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Major plot twist for students at Saudi Arabia’s first cinema school – Qatari talents highlight evolution of country’s film scene

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JEDDAH, March 13, (Agencies): Student Sama Kinsara adjusts her camera at Saudi Arabia’s only cinema school, her dream of seeing her work on the big screen coming into focus after the lifting of the country’s 35-year ban on cinema.

“Everything is about to change,” the first-year student of “visual and digital production” at Effat University in Jeddah told Reuters.

Her course is to be renamed “cinematic arts”, dropping the deceptive title employed originally to help stay under the radar of religious police and local communities opposed to the idea of men teaching women how to make movies.

Kinsara and her classmates on the four-year, women-only course have been able to film outside the university grounds for the first time.

“A girl carrying a camera and shooting in the streets is pushing boundaries,” said Mohamed Ghazala, head of Effat’s Visual and Digital Production Department, which began the course in 2013.

The changes follow the lifting of restrictions by reform-minded Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the last year.

Authorities hope that by opening 300 cinemas and building a film industry, more than $24 billion can be added to the economy and 30,000 jobs created.

Cinema is one of several new avenues for Saudi women, who can now attend soccer matches, take part in sport, and in a few months will be allowed to drive cars.

The deeply conservative kingdom is still one of most restrictive countries for women in the world, with a guardianship system requiring women to have a male relative’s approval for important decisions.

For film student Qurratulain Waheb, the chance to get off the university campus and film with her classmates is welcomed.

“Before, there was a problem if we had a camera in the malls, we were not allowed to enter the malls but things are getting smoother now when we have access,” said

“When we have permissions it gets easier, it gets better and people are more accepting. They want to see what we’re doing.”

Highlighting the evolution of the country’s film scene, Qatari talents are marking a significant participation at Qumra 2018, the fourth annual industry event by the Doha Film Institute to be held from March 9 to 14 at Souq Waqif and the Museum of Islamic Art.

This year, in addition to 11 short films by Qatari talents, three feature narratives in development stage are among the 34 Qumra projects to be nurtured by the Qumra Masters and industry professionals through the six-day intensive programme aimed at nurturing the skills and honing the film projects by first- and second-time filmmakers.


In addition, four films by Qatar-based talents — including three by Qatari Nationals — are being screened as part of the New Voices in Cinema section. The screenings are open to the public, and will be followed by audience Q&As with the talents associated with the films.

Fatma Al Remaihi, Chief Executive Officer of the Doha Film Institute, said: “We are exceptionally proud of the strong participation by Qatari projects at Qumra this year. From short films to feature narratives and accomplished projects, their presence underlines the evolution of a strong film-centred ecosystem in the country that also encourages the local creative industry. At a time where the art of storytelling has become a responsibility, each of these projects also stands out for their strong content and narrative approach, presenting to the world authentic stories from Qatar by Qatari talents and set in our beloved nation. Qumra continues to be a platform to launch these new voices to the global stage.”