Director Yasir Al Yasiri talks to Screen about Saudi fantasy romance HWJN, which opens this year’s Red Sea International Film Festival

Yasir Alyasiri

Source: Red Sea IFF

Yasir Al Yasiri

Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al Yasiri has returned to Jeddah for the world premiere of HWJN, a Saudi fantasy feature that will open the third Red Sea International Film Festival tonight (November 30).

It marks a homecoming for the film, which is based on a young adult fantasy novel by Ibraheem Abbas. “The festival has a special place in my heart because the story takes place in Jeddah,” the director tells Screen on the eve of the premiere. “To see how it has evolved from the novel, to script, to shooting and now opening in the same city — it’s a surreal experience.”

Combining elements of Arabian folklore with modern themes, the story follows a kind-hearted jinn — invisible spirits that can appear in human form — who discovers the truth about his royal lineage. Hwjn, played by Baraa Alem, sets off on a journey to reclaim his birthright, while battling ancient evils and forming a romantic connection with a young medical student, played by Nour Alkhadra.

Al Yasiri hopes it will pave the way for more fantasy adventure filmmaking in Saudi. “This is a genre that has very rarely been tackled in our region,” he says. “I hope HWJN will change that and this genre will be explored more in future.”

The film is a co-production from leading regional players Image Nation Abu Dhabi, MBC Studios and Vox Studios; Al Yasiri was introduced to the story in 2018, the same year his debut feature Sheyab premiered at Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“From the moment I read the novel, I thought it was very authentic to our culture and our beliefs, but with universal themes that could travel abroad,” he recalls. “The challenge was to create the world of the jinn — which is a different dimension that we cannot see — for an audience that has grown up with these stories.”

Inspired by the likes of Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the filmmaker took on the challenge of “creating a visual reference to that world” and “present my version of how the jinn would look”.

Release plans are anticipated to be announced during the festival and Al Yasiri hopes to tell more stories set in this fantastical universe. “I want to delve more into this crazy dream that we built on belief and love,” he adds. “If there is the appetite, I would be more than happy to explore more of that universe.