Entertainment

Saudi Arabia To Invest $64 Billion In Its Entertainment Sector

Saudi Arabia is ready to bet big on its entertainment sector with a $64 billion investment to aid in turning the country into a top-tier destination for the industry.

The turnaround in how film and TV is viewed and embraced in the kingdom in recent years has been dramatic. In 2018, a ban on cinemas – that had been in place since the 1980’s – was lifted, women were permitted to drive and in the following year restaurants were no longer segregated by gender. All posing as potential problems to running a successful entertainment project. 

The vast loosening of social restrictions – once deemed as anti-Islam – were introduced over the past four years by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The overhaul in image, with the adoption of the entertainment industry, capped off by the Riyadh season – an annual array of festivities in the country including numerous events and concerts – speaks volumes in regards to the state’s plans.

In a potentially massive transition period, nations that have been dependent on oil throughout their history are seeking to change their main source of revenue as they are mindful of the future. Over the past decade, oil profits have declined and investments have faltered as the world makes a concerted effort to move towards clean energy.

As a result, Saudi Arabia is pushing to attract higher tourism numbers and more movie and TV projects. The plan seems to be working with new film Kandahar, starring Gerard Butler, shooting in the Al-Ula region – which contains Hegra, the first UNESCO world heritage site in Saudi Arabia – and Anthony Mackie-starrer Desert Warrior set to film throughout the nation. 

Speaking to Bloomberg, Stephen Strachan, film commissioner at Film AlUla commented on the progression, “I think people have the wrong impression of Saudi sometimes. It’s very much modernizing.”

“Hollywood is looking to see what happens with Kandahar. People are interested in the cultural transformation in Saudi.” 

Red Sea Film Festival 

In another effort to grow the film and TV industry in the country, The Red Sea Film Festival – the first international film festival for Saudi Arabia – is also launching in Jeddah this December with 138 titles from 67 countries. The newly named Golden Yusr Award of the festival will have sixteen films competing for it. Focusing specifically on projects from Africa, Asia and Arab territories. 

Kaleem Aftab, Director of International Programming for the festival, said, “Telling stories from fresh perspectives, the Red Sea Competition is both a celebration of the continued success of established filmmakers and exciting new work coming from emerging talent. The selection of films speaks to the continued strength of filmmaking, as well as pointing to where the future of the industry is headed.”

In aid to change the country’s image in regards to gender, Red Sea recently hosted a women in film celebration at the Venice Film Festival attracting top tier female talent such as Kate Hudson and Demi Moore and will honor Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour and Egyptian actress Laila Eloui in the inaugural event. 

Netflix

NFLX
has also let its keenness to capitalize on the region known through a signed partnership with Telfaz11, a Saudi studio through which the streaming platform intends to produce eight feature films with. 

As the region slowly progresses through its investment and further film-friendly incentives – amongst regional competition such as Jordan, the UAE and Morocco – the adoption of a new era for entertainment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will certainly be one to watch.

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