'I had to sell land to make this film': Khalid Al Siddiq's film 'The Cruel Sea' was made in 1972 and was Kuwait's first Academy Award submission
The first ever GCC film - and the story of how Sheikh Zayed saw it
“I felt 47 years younger for seeing the film again here tonight,” said director Khalid Al Siddiq at the start of his Q&A session following the screening of his film The Cruel Sea at NYU Abu Dhabi on Sunday night.
The Cruel Sea, a 1972 Kuwaiti drama, is the first Kuwaiti film to be produced, and was selected as the Kuwaiti entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 45th Academy Awards. It is the first feature film directed and produced by a national in the Gulf region. “I had to sell land to make this film,” Al Siddiq said proudly of his cinematic achievement.
The Cruel Sea’s journey was certainly not an easy one, and beyond the achievement of it being a first , it also has cinematic merits. One can draw comparisons with greats of the neo-realist Italian film movement, such as De Sica and Fellini. The deeply human story of pearl divers in pre-oil Kuwait is heart wrenching, even today.
The film tells the story of a young man who pleads with his father, a former pearl diver who was injured by a shark, to let him go earn a living collecting the precious gemstones from the sea.
The young man, played by Mohammed Al Mansour during his early acting career, delivers a moving portrayal of youth desperation and the need to prove one’s self to family and society.
Kuwaiti screen and stage powerhouses Saad Al Faraj and Hayat Al Fahad play the young man’s father and mother, whose performances show you a glimpse of what was ahead for their incredible careers.
Khalid Al Siddiq said of his actors, “they came from the world of theatre, so they were overacting, I had to curb their performances”.
Its first ever Abu Dhabi screening - for Sheikh Zayed
The Q&A’s moderator, professor Alia Yunis of Zayed University, opened the discussion by asking the director about the story of when the film was first screened in Abu Dhabi. Al Siddiq recalled how the film was first screened in Abu Dhabi. “I got a call from one of the ministers in Kuwait telling me that Sheikh Zayed would like to see the film. I had to deliver it to him, and the hardest part is that I had to wear a ‘thoob’ to see him, which I was not used to wearing.” The film was delivered to Sheikh Zayed, and Al Siddiq said he was told that Sheikh Zayed loved it.
Speaking of the state of filmmaking in the Gulf today, Khalid Al Siddiq says “we must overcome censorship to elevate art,” and that “filmmakers today play it too safe”.
The Cruel Sea is yet to be restored and remastered properly, and considering its monumental value in the region's film history it is definitely deserving of that love and attention. The crowd at NYU in Abu Dubai loved the film, with a standing ovation starting as soon as the credits rolled, and the director clearly very appreciative of this amount of love being shown for what is his magnum opus.
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