Asharq Alawsat reports on the state of film and video in Saudi Arabia, finding that the Kingdom’s youths are finding their own ways around the barriers of censorship.

The making of professional films works under a major handicap in the country: there are no cinemas in which a film can be screened for an audience. If the only audiences permitted to view a film lie outside the country, then clearly the potential of the film to show or discuss change is limited. But making videos avoids most of the problems and puts visual story-telling in the hands of everyone with a modern cell phone. Platforms such as YouTube or the new Keek provide outlets through which millions can see — and comment upon — individual acts of expression.

This fact, though, makes it all the more important that viewers be taught critical thinking skills. ‘What you see’ is not always ‘what is true’. Videos, particularly short videos lack context. Editing — even if it’s just deciding where a video starts and stops — can readily and completely change the story. The tricks of playing on emotional impact are easily learned; the skills involved in questioning unstated assumptions, however, is more difficult. The Saudi educational system isn’t much help here, unfortunately. It relies on accepting what is put forth with no questions invited or allowed.

Saudi Youth Filmmaking on the Rise
Young Saudis making use of new technology to screen their work

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—Young Saudis continue to make significant strides in filmmaking despite their country’s reservations towards cinema. This is largely due to the success of their work abroad in Gulf and global film festivals, despite the fact that most of their films focus on issues particular to life in Saudi Arabia.

In light of the decline in the amount of movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, filmmakers are resorting to posting their work on social networking sites in order to reach their audiences more quickly.

Saudi filmmaker Abdullah Al-Eyaf spoke about the difficulties facing youth cinema in Saudi Arabia, saying: “Not screening movies inside Saudi Arabia takes away from the movies’ societal influence, despite the fact that they deal with local issues, but there is no other solution.” He refuses to blame the younger generation for the decline in Saudi cinema, arguing that Saudi youths work very hard to get movies shown but are ignored by the official and non-official authorities.

Mr. Eyaf fears that making films primarily for foreign audiences will lead to a film industry that “doesn’t reflect the values of Saudi society.” He added that it could lead to an orphaned film industry whose products no longer have a connection to a particular time or place. This in turn would dilute the quality of the films and deprive them of their cultural heritage, which ultimately enriches the audience’s experience.

Film producer Talal Ayel differs with Mr. Eyaf in this regard. He argues that showing Saudi films abroad does not diminish from the films’ importance, adding that every film industry exports its products to foreign audiences. He contends that “the problem is that they do not get shown to the domestic audience, and thus they do not receive any plaudits or recognition in Saudi Arabia despite the fact that many of them have excelled at regional and international film festivals.”

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