A rising wave of production in Saudi Arabia needs more local talent to meet the demand, according to leading filmmakers and industry executives in the region.

Panel Saudi Film Commission_10_Credit Stefanie Rex

Source: Stefanie Rex

L-R: Georgie Paget, founder of Caspian Films and producer of ‘My Driver And I’; Ali Jaafar, head of film, MBC Studios; Majed Z Samman, head of performing arts and cinema, programmes division, Ithra; Sohayb Godus, writer/actor/producer, ‘The Book Of Sun’, Ayman Jamal

At the Saudi pavilion at Cannes Film Festival, experts came together on May 19 to discuss the local Saudi production sector. Talent levels are improving, they said, with less reliance on overseas crew — but more needs to be done. “The demand is higher than the supply,” said Ayman Jamal, founder of Barajoun Entertainment, the studio behind pioneering CG-animated feature Bilal.

“One of the top challenges we’re facing in production in Saudi Arabia today is that we need more local talent to make more movies.”

Ali Jaafar, head of film at MBC Studios, observed there had been a major shift in crew on Saudi projects. “In just two years, we’ve gone from 70% foreign crews [on projects] to having 70%-80% local crews. For MBC, it’s crucial we play a part in showing that roles such as DoP, gaffer and grip are viable careers.”

“There is a shortage in terms of technicians, particularly heads of department,” said Georgie Paget, founder of the UK’s Caspian Films and producer of Ahd Kamel’s upcoming drama My Driver And I, which shot in Jeddah. “But I’d say that is an international problem and there is a lot of talent in Saudi, more of which are going through training right now.”

Majed Z Samman, head of performing arts and cinema at Ithra Film Production, explained: “Where we need help is in the development of talent, not just directors but writers, DoPs and more. There are the Red Sea Labs, Neom and MBC Academy working on that.”

Looking ahead, MBC’s Jaafar added: “I would love to see a Saudi film nominated for an Academy Award or winning the Palme d’Or here, and I think it’s absolutely achievable because if you see the generation of talent coming through and the fact so much dynamic change is happening in the country, they have something original, surprising and important to say. The horizon is boundless.”

Contact: For more information, visit the International Pavilion #137