Roua Almadani and Chadi Zeneddine • CEO and director of Project Development and International Relations, Arabia Pictures Group
“Saudis are eager to experiment and to share their stories with the world”
- With the support of Cineuropa, the European Union Delegation in Saudi Arabia organised the first European film festival ever held in the country
With the support of Cineuropa, the European Union Delegation in Saudi Arabia organised the first European film festival ever held in the country (from 15-22 June). This interesting experience allows audiences to discover the potential of a country in the midst of rapid change. We chatted about the event with the two festival curators – the CEO of Arabia Pictures Group, Roua Almadani, and the company’s director of Project Development and International Relations, Chadi Zeneddine.
Cineuropa: This is the first European film festival organised in Saudi Arabia. How is the audiovisual industry developing in the country?
Roua Almadani and Chadi Zeneddine: This is not the first film festival organised here, as we have the Red Sea International Film Festival and the Saudi Film Festival, which are well established, but this is definitely the first non-Arab film festival and the first one to be held in the capital, Riyadh.
Cinema is occupying more and more space within the country, whether it’s because of the booming local and international productions, or because of the distribution, as attendance levels are constantly on the rise. Saudis are eager to experiment and to share their stories with the world. And bear in mind that it’s less than three years since theatres were brought back to the country [after being closed since the 1970s for religious reasons].
Is there any room to distribute European films?
Yes, and that is why this edition was an unexpected and beautiful surprise, as we were able to celebrate the excellence of European cinema. We had higher attendance levels than expected, and the media did a great job in supporting our initiatives. We’re paving the way to allow European films to have a run in the theatres.
What was special about this first edition? What were the highlights of the programme?
Of course, organising the first edition is always a challenge in terms of selecting films, creating special events and hosting guests, but it was special because we succeeded in creating a balance between arthouse cinema and a range of quality, commercial, genre films. It was a diverse line-up with some great and very generous guests.
What kind of audience are you targeting? Are local audiences already familiar with European cinema?
The local audience was definitely curious to discover different films from Europe in the theatres, as a counter-offering to Hollywood/Bollywood cinema. Many of them have online access and watch movies, including European ones, on the streaming platforms, but nothing creates a vibe like a proper film festival with the filmmakers in attendance. Plus, some of our audiences bought tickets for all of the films, which will lead us to add a special pass for the next edition.
Are you already considering a second edition for next year?
Yes. We’re working on it right now, and we would like to grow the industry side of it, where European professionals and Saudi talent will get the chance to meet, exchange and collaborate on projects. We want it to grow organically, as there is a demand for it.
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