Saudi Arabia’s presence at this year’s Cannes Festival has been remarkable, with well-known actresses and influencers from the Kingdom gracing the red carpet. This is a significant step signalling expansion of the country’s involvement in the industry, including film production. The festival opener was the historical drama Jeanne du Barry, part-funded by the Red Sea Foundation as an executive producer. The foundation has also supported six other movies by Arab and African directors.
The foundation is no stranger to international co-productions. Since it started in 2019, it has given development, production and post-production support to about 170 films from the Arab world and Africa through programes such as the Red Sea Fund and Red Sea Lodge.
In the last 5 years, the expanding presence of Saudi Arabia in the global film industry is demonstrated by its proactive measures to attract foreign investments and media companies. This transformative shift has profound implications for the cultural and economic landscape of the Kingdom, as the government aims to enrich the cultural experiences of its citizens and challenge the perception of being solely an oil-producing nation. The strategic approach adopted by the government involves developing a domestic market, investing in film infrastructure, and positioning itself as an appealing destination for international filmmakers.
Since the transformation plans have been announced in the country, the efforts made so far are substantial for such a short time and may even appear excessive. The restrictions in the past on the entertainment industry have prevented Saudi Arabia from being part of the global scene. Today, Saudi Arabia, with its existing human capacity and talent, is aware of the regional competition it faces and understands the need to keep pace with the rapidly evolving film industry. For citizens, this newfound focus on the arts in Saudi Arabia represents an inspiring dimension beyond oil production.