'We're talking to various partners - it's a comedy about an Arab-American family, something like My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' Halawani told Screen International. 'At Cannes we can see some art movies from the Middle East, but there are few commercial films that really cross over. This could be Rotana's first break-out picture.'
Halawani is in discussions with potential co-producers, and aims to be shooting in the US or Canada by the end of the year. The culture clash comedy has a budget of $5-10 million.
Rotana, owned by billionaire Prince Al Walid bin Talal, is a major media player in the region, owning free-to-air satellite stations such as Rotana Cinema (with a library that includes 60% of Arab films ever made), and producing 15-20 features a year, mostly mid-budget Egyptian comedies that command around 60% of the Egyptian box office.
The region has seen an increase recently in admissions and box office receipts, driven up by new multiplexes in Egypt and the Gulf - although there are still no active cinemas in Saudi. 'The country is modernizing rapidly under King Abdullah,' says Halawani. 'I'm confident that there will be cinemas, but am just not sure when.'
Saudi does dominate advertising spend in the region, which has fuelled the development of the TV industry, and Rotana has plans to expand its satellite TV business to Europe and the US.
In 2005, Rotana produced Keif Al Hal, the first Saudi feature - albeit shot in Dubai. Now they plan to trump that with a feature, Wajda, by young Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour, shot in the Kingdom.
'This will be the first time a feature film has been made in Saudi,' says Halawani. 'We may shoot some scenes elsewhere in the Gulf, but are open to where at the moment. Dubai is expensive, although Dubai Studio City are very helpful in terms of permissions. We are looking into Abu Dhabi, even Qatar.'