How Film AlUla Helped Rising Saudi Filmmakers Craft Festival-Ready Short Films

How Film AlUla Helped Rising Saudi Filmmakers Craft Festival-Ready Short Films

In 2023, Saudi Arabian film agency Film AlUla formed AlUla Creates, a local initiative that provides funding, mentorship and networking opportunities for Saudi filmmakers and fashion designers. And in just one year, AlUla Creates has exploded into a global brand, already hosting 123 international productions in the scenic valleys of AlUla, Saudi Arabia.

“We call it a living museum,” said marketing director at Film AlUla Mahsa Motamedi. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

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As part of the Variety Global Conversations Summit at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, Variety‘s Italy and Middle East correspondent Nick Vivarelli sat down with Motamedi, director Maram Taibah and sister filmmakers Raneem and Dana Almohandes to discuss the impact of AlUla Creates on the Saudi Arabian film industry.

Taibah is one of the many young filmmakers who found support from AlUla Creates. After her sister sent her an Instagram ad for the program, she knew immediately she wanted to join.

“It coincided with a time when I was planting the seed for my film ‘Malika.’ I had a very preliminary idea of what kind of story I wanted to tell. But I didn’t have the idea exactly in my head.” said Taibah. “But the fun thing was that when I was applying and I had to write a treatment for the film, that’s when the story went like, ‘Aha, here I am,’ and I got in. I was really excited.”

“Malika” is a fantasy short film about a little girl searching for the crown of her dying grandmother. Through AlUla Creates, Taibah found a producer and developed her treatment into a script in just two weeks. AlUla also provided the “perfect backdrop” for her film, due to the “imaginative colors and shapes” of the Saudi Arabian mountains.

“There’s such variety in the landscape as well. It’s not just desert and rocks,” Taibah explained. “There’s also lush oases and the beautiful old town and the wildlife there. The farms, the orange trees, it is just so lovely.”

Dana and Raneem Almohandes are two newer filmmakers bringing their projects to AlUla Creates. Their animated short film, “Namoosah,” about a mosquito with musical aspirations, started as a school project before they brought it to AlUla.

“It was a two-minute version in the university,” Dana said. “Then meanwhile, AlUla Creates was there, and we saw the ad and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, we have a version. We can make this more than two minutes.’ And then we applied and we developed the story there.”

Even before bringing “Namoosah” to AlUla Creates, the landscapes of AlUla have inspired the Almohandes sisters for years. After they first visited Saudi Arabia in 2018, they were so awe-struck by the topography of AlUla that it pushed them to write their first feature film, “Dandana.”

“When I came back from the trip, I went to Dan, I was like, ‘Dan, we have to make a film there.’ And that actually inspired our first idea for our first film,” said Raneem. “And we wrote a feature script back then. It’s still in the works, but AlUla has been part of our storytelling process since the beginning.”

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