SAUDI ARABIA - Tourism
CEO, The Red Sea International Film Festival
Mohammed Al Turki has successfully bridged the entertainment gap between “East and West” through his exciting endeavors in Hollywood. His lifelong passion for film, coupled with academic achievements in media studies during his education in London has driven Mohammed’s determination to break the U.S. film industry as a producer. Succeeding with a range of motion pictures including Golden Globe nominations for 99 Homes’ & ‘Arbitrage’. Aside from a notable reputation in producing, Mohammed has become an influential figure in the fashion industry, collaborating with renown luxury names as friend of the brand. He also supports UNICEF, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Steve Irwin Sea Shepard, Sean Penn’s Core and amfAR. Most recently he has been appointed as CEO for The Red Sea film foundation and is a key figure in the changes being implemented and shaping the Saudi film industry as a whole.
Mohammed Al Turki, CEO of The Red Sea International Film Festival, talks to TBY about the Saudi film industry.
How would you assess and define the Saudi film industry?
Mohammed Al Turki: Well, a few years ago, it was apt to consider that the Saudi cinema is still in its infancy. At the present time, however, things have been quickly changing. This is in light of the latest developments and institutional support—where we play a big part through our Festival—along with the continuous educational missions, and the passionate youth in the industry who have been traveling, learning and exposing themselves to return with new visions and tools that enable them to tell their stories on the big screen. This is in addition to the official inclusion of film theaters in the Kingdom four years ago; the inauguration of the Saudi Film Commission under the leadership of my good friend Abdullah El-Ayyaf; as well as the resumption of the Saudi Film Festival under the guidance of my good friend Ahmed Almulla. We can now say—with confidence—that there is a fertile, nurturing environment for the film industry in the Kingdom, which was proudly reflected in the number of recent annual creations, ranging from short and feature works, to art house films and cinema productions. Our festival—along with other international festivals—always embraces a large segment of those films, and continually works towards supporting, funding and developing them through special, targeted programmes. All of this not only makes me proud of what the local industry has achieved in just a few years, but also leaves me optimistic about what it can accomplish in the very near future.
What role does the Red Sea International Film Festival play in the development of entertainment industries within the Kingdom? Can you elaborate on its mandate and on its peculiarities?
Mohammed Al Turki: Through our annual Festival — which opens its doors with the local audience being at the forefront of its priorities — we play a vital and pivotal role in supporting the entertainment sector within the Kingdom. Not only does the Festival introduce a rich portfolio of films from around the world to popularize cinema culture, but it also aims at enhancing the financial power of purchased tickets, boosting the size and scope of productions in return. Additionally, through our red carpet in the heart of Jeddah, the Festival hosts stars from all around the globe, supporting the Kingdom’s policy that works towards openness to the world and modernity, making a visit to the Kingdom for recreational purposes an endeavor that shouldn’t be missed. All of this takes place in parallel with artistic, cultural and entertainment events; community initiatives; and concerts; some happening throughout the year, while others are planned on the sidelines of the Festival. And as for more perks, there is also our active film market and our multi-million dollar advertising value. And last but not least, we must think of the number and range of jobs we create in the areas of operating and managing the Festival and the Foundation. All of this evidence confirms to me, without a doubt, the role we play in supporting the entertainment sector in the Kingdom beyond all expectations.
How is the Red Sea International Film Festival elevating the reputation of Saudi Arabia’s creative industry in the international arena?
Mohammed Al Turki: Through the footprint we surely leave in international forums and the festivals to which we travel with our talents and films. We have positioned ourselves at the heart of the global map where the audiences now look forward to seeing our creations. The world now understands us a bit more, having met our people and experienced the art we create and savor, including cinema and music; we love them; we make them, and we celebrate them in the most ceremonious of ways. Our treasures of creativity not only match those of the rest of the world, but perhaps even surpass them, because we are still deeply connected to our culture, heritage and social and historical identity. I think in a way, it’s like what Heidegger believes; creativity really flows through a connection with one’s identity, not a disconnect from it.
How are you working to support and foster the participation of the local youth to the film industry?
Mohammed Al Turki: Through the Festival, we are committed to our unwavering support of the young and rising generation of talent, enabling them to tell their stories from their own unique perspectives. This is accomplished through a set of initiatives, events and programmes for project financing and development, including the Red Sea Fund; the Red Sea Lodge; and the New Saudi Cinema programme, which is always open to embrace and showcase our local films, presenting them to a global audience. We also offer the Talent Days programme, welcoming emerging local talents and introducing them to the international community over two full days on the sidelines of the Festival.
In partnership with TorinoFilmLab, the Red Sea Lodge selects creative projects and turns them into reality: what emphasis are you placing on establishing international partnerships and collaborations to support the development of the local film industry?
Mohammed Al Turki: Our cooperation with the various cinematic laboratories builds on the experience, value and outcome of the work from which the participants can benefit. We feel lucky to enjoy this valuable collaboration with TorinoFilmLab; with their distinguished global reputation, the launch of our international partnership has allowed us to greatly benefit from their experiences, transferring them to our participants.
Can you share your main targets and ambitions set in your 2022\23 agenda?
Mohammed Al Turki: Quite simply, I hope it will be a year full of success. I look forward to resuming the many plans and ideas I have in place for the nourishment and advancement of the industry and its environment, locally, regionally and globally. This is what my current position allows me to do, being at the head of the Foundation of the Red Sea Film Festival, and I can’t wait to implement it all. And of course, I hope no new pandemic surprises us.
SAUDI ARABIA - Industry
Governor, Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO)
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