U.S. Ambassador in Saudi Arabia on the Cultural ‘Explosion’



International producers can count on help from the U.S. embassy in Saudi Arabia to take advantage of an “extraordinary explosion” in culture and film, U.S Ambassador Michael Ratney told Variety during the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival. He said the ambition and drive of the Saudi film industry was an opportunity for international talent.

“These last five years have seen just an extraordinary explosion in the cultural space, using film, arts of all sorts,” Ratney said. Coupled with what he dubbed “a defining characteristic of Saudi Arabia, which is extraordinary ambition,” the development of a domestic film industry keen to attract international film productions was creating opportunities not seen before.

“For us, as the U.S. Embassy, as the U.S. government, it presents opportunities. There are film industries all over the world — and here [at the festival] we have a lot of Americans from the U.S. film industry, directors, producers, writers, lawyers, agents, people throughout that eco-system — and one of the things we are trying to do is bring them together with Saudis,” he added.

The approach combined both the embassy’s cultural and economic missions, with the aim being to help U.S. companies in Saudi Arabia thrive, and “to see how that ambition can benefit all of us.”

Following a drone attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels on commercial shipping in the Red Sea north of Saudi Arabia on Sunday — during which a U.S. warship, the USS Carney, shot down one drone after two had hit two internationally registered cargo ships, regional security issues are again on the agenda.

Ratney advised companies wishing to work in Saudi Arabia to speak with established U.S. businesses in the country to address any concerns they may have.

For U.S. producers, the challenges of working in Saudi Arabia are more practical than abstract, Joyce Pierpoline, of New York-based Pierpoline Films, told Variety.

“Saudi Arabia is a very interesting place. The people here are young and hungry for film. We would love to shoot here,” she said.

Pierpoline, who has been scouting Saudi locations with assistance from local companies including Neom Media and AlUla Studios for a $10 million budget action film “M2” said it was a challenge to understand how film industry support measures worked.

“We don’t know exactly how the tax rebate works,” she said. “And from what I understand you need to bring in your own crew and that can be very expensive.”

The film, to be directed by twice Oscar-nominated Barry Alexander Brown, has Brian Cox attached, she added.

Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment, said that Saudi Arabia was a very expensive location to shoot in.

“I would love to see co-productions here, but we are still trying to figure things out. A lot of content still comes from Egypt,” he said, adding that local producers did not have the capacity for large productions.

Note: The American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia is hosting the 2nd U.S.-Saudi Film Forum in Riyadh, May 31-June 1, 2024. The two-day event will look at structuring film deals, international co-productions, creative development for the international market, and building an industry of film professionals.


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