Can AlUla from Saudi Arabia compete with Hollywood for film production?

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JEDDAH: AlUla has gained a growing reputation among regional and international filmmakers as a location of choice due to its enchanting natural landscapes, incentives and expanding infrastructure.

The site’s remarkable array of services has drawn inevitable comparisons with facilities offered in Hollywood and other production hotspots around the world.

In 2020, the Royal Commission for AlUla established Film AlUla to attract and support international film and television production houses. The body is headed by film commissioner Stephen Strachan, a veteran of the British industry and a respected producer in the Middle East and North Africa.

Tawfik Al-Zaidi, director of the upcoming film “Norah”, recognized the potential of the place. He wrote the story for the film in 2015, drawing on his personal experiences as a struggling artist in the early 2000s before cinemas opened in the Kingdom.

Tawfik Al-Zaidi, director of the next film “Norah”. (Provided)

“Since that time (2015), I always wanted to shoot the movie in AlUla,” said Al-Zaidi, who is from the Madinah area and has been visiting AlUla since he was nine years old.

The film tells the story of a young girl in search of her voice and an artist in search of her passion, Al-Zaidi told Arab News.

Home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, AlUla has provided the perfect backdrop for several films over the past year. The horror film “Cello”, written by Turki Al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia, and “Cherry”, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, were both filmed in the historic city.

These were followed by “Kandahar”, starring Gerard Butler, which was the first big-budget Hollywood film to shoot extensively in AlUla.

Al-Zaidi wanted to take viewers to this magical destination with which he shares a personal connection. “I come from Medina and my family lives here, so I know this area very well. I know what the mountains look like,” he said.

Al-Zaidi further explained to Arab News what was appealing about the setting: “When you walk around AlUla, you feel like you are walking through a complete museum.”


Yaqoob Al-Farhan, one of the actors in the film. (Provided)

Yaqoob Al-Farhan, one of the film’s actors, said of the character he plays, “I think anyone with artistic interests would really see themselves in Nader.”

It is therefore fitting that Nader’s story be told in a city that Al-Zaidi calls “a work of art in itself”.

“You see the inscriptions on the mountains, how the rocks are formed and their colors. You see there is art already and when shooting in the village the background is full of mountains. (So) AlUla also looks like history,” Al-Zaidi said.

Maria Bahrawi, the 16-year-old actress who plays the title character, Norah, said, “AlUla is a spectacular area, especially for film. I think it will develop even more for the cinema, especially because of its natural landscapes, its farms, its palm trees.


Maria Bahrawi, the 16-year-old actor who plays the main character. (Provided)

For the film’s producer, Paul Miller, AlUla’s unique and varied landscape is what sets it apart.

“There are about five different types of deserts within half an hour’s drive. Normally when we make a movie that requires a certain scenery, you drive for hours or even days for different scenery,” Miller told Arab News.

Apart from the stunning landscapes, the support of Film AlUla is an important factor in attracting filmmakers to the city.

Miller said: “There’s a lot of logistical support, with clearance and access, and they’ve built a dedicated resort with 300 apartments for the team, and every day more and more infrastructure that you need. for cinema are here,” he said. .

“They plan to build a studio which will hopefully be ready early to mid next year. There are a lot of opportunities here to promote it as a film destination because it’s so amazing,” he added.

While filming in AlUla, he saw people visiting the city to learn more about its beautiful landscapes and how Film AlUla can support them. Once “Kandahar” and “Norah” come out, Miller said, “people, both overseas and here, will really see AlUla’s potential as a premier film destination.”

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