film and TV deal that MBC and Image Nation announced last year under which they are now in advanced development on the feature film adaptation of best-selling Saudi book “HWJN,” about a devout God-fearing jinn who forges a special bond with a talented Saudi female medical student.

In Arab and Muslim traditional stories, a jinn is a magical spirit who may appear in the form of a human or an animal and can take control of a person. 

Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari, who previously directed Image Nation’s thriller “Rattle the Cage” will direct the “HWJN” adaptation which is set to start shooting this Fall in Saudi Arabia. Casting is under way for the Saudi leads.

A TV series spin-off from the same intellectual property titled “The Delusionists” will also go into production back-to-back with the film.

“There is so much to be done in this brave new drive and we believe in collaboration with those who have same ambitions and vision,” said Fadi Ismail, group Director of O3 Productions in a statement. He went on to praise Image Nation as “a trusted and established player in the film industry” with whom they “have joined forces to launch a slate of Saudi films that will promote Saudi storytelling and talents.”

“We are one of the first foreign companies investing in Saudi content and are looking forward to introducing new Saudi talent to local, regional and global audiences,” said Ben Ross, head of narrative film and television at Image Nation, who added that the deal really “underscores Image Nation and MBC’s shared commitment to producing high-quality Arab-language film and television projects for the Arab world.”