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Saudi Arabia to Debut at Cannes With Its First National Pavilion

After recently lifting a local ban on movie theaters, Saudi Arabia has officially announced its debut at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival with a curated pavilion, industry panels for networking purposes and a selection of shorts.

The Saudi Film Council, the Arab kingdom’s newly established film entity, will launch internationally with a large space at the Cannes Marché du Film. Panels will “offer several opportunities for delegates to interact with Saudi filmmakers” and to “understand the kingdom’s industry ambitions through its various initiatives and programs,” according to a joint statement issued Monday by the council and the country’s General Culture Authority (GCA).

“The kingdom looks forward to its debut presence at the festival, celebrating and supporting the diversity of talent and opportunities within the Saudi film industry,” Awwad Alawwad, the Saudi culture minister and chairman of GCA’s board, said in the statement.

He added that “Saudi Arabia is embarking on the development of a sustainable and dynamic industry that supports and encourages all stages of a film cycle and offers an incredible range of locations for the world’s filmmakers to discover.” 

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It is not known whether there will be any Saudi feature films in the official selection, though at least one entry has been submitted. A selection of nine short films by young Saudi filmmakers will screen at Cannes’ Short Film Corner on May 14 and May 15.

Last December, the GCA announced the lifting of a 35-year-old local ban on movie theaters, part of social and economic reforms championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman under the Vision 2030 banner.

Last month saw the unveiling of the Saudi Film Council, whose mission is to drive the country’s nascent film industry. The organization is headed by Faisal Baltyuor, a former head of the Ithra Cinema center, which is part of the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture within Saudi oil company Aramco.

Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux said he was “thrilled that Saudi Arabia has launched the Saudi Film Council with a clear focus on nurturing its filmmaking talent and sharing Saudi stories with the world.” Fremaux called Saudi Arabia’s participation at the 2018 edition of Cannes “a great way of opening up global opportunities for its creative talent.”

Saudi Arabia has just started 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. The first film to screen there will be “Black Panther” on April 18 in a new AMC-branded movie theater in Riyadh, the national capital.

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