Key members of the team that shepherded hit biopic “Born a King,” about Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, talked about the experience of “witnessing the birth of a film industry” in Saudi, as Spanish director Agustí Villaronga put it, during a Cannes Virtual Market panel. They also announced that they will be making a sequel.
“Born a King” is a Spain-U.K. co-production between Andrés Vicente Gómez’ Latido Films and London-based Celtic Films run by producer Stuart Sutherland (“Killing Eve”) who described the experience of shooting the roughly $21 million feature – which went into production prior to December 2017 when Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year ban on cinemas – as “really the beginning of an evolution.”
“We are getting in there on the ground level, and we are helping formulate how films are done,” Sutherland said “And learning a lot from them as well,” he added.
Since then, Sutherland recently went back to Saudi to shoot a Saudi Arabian remake of Spanish blockbuster “Campeones” (“Champions”) with Latido also on board as a producer, and the signs of this evolution were clear. “Parts of the screenplay were written specifically by people from Jeddah,” which is where the film is set, and in terms of crew, “we brought over a lot less people for ‘Champions’ than for “Born a King,” he said. “The idea is always, for cost reasons, to try an reduce the amount of people you are taking from Europe to Arabia and have local people make local films; that’s definitively the goal,” he added.
Villaronga recounted that the Saudi portion of “Born a King,” which was shot near Riyadh, “was an adventure for me,” he said, “because there are a lot of people there who had never worked on a film before,” he added before noting that “this was wonderful, because they had such a fascination (with film) that they really gave it their all.”
Both Villaronga and Sutherland said that plans are underway for a sequel to “Born a King,” which depicts the beginning of King Faisal’s life as a diplomat, and is set in Saudi and London, before becoming Viceroy of Hejaz, Crown Prince, and then King. The epic is set against the backdrop of a diplomatic mission the young prince led to London in 1919 at the tender age of 13 to plead for non-intervention in Arabia as well as the British government’s support for his father’s ambitions to open up Mecca to all Arabs.
King Faisal pushed through the modernization of Saudi Arabia where he is now regarded as a hero.
The inspirational film has been a hit in movie theaters across the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf, where it was released last year by Vox Cinemas which now plans to release “Champions” in the region in December.
In a recent interview with Variety, MBC Group CEO Marc Antoine d’Halluin singled out “Born a King” as its most popular movie title during Ramadan.
Saudi actor Abdullah Ali, who played the film’s lead, said that before being picked among 400 candidates for the role he didn’t even “know what an audition was.”
“I was totally inexperienced,” he added. But he leaped at the opportunity to “showcase my natural ability.”
Just like Prince Faisal in the film, Ali never been to London before. And “had obviously never been on a film set with 200 people working on it.”
But as the only kid on set, “it was very similar to what King Faisal probably felt at the time,” he said.