I’ve never seen a film from Saudi Arabia and, thanks to Jeffrey Fleishman’s fine article in the L.A. Times, now I know why: the country only produced its first feature in 2006, and there are no theaters to show movies in anyway.
In his report on how tough filmmakers there have it, Fleishman focuses on the Talashi Film Group, which is pretty much just ten dudes who make short films however they can and gather in an apartment regularly to chat and review each other’s work.
The story is bleak. The filmmakers import actresses from Syria because Saudi women aren’t allowed to be alone with men without their husbands or relatives present. When one of Saudi Arabia’s rare features — “Menahi” — was screened before mixed-sex audiences in Riyadh, fundamentalist protests shut it down. The country’s only film festival — the Jeddah Film Festival — is no more for the same reason. Film fans have gotten used to flying to the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain for weekends fixes of marathon film viewing.
It’s difficult to know what to say when a country lets people buy American DVDs and choose from over 500 uncensored satellite channels but doesn’t have any movie theaters. In contrast: in Iran, DVDs and satellite dishes are illegal (if ubiquitous), but at least they have a solid commercial cinema industry, not to mention a distinctive and important art film movement.
The article says the Talashi crew look forward to Dubai’s Gulf Film Festival every year as their best outlet, but Talashi member Mohammed Khalif dreams of getting to Berlin.
[Photo: Still from Talashi short “Shadow”]