x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rotana Studio gets no return for its million riyal sponsorship

Film and media company had increased funding substantially for the now-cancelled week long film festival in Jeddah.

The last-minute cancellation of the Jeddah Film Festival left organisers with no way to recoup the one million Saudi riyals (Dh980,000) they had paid to organise the week-long event, they said yesterday. The money had been paid by Rotana Studios, the largest single producer of Arabic-language films, as part of a sponsorship agreement to help support the fledgling film industry in the company's home country, according to Mamdouh Salem, the festival's director. But the cancellation, announced Friday, came after the bulk of the money had already been spent.

"I had to fly in judges, arrange the media, set up the technical and live systems," he said. "Because they cancelled before the first night, I had paid money for everything already. This money was spent without any result." Rotana had agreed to a substantial sponsorship of this year's festival, which would have been the fourth annual event, after last year's festival, which it sponsored at a much more modest level of 1,000 Saudi riyals, attracted 10,000 people in four days, Mr Salem said.

"The management at Rotana saw what the festival was, they saw all the people that came to the festival and all the excitement and they said to me: 'I support you for everything next year.' " In between the festivals, Mr Salem helped Rotana continue to push against Saudi Arabia's ban on cinemas by organising the screenings of Rotana's second Saudi film, Menahi, in Jeddah and, more controversially, Riyadh.

Ibrahim Badei, the head of corporate communications for the Rotana Group, said the proceeds from those screenings went towards the company's sponsorship of the Jeddah Film Festival. Rotana, one of the Middle East's largest media conglomerates, produces about half of all Arabic-language films and controls 70 per cent of the Arabic-language DVD market, Mr Salen said. It sponsors film festivals throughout the region, particularly in Egypt, the centre of the region's film industry.

Saudi Arabia, with its large and affluent population, has long been a coveted but inaccessible market for the Arabic-language film industry, but Mr Badei said it is wrong to consider Rotana's sponsorships a "long investment" in helping overturn the cinema ban. khagey@thenational.ae