On closing night of the 8th Saudi Film Festival, women walked away the winners.
In case you think that's a first, it is in fact a story that is being repeated more and more in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and one that isn't often featured in the international media. That's because the narrative of a country going forward, learning from its mistakes of the past and reinventing a better reality for its citizen in the present and future isn't a popular one. In fact, it is more typical to read yet another tired story on Saudi Arabia and its culture where the demise of a Saudi born blogger is mentioned. But in all truth, Saudi society is going through an enormous transformation and it is not a coincidence that all this tsunami of freedom and humanity started to happen since cinemas were reopened in 2018.
Cinema changes the world. One viewer, one audience member, one person at a time, in a slow succession of images which may seem small in the great scheme of things but they are huge in their impact. If you doubt it, just consider the change in the Saudi Arabia since the inception of cinemas, and award-winning films like Wadjda, from such filmmakers as Haifaa Al Mansour. Hardly the first director from Saudi but definitely its most famous to date.
The Saudi Film Festival was founded and has been under the artistic director of Ahmed Al-Mulla, who envisioned this event beyond the country's ban on cinemas in 2008. By holding the festival at various cultural organizations around the country, Al-Mulla helped to create a movement of enormous proportions which has been one of the forces that helped revolutionized the once-conservative Kingdom.
The winner of the coveted Golden Palm Tree for best film at this year's Saudi Film Festival was the anthology Quareer, a series of five films by filmmakers Ragheed Al Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi and Noor Alameer. The film showcases the issues, and explores the themes most prevalent in Saudi society, while also offering insight into what is changing or has already been changed.
One only has to think of the film partnerships, festivals and commissions which have been created in the last four years in KSA, to realise how far we've come and how much further ahead they are looking. It's not unusual to hear talk of 2030 in Saudi circles, when currently in Europe all we talk about is this year, how we will struggle to get through it and what the price of oil is today.
Quareer premiered earlier in December of 2021 at the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, a sponsor of this year's Saudi Film Festival, which was held in the eastern city of Dhahran. In fact, this edition's backdrop was the breathtaking King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture -- ITHRA, an architectural complex that houses many cultural events and initiatives.
The film also took home the prize for best director, as well as the awards for best cinematography, best script and best score.
This year's Saudi Film Festival was organized by the Dammam Culture and Arts Society in partnership with ITHRA and in collaboration with the Saudi Cinema Association with support from the Saudi Film Commission and the newly founded Red Sea Film Festival.