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A question for Saudi cinema

Our columnist makes a Red Sea Film Fest plea

This month marks my first full year as a columnist for Esquire Saudi, it will also mark one year of waiting to be invited to the opening of the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah. I’ve mentioned my desire to be invited to the event more than once when writing these opinion pieces, but they do not always make it to the final version—the editor tells me it has something to do with the word count…

Therefore, good reader, I have decided that the only way to further my case is to write this entire article about the region’s most exciting film festival, and how to attract the organizers to invite me along to the next one in December 2023.

So I thought I’d dive into the world of Saudi cinema—well, at least that’s how it started. However, the more I researched—and by that I mean spending hours on YouTube watching random things to relax after work—I found myself compelled to ask myself some questions that seem rather a cliché, but are no doubt still important. The questions are: Is art a message? Or, in other words, does something have to convey a message to be considered art? (هل الفن رسالة؟)

It started with me watching a program from the ’90s that used to be aired on ART television. The show was called An Hour Of Purity (ساعة صفا), and during it, the presenter Safa Abu Al Saud interviewed the much-loved Egyptian actress and producer Nadia Al Jendi. In the interview, Al Jendi said that filmmaking has a message to send to the community and that actors have to convey that message.

Al Jendi was then asked about a film, Wild Desire (رغبة متوحشة), that she made in 1991.

The film was based off of an Italian play by Ugo Betti, and Al Jendi’s film became a huge success and is still revered as one of the great films of Egyptian cinema at the time.

Coincidentally, that same year, another film was made based on the same play. This one was called, The Shepherd and The Women ( الراعي و النساء), and starred Egyptian icons Soad Hosny, Yousra, and Ahmad Zaki.

The interviewer asked Al Jendi how the films compared to each other, and her response was that there was no comparison, Wild Desire—which also starred Soheir El-Morshidy, Mahmoud Hemida, and a young Hanan Turk—was a huge commercial success, achieving records Box Office numbers, while the other one stuttered.



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