Middle East Film Execs Talks Challenges, Opportunities In Saudi Arabia – Deadline

all eyes are on Saudi Arabfilm industry dominated as its second edition the Red Sea The International Film Festival starts this week in the port city of Jeddah, running from December 1 to 10.

The event is hosting an exciting roster of international, regional and local stars and filmmakers over the weekend, headlined by the likes of oliver stone, Sharon Stone, spike lee, guy richie And Andrew Dominic,

The main endgame in the background is to put the spotlight on the country’s booming film and TV sector, which has been expanding rapidly as part of a larger strategy following the lifting of the country’s 35-year cinema ban in late 2017. Open up the country’s economy and society.

In a span of five years, the country has built 580 screens, launched two major shooting locations in AlUla and Neom, and is building a network of local producers, distributors and exhibitors amid demand for local content.

time limit We spoke to a trio of regional executives riding this wave.

Faisal Baltayur, Founder & CEO sinewaves

Saudi cinema pioneer Faisal Baltoor was the first CEO of the Saudi Film Council in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s lifting of the 35-cinema ban, before he went on to form arts-focused distribution label Cinewaves in 2019.

Its slate is a mix of local indie moves as well as arthouse titles from the MENA region. The company has six distribution titles in its Red Sea selection this year. They expand Saudi facilities inside the sand And Valley Road and festival favorites Harka, the last queen, how did i get there And hanging Gardens,

What are the biggest challenges facing your company and the distribution sector?

Lack of support from local distribution companies to support the marketing and distribution of Saudi films. Most of the fund’s initiatives go into film development, production and post-production.

There’s a big difference when it comes to marketing and distribution support, which is a very important part of the film cycle. Some Saudi films will have a greater chance of success with financial backing on the marketing and distribution fronts. I am sure this support will come when we have more local feature commercial films produced.

Where do you see opportunity?

There is a huge difference in the case of Saudi commercial films. Most feature films in the local market are artistic and mainly target festivals and not commercial cinema. It is good to have a balance of both.

How was 2022 business wise and what are your expectations from 2023?

We are growing and adapting to the market place this year. we have 11 movies released on netflix, the first saudi horror film, Passion, released theatrically during Halloween, and over 60 films were officially selected and screened at local and international film festivals. It was important for us to be the leading distributor. 2023 should see the results of the strategy we put in place this year. Many announcements are yet to be made.

Gianluca Chakra, Founder and CEO Front Row Filmed Entertainment

Gianluca Chakra

front row entertainment

Gianluca Chakra is the co-founder and managing director of Front Row Filmed Entertainment, a Dubai-based, pan-Arab distribution outfit. Established in 2003, the company has been a driving force in the indie distribution sector of the MENA region. It was also one of the first distributors to be set up directly in Saudi Arabia, with Front Row Arabia due for construction in early 2021 in partnership with local exhibition company Muvi Cinemas.

What are the biggest challenges facing your company and the distribution sector?

Firstly, censorship. While we know the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) is doing its best, we still don’t have clear guidelines on what passes and what doesn’t.

Often indie distributors take the risk of acquiring titles that may be restricted in the region. In the past, MENA contracts used to come with censorship clauses, but nowadays, these are not bankable and all risk then falls on the distributor who is contracting the film.

This is not just a Saudi issue but across MENA and it is often down to someone who is watching a film to ban a film based on one sentence and out of context.

Second, the terms of the movie rental. Indie and local language film distributors are penalized where exhibitors in Saudi have decided that indie and local cinema should be paid less than any other major or Bollywood distributor. Local language films represent 8.2% of all films released, or 33 titles out of 401 (in 2022), but represent about 30% of admissions. It is a huge contradiction when the exhibitors say they are encouraging local content.

Finally, there is also a conflict of interest with the exhibitors acting as distribution studios.

Where do you see opportunity?

The market is slowly reaching a plateau. There is still some kind of growth but it needs to be refined. Evidence of this is that many exhibitors have now reduced their average ticket price from around US$17 to around US$12 and in some cases to US$10.5 on weekdays.

