Announced by the kindgom’s General Culture Authority (GCA), the Saudi Film Council follows the lifting last December of a 35-year-old local ban on movie theaters and is part of social and economic reforms championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under the Vision 2030 banner.
The groundbreaking new film body is “the first of the five cultural-industry sector organizations under the remit of the GCA to be launched in Saudi Arabia,” Saudi Film Council CEO Faisal Baltyuor said in an email interview.
Ahmed Almaziad, the head of the culture authority, hailed the establishment of the film council and the appointment of Baltyuor as “a historic moment within our country’s cultural journey” that will “foster this important industry which plays a key role in overall economic growth and development.”
According to several sources the Saudi Film Council is planning to make a splash at Cannes with a large space at the Marché du Film.
“Building bridges with the global film industry is a fundamental component of the Saudi Film Council’s work,” said Baltyuor. He declined to confirm the council’s Cannes plans, but noted: “We’re looking at all the ways that we can achieve this and be involved in the dynamic international industry community.”
A bold, experimental Saudi feature film titled “Joud,” which draws on a pre-Islamic form of poetry called the “Qasida” and is the first film produced by The King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture, has been submitted to the Cannes fest.
Baltyuor said the new film body’s overall purpose is to “build a dynamic film and content industry ecosystem” in Saudi Arabia. Areas of activity will include “talent development programs, a regulatory framework, production infrastructure, funding solutions, and initiatives to promote the kingdom’s overall brand and culture.”
He acknowledged that the goals were challenging ones. “But Saudi Arabia has a huge pool of creative energy and talent, which makes us perfectly positioned to develop this sector,” he said.
Baltyour said the council would not be involved in setting up a ratings system for films in Saudi Arabia, which remains conservative socially. A new ratings system will be developed by another entity.
Earlier this month Saudi Arabia officially began issuing licenses to operate cinemas in the kingdom following a rush to build multiplexes there by global exhibition chains such as AMC Entertainment, VUE International, and luxury movie chain iPic Entertainment.
Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading exhibitor in the Middle East, launched its first public screening in Saudi Arabia on March 1, showing satirical Saudi cartoon series “Masameer” and other Saudi content in a Riyadh movie theater as part of a charity event to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.
Saudi Arabia, with a population of more than 30 million — the majority of which is under 25 — is considered the last untapped mass movie market in the Middle East.
In a separate move that could be instrumental in creating a Saudi movie industry from scratch, a deal is expected to be announced during the Saudi crown prince’s current U.S. visit for the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to acquire between a 5% and 10% stake in Endeavor, the holding company for Hollywood talent agency WME.
In February the kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority announced plans to pump $64 billion into the Saudi entertainment sector over the next decade.