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Saudi Arabia’s leading exhibition chain Muvi Cinemas is moving directly into film production with the launch of a subsidiary Muvi Studios, which will be headed by Saudi film industry pioneer Faisal Baltyuor.

The establishment of a production arm by Muvi, a local company that operates more than 205 screens across the kingdom, amounts to a milestone in Saudi’s efforts to build a film industry since movie theaters were reopened there in 2018, ending a religion-related ban.

The plan is for Muvi Studios to churn out an average of some 20 feature films per year, roughly half of which will be Saudi Arabian and the other half from Egypt and possibly from other Arabic countries, though there is no set quota.

“Muvi Studios will become an important part of the Saudi industry ecosystem,” said Baltyuor,  a former CEO of the Saudi Film Council who in 2020 founded CineWaves Film, which is now the top Saudi specialty distribution company. 

Baltyour, speaking in Cannes, noted that financing for each Muvi Studios project will be structured on a case-by-case basis, ranging from full financing to different types of partnership options.

“We are open to co-producing, co-financing, and to partnerships with local and international production companies and entities,” Baltyuor said, adding: “I love co-productions, because I love risk-sharing.”

The Muvi Studios chief also noted that, at least in the short term, the plan is for Muvi to use the studios to feed product to the company’s theatrical exhibition side, and in some cases aim to have these titles also travel internationally.

Muvi Studios already have four projects in production, which he expects will be ready to hit screens within a year, although he could not supply details of the films.

In terms of genres, Baltyour said the slate will be a mix of quality commercial and more arthouse Arabic fare, and cited groundbreaking 2020 Saudi comedy “Shams Alma’arif” (“The Book of Sun”), a pic about guerrilla filmmaking that’s the first Saudi film to clock more than 100,000 local admissions, as the type of success Muvi Studios is looking to replicate.

Muvi Cinemas chief Adon Quinn said in a statement that the rapid growth of Muvi Cinemas, which now holds a 46% Saudi box office market share, “has inspired us to move into original Arabic feature film production.” 

“The cash we’re investing in Muvi Studios will be used to produce a slate of top-quality Arabic movies and we aim to release a minimum of three films [from this slate] within the next 12 months,” he added.