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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Cannes: Saudi Arabia announces big rebates for film production

Saudi sets out to steal the headlines at its Cannes debut 

The Saudi film industry is moving along at a rapid pace, with generous rebates announced just a month after the first public cinema opened: pictured are guests at the VOX cinema at Riyadh Park Mall multiplex. EPA
The Saudi film industry is moving along at a rapid pace, with generous rebates announced just a month after the first public cinema opened: pictured are guests at the VOX cinema at Riyadh Park Mall multiplex. EPA

Saudi Arabia announced generous rebates for film production in the Kingdom at the opening weekend of its Cannes Film Festival debut, which comes weeks after the return of cinemas after a four-decade absence.

KSA is set to offer a 35 per cent rebate on all general spend on productions filmed in the Kingdom, rising to a hefty 50 per cent rebate for spend on Saudi labour. The rebates put the fledgling KSA film industry in competition with regional media hub rivals, including Abu Dhabi, which offers a 30 per cent rebate, and Morocco, which has a 20 per cent rebate incentive.

The exact details of the rebate scheme are set to be revealed in the coming weeks, however Ahmad Al-Maziad, CEO of Saudi’s General Culture Authority, claimed they would “make us [Saudi] the most attractive incentive program in the world.”

He added that this "is a call to come and shoot in Saudi, to enjoy the scenery and the people. This not only extends to [narrative features] but to animation, documentaries and scripted series.”

Saudi Arabia also used the festival to announce a production partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation. The agreement includes four feature films, which will be produced by both O3 Productions, the production arm of the Saudi-government-controlled MBC, and Oscar-winning Abu Dhabi production house Image Nation.

Among the new projects is Saudi comedian and writer Fahad Al Butairi’s feature Love Above the Law. The film is a comedy about a middle class Saudi man marrying a girl from rural community Badiya, and the two discovering they have a lot in common. Al Butairi previously collaborated with Image Nation on Ali F Mostafa’s From A to B and the upcoming Rashid and Rajab.

O3 and Image Nation are keeping specific details about other projects under wraps for now, although they did reveal that projects will aim to film in Saudi and utilise Saudi talent in front of and behind the camera. Development has begun on all four features, with production set to commence in 2019.

Fadi Ismail, group director of O3 Productions said that “there is so much to be done in this brave new world". Adding, "we believe in collaboration with those who have same ambition and vision. Image Nation is a trusted and established player in the film industry and we have joined forces to launch a slate of Saudi films that will promote Saudi storytelling and talents.

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"MBC group and its drama and film production arm are keen to push Saudi storytelling... and create content that not only is captivating to Saudi and regional viewers, but can travel globally and and help in changing the image of KSA into an active player in the international entertainment industry.”

Ben Ross, head of narrative film and television at Image Nation, added: “As Saudi Arabia begins a new chapter in its cinematic history, this exciting partnership between Image Nation, MBC and O3 will showcase the very best Saudi filmmaking talent in front of and behind the camera. We are one of the first foreign companies investing in Saudi content and are looking forward to introducing new Saudi talent to local, regional and global audiences.

"We’re delighted to be working with the multi-talented Fahad Al Butairi again on Love Above the Law. This deal really underscores Image Nation and MBC’s shared commitment to producing high-quality Arab language film and television projects for the Arab world.”

Saudi Arabia has a big presence at this year’s Cannes Film Festival with The Saudi Film Council in town for the first time this year, along with a Saudi Film Pavilion at the Marche du Film, and a selection of Saudi short films showing as part of the festival’s industry programme.

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