Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky, whose first film “Yomeddine” – about a man raised in a leper colony, who embarks with a young sidekick and a donkey on a journey across Egypt – had the rare distinction of making the competition cut for Cannes, is back behind the camera on the ambitious Saudi-set travel movie “Hajjan.”
Somewhat similarly to “Yomeddine,” which made a splash on the fest circuit in 2018, “Hajjan” – which was formerly titled “Sea of Sands” – involves a journey across the desert, this time embarked upon by a boy and his camel.
“Camels are very much part of the heritage of Saudi culture,” said Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, who noted that in the film’s storyline the boy in question “is kind of inadvertently thrown into the world of camel racing. “It was never really his intention to become a championship jockey,” Hefzy went on to note. “But somehow, he has to do that to survive.” The desert journey with his beloved camel ensues. “I think it’s a very touching story,” Hefzy said.
The prominent producer, whose credits include Mohamed Diab’s “Amira” and Hany Abu-Assad’s “Houda’s Saloon,” is shepherding “Hajjan” as a co-production between Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, known as Ithra, and his Film Clinic shingle. He said the film mixes a cast of established Saudi actors: Abdulmohsen Al Nemer (“From A to B,” “Route 10”), Ibrahim Al-Hsawi (“Scales,” “Zero Distance”), Alshaimaa Tayeb (“Valley Road”) and Azzam El Nemr, with local newcomers Omar Alatawi and Tuleen Barbood.
This type of mix is “something that I imagine you will see a lot in Saudi cinema, given that it’s still, somehow, in its infancy, even though there are already a lot of actors,” Hefzy said.
The “Hajjan” project germinated from Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema Majed Z. Samman, who created the concept and has a producer credit. The screenplay is by Egyptian writer Omar Shama (“After the Battle”) and Saudi writer Mufarrij Almajfel.
Of course Shawky was a perfect fit for this project, having worked on “Yomeddine,” which has similar elements, “but he also really loves that world and he wanted to explore it,” noted Hefzy. The film is being shot mostly in the sprawling area situated along Saudi’s Red Sea coast in Tabuk, in the northwest of the kingdom, an area that “is phenomenally rich in terms of the landscape, the people, heritage,” and also in small part in Jordan, said the producer who underlined that “Sea of Sands” is probably “the biggest project that I’ve had to deal with, in terms both of production budget and scope.” The plan is to complete the film by summer 2023 and probably launch from a fall festival or possibly earlier. Film Clinic is also handling the film’s pan-Arab distribution. No international sales company is as yet on board.