‘Tomb Raider’ Director Simon West to Direct Saudi Drama ‘Antara’



British Hollywood director Simon West (“Con Air,” “Lara Croft:Tomb Raider”) is set to direct Saudi Arabia-set epic “Antara” that will be shot in Neom, the sprawling production hub in Saudi Arabia’s northwestern corner.

The English-language blockbuster based on Arab history is the tale of Antara ibn Shaddad, a slave warrior who was propelled to mythical status in the sixth century after winning his freedom and becoming a beloved knight and a widely celebrated Bedouin poet in the region.

“Antara,” which was announced during the Venice Film Festival – where there is a strong Saudi industry presence – is co-produced by Irish entrepreneur, writer and producer Alexander Amartei. British producer Stuart Sutherland, CEO of Celtic Films Entertainment is co-producing through his Celtic Arabia shingle. Sutherland, whose credits include “Killing Eve,” and Saudi-set “Born A King,” co-produced recently released action triller “Kandahar,” starring Gerard Butler, which was also shot in the kingdom.

The budget on “Antara,” which is bound to be substantial, has not been disclosed.

Production on “Antara” is scheduled to start in early 2024 and last for 12 weeks. The film will tap into Neom’s 40%+ cash rebate for productions and will provide its spanking new sound stages and accomodation facilities, as well as local talent and crews. Casting on “Antara” is being kept under wraps.

More specifically, the film will be based at Neom’s Bajdah Studios, which besides being state-of-the-art boast breathtaking landscapes of Neom which combines canyons, desert, and a long stretch of unspoiled Red Sea coastline. Neom, which is in the Tabuk province, is also the site of a futuristic city that is rapidly being built.

“Bringing the story of Antara ibn Shaddad to the big screen and the masses is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to continue his legend,” said West in a statement, adding that “The life of Antara is one of those relatively little-known true stories that prove that fact can be so much stranger than fiction.”

The “Antara” director also noted that he pleased to film in the homeland of Saudi’s Banu Abs tribe, meaning that “We will keep true to the piece, whilst helping to grow the emerging film industry in the region.”

Wayne Borg, managing director of media industries, entertainment, and Culture at Neom, pointed out that supporting international productions, such as “Antara” “Highlights the growing confidence film producers have in Neom and reinforces our position as the gateway to the MENA region for the media industries.” Borg further noted that these types of films “Boost our ecosystem’s development by providing unparalleled work experience opportunities for young Saudis and fast-track the development and growth of the local workforce.”

Commented Amartei: “As ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’ marked a complete paradigm shift for Chinese cinema, we see ‘Antara’ as a cultural extravaganza that will be a complete game changer in the region and dazzle the world in a lavishly artistic and sophisticated way.”

Other projects hosted and supported by Neom over the past 18 months include Rupert Wyatt’s $150 million Hollywood epic “Desert Warrior,” starring Anthony Mackie and Sir Ben Kingsley, and Bollywood blockbuster “Dunki,” directed by Rajkumar Hirani and starring Shahrukh Khan. The MBC soap “Exceptional,” which will be a 200-episode-a-year show, is set to start shooting at Neom in September.


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