On Sunday, February 18 the New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted the second annual Young Saudi Film Festival (YSFF) at the Harmony Gold Preview House in Hollywood, California. In the festival’s first year, the goal was to provide Saudi filmmakers a space to screen their work. This year the festival grew in audience and scope, receiving over 80 submissions and featuring eight outstanding films that told stories ranging from comedy to tragedy. With the ban on movie theaters lifted in Saudi Arabia it is a great time to showcase the next generation of Saudi filmmakers.
The highly anticipated event was well attended by internationals and locals alike including NYFA students and alumni, local Saudi community members, producer and film distributor Diane Taren, and representatives from the Kuwaiti and Emirati consulates.
NYFA MFA Filmmaking Alumnus, Maan bin Abdulrahman of Prince of Arabia Entertainment, hosted the evening. He introduced Director of NYFA Los Angeles, Dan Mackler who, in his opening remarks, emphasized how storytelling is a universal means of uniting different cultures, “The New York Film Academy believes that storytelling unites us internationally, across cultures and through perceived differences. We’re very proud of the films we’re screening tonight because they exemplify those ideals.”
President of the YSFF, Rakan Anneghaimshi (Spring 2016 BFA Acting for Film), spoke briefly to the audience thanking everyone who made the event possible and congratulating the participants on their hard work. Finally, NYFA Instructor and one of the judges of the competition, James Rowe, addressed the audience.
In a moving speech, Rowe detailed his experience as one of the members of the selection committee. “Submissions to this festival have come from all over the world. We were looking for stories and perspectives that surprised us and left us feeling something long after the credits had rolled.”
Rowe attributed the great stories coming out of Saudi Arabia to a need humans have to share their experiences. “Great art is born out of urgency,” Rowe began. “There is a burning need to tell stories that have gone untold for some time. There exists a desire to express ideas that have remained unspoken.”
Rowe concluded, “One of the true joys I get from teaching at the New York Film Academy is teaching students to discover that they do have something unique and personal to say right now. All of the films here tonight, clearly have something to say. They are a reminder that art captivates and compels us most when it feels urgent; as if the artist couldn’t have waited one more moment to tell us their story.”
Following the screenings, there was a Q and A session with the filmmakers who joined Maan bin Abdulrahman on the stage to take questions from the audience. The first question went to filmmaker Yassin Koptan (Filmmaking, 2014). His film, Piece of Wood, follows skateboarders in Egypt and the discrimination they face. He was asked what the skateboard in his film symbolized. “It’s a symbol for resistance,” he responded. “It’s a symbol for unity. It’s a symbol for fighting for what’s rightfully yours.”
Maan bin Abdulrahman wanted to know how filmmaker Meshaal Al Jaser (Screenwriting, 2019) was able to pull such a captivating performance from a child actor. In his film, Under Concrete, a Syrian girl relives instances from her life while buried under rubble following the bombing of her home. “All of the actors were Syrian. They were already heartbroken. They felt it more than I ever could.”
President Anneghaimshi wrapped up the Q&A stating, “We try, as much as possible, to reflect society as we see it,” he began. “We want to see the authentic stories coming out of our community. One of the goals of the YSFF was to help bring our global community together. We had comedic films, we had dramatic films, and we had family-oriented films. I couldn’t be more proud.”
The New York Film Academy would like to thank all of the participants, the audience, and the Young Saudi Film Festival for allowing us to take part in such a special and momentous evening.
Bloodline written and directed by Saud Al-Moghirah, produced by Javier Olmo
Coexistence by Musab Alamri
Hero Complex written and directed by Mohamad AlYamani, produced by Mohamad AlYamani and Douglas Spain
The Nostalgia written by Sarah Lotfy, directed and produced by Moataz Badran
Piece of Wood by Yassin Koptan
The Scapegoat written by Charlie H. Millen & Stephen Ranieri, directed by Talha B., produced by Maan B.
Spirit of North by Mohammad Ali Almarhabi
Under Concrete by Meshal Al Jaser