No normalization with Israel without Palestinian state, Saudi ambassador to UK says

RIYADH: The award-winning Saudi film “Norah” premiered in the Kingdom on Thursday, following its international success at the Cannes Film Festival.

A special screening was held on Wednesday evening at Roshn Front’s Vox Cinema, where director Tawfik Al-Zaidi was present alongside the film’s star, Maria Bahrawi, and her acclaimed co-stars Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.

Al-Farhan told Arab News: “Being accepted at Cannes is an indication of how important this film is and also an indication of how much progress the film industry (has made) here.

“Although it is still early days, we are starting to see the results of the tremendous work that is going on right now.

“I am very positive about the future. If this is the beginning, I think in five or 10 years, we will see a lot of great films from Saudi Arabia.”

“Norah” achieved great success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival, where it was the official selection for the “Un Certain Regard” competition, one of the most critical titles of the event. It also received the special mention from the jury, making it the best-known Saudi film at Cannes.

The film takes place in a remote Saudi village in the 90s, where Norah (played by Bahrawi) dreams of seeing horizons beyond her small village. As a new teacher, Nader (played by Al-Farhan) moves to her hometown, and Norah’s world begins to open up through art, knowledge and creativity, making her discover more about her own family history.

“The fact that they cast me in this role just two weeks before production was a surprise to me. But fortunately, my first role in a film was a success and reached the international audience. I am very proud and happy that today it will be in theaters and people can see it and I am excited to see people’s reactions,” Bahrawi told Arab News.

Although it was first screened last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the “Best Saudi Film” award, the nationwide cinema premiere is a culmination of the film’s journey to its intended audience: the public saudi

Bahrawi said, “The fact that they cast me for this role just two weeks before the production was a surprise to me. But fortunately, my first role in a film was a success and reached the international audience. I am very proud and happy that today it will be in theaters and people can see it and I am excited to see people’s reactions.

“Since I was young, I always dreamed of being an actress, and today I can say that I have achieved it and acted in my first film as a lead role… AlUla was the city that made my first dream come true. “

Taking audience participation even further, last Thursday the audience was presented with a contest that invited all girls named Norah to play a part. About 500 girls participated, and two winners received tickets to the special pre-screening event.

“Norah” is the first Saudi feature film to be shot entirely in AlUla. “The city itself and its locations really complemented the story of the film, so it was a wonderful location choice,” said Bahrawi.

While the film is both Bahrawi’s big screen debut and Al-Zaidi’s first feature film, it was also a personal experience for Al-Farhan, who is known for his role in the TV mini-series “Rashash”.

“There are so many similarities between me and the character, which is why it’s a very personal project for me and I’m so fond of it, especially after doing the Cannes Film Festival,” he said.

In preparation for the role, Al-Farhan spent time with a professional sketch artist to learn the craft for his role – even simple things like holding a pencil correctly.

He said the first sketches featured in the film were his own work, but the final results were “by a true artist”.

The production was supported by the Film Commission through Daw, a national initiative to support and encourage Saudi filmmakers. The film also received support from Film AlUla, Red Sea Film Fund and Generation 2030.

The inspiration for “Norah” came to Al-Zaidi in 2015 from his need to express something within himself. In the same way that Al-Farhan’s character Nader depicts his feelings on sketchbooks and canvases, Al-Zaidi uses the big screen.

He told Arab News: “I am a lover of art in all its forms, be it music, drawing or visiting museums, cinema encapsulates all these arts and shows them beautifully through the film crew.

“I wanted to create these emotions between two people who love art, Norah and Nader. Art is a means of communication between people and also a means of expression.”

As the Saudi film scene continues to develop and grow towards global horizons, Al-Zaidi is confident that the industry can overcome the challenges.

“Challenges will always be there but as they say, ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’… if you believe in yourself, you will get there,” he said.

Leave a Comment