Many exhibitors have now significantly slowed down their expansion plans. Each film is currently being released in each cinema circuit, with tentpoles often “burning” upon release.

think about the opening weekend of Spider Man While multiplexes opened up most of the screens for it, 10 other releases were crammed into three, four screens. Counter programming often irresponsibly goes out the window, leaving that space for streamers to fill that gap.

When it comes to indie and vernacular film distribution, we’re going to look for the best source of revenue and visibility our titles can get, which doesn’t mean that all titles are going to be released theatrically. .

The opportunity now lies in community screens and high-end arthouse cinemas, in the vein of brands like Landmark Cinemas, Everyman, Curzon, where you can tap an audience that existing multiplexers are not satisfying… simply because they Can’t and can’t. Knowledge of entertaining such programming. This is a massive opportunity.

Finally, content is key in driving the theatrical arena. This is also where the real opportunity lies. Now is the time to develop better content.

In the past this was led by free TV sales, whereas now you have a massive theatrical window of opportunity before local or global streamers step in or bring them in from the start.

Once again, for streamers, and especially global streamers, to grow and gain more subscribers, the answer is local content, and also content that can travel. This means that the competition is going to be high when it comes to production and development centres, which will eventually lead to better quality of films, shows.

How was 2022 business wise and what are your expectations from 2023?

It’s been great. We Actually Had The Biggest Anime Opening In The History Of Saudi Arabia one piece movie red, We released our first film, the first Netflix Original (perfect Strangers, We also shot our second film and this time it’s an original, we will have more news on that soon, and our first Saudi film will be distributed route 10In association with Imagination and MBC Studios and sold our first Saudi film to Netflix globally.

For 2023, we have three feature films to shoot, including our Arab language remake The Untouchables And two TV shows we are developing for 2021 and 2022.

Alaa Fadan, Co-Founder and CEO Telfaz11

Alaa Fadhan is the co-founder and CEO of Telfaz11, a Riyadh-based film and digital content production and finance company. The company, which cut its teeth through YouTube before the cinema ban was lifted, is one of the busiest content companies in Saudi Arabia. is on telfaz11 Red Sea Film Festival With three feature films this year: action-comedy Seventeen, dark comedy raven song, which is Saudi Arabia’s Oscar entry this year; and satirical suspense comedy Khallat+,

What are the biggest challenges facing your company and the production sector?

Production Resources – From Creative, to Crew, to Distribution. On many of our projects this year, we had to fly teams in from outside Saudi Arabia, from places like Tunisia and Egypt. We see this trend continuing in the near future or at least till more such talents emerge in the local market. There are few experienced filmmakers in Saudi and with so much competition in this new landscape, some experienced Saudi crews are overbooked.

Similarly, it is very difficult to find strong local screenwriters for films, so our process usually takes longer and requires more doctoring than in other developed markets.

Where do you see opportunity?

The opportunity is clear for us to create films at the intersection of culture and creativity, tell Saudi stories and pave the way for Saudi films to be seen and appreciated locally and globally.

How was 2022 business wise and what are your expectations from 2023?

Perhaps most importantly, on 11/11, Telfaz11 celebrated our 11th year with our debut. 11th film, While 2011 was our founding year, the number 11 symbolizes for us the idea that we always go above and beyond. If everyone was measuring themselves on a scale of 1 to 10, we’d want to be an 11. This is at the heart of everything we do.

2022 has been such an important year for Telfaz11, with the launch of our films under Telfaz11 Studios and work on developing two new premium series, the relaunch of our digital arm with several new digital shows, SRMG like Major strategic partners were brought in. And Telfaz11 is celebrating 11 amazing years of creations.

We expect to see growth in the market, especially cinema box office, which we are helping to gain a foothold in, and help build a sustainable business around film production in the Kingdom. We hope that our films will make a mark among audiences and tell our stories like no one has done before, offering a new perspective and a new dialogue around Saudi culture.