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Anthology film “Quareer,” by five young female Saudi directors, has emerged as the big winner at the eighth edition of the Saudi Film Festival, which is the country’s oldest film event. 

“Quareer” consists of five segments depicting women taking risks to carve out their own spaces, and explores themes of abandonment, neglect, control, abuse and shame in Saudi’s now changing conservative society. The film scored five prizes in total at the festival, including the Golden Palm Tree for best film and the prize for best director(s), which collectively went to filmmakers Ragheed Al Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi and Noor Alameer.

Additionally, “Quareer,” which had premiered last December at Saudi’s Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, also scored awards for best cinematography, best script and best score.

Held in the eastern city of Dhahran, the Saudi Film Festival was founded by its pioneering artistic director Ahmed Al-Mulla in 2008, when cinema-going was still banned in Saudi for religion-related reasons, and was held only intermittently. The ban on cinemas was ultimately lifted in 2018.

This year’s expanded edition, which ran from June 2-9, included a film competition and a script development laboratory. The event is now organized by the Dammam Culture and Arts Society in partnership with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in collaboration with the Saudi Cinema Association with support from the Saudi Film Commission and the fledgling Red Sea Film Festival.

U.K.-based Iraqi filmmaker and producer Koutaiba Al-Jabani (“Leaving Bagdhad”) presided over the main jury, which also comprised Saudi-Canadian actor and writer Aixa Kay (“Jasmine Road”) and Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Fawzi Saleh (“Poisonous Roses”).