Saudi foreign ministry signs pact to bolster humanitarian law

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Series of inspired redirections leads rising star in Saudi cinema to Cannes screening

JEDDAH: Filmmaker Hanaa Alfassi, from Jeddah, is a rising talent in the nascent world of Saudi cinema, rubbing shoulders with iconic directors like Haifa Al-Mansour.

Her latest project, “When the Shelves Hymn,” created under the working title “Bygones,” is a coming-of-age drama that is currently in post-production. A scene is set to be screened at a Film AlUla event at Cannes Film Festival this week and the film is part of the AlUla Creates initiative, with Al-Mansour present as one of the mentors on set.

The Saudi filmmaker’s upcoming film was shot in AlUla’s old town area. (Supplied)

“We were fortunate to have the director Haifaa Mansour provide valuable feedback during the development process.” Alfassi told Arab News. “She is a very kind and inspiring filmmaker, and we were glad as a team to have her visit the set.”

Collaborating closely with industry veterans like Moayad Abualkhair and Al-Mansour, Alfassi benefited from robust feedback loops that significantly enhanced the development process.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Hanaa Alfassi also served as a judge at the 10th Saudi Film Festival, which was held recently this month in Dhahran.

• Her cinematic perspective was profoundly influenced in 2012 during the premiere of ‘Wadjda’ at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

• A film she was involved in, ‘In Between,’ directed by Dalia Bakheet, was selected for the Annecy Film Festival in 2019.

• Her initial foray into the digital arts began with a 3D animation course in 1999 during her high school years in Egypt.

She also faced numerous challenges while filming “When the Shelves Hymn.”

“Despite unexpected delays, the team utilized these interruptions for in-depth discussions and rehearsals, adding depth to their work,” she said.

The Saudi filmmaker’s upcoming film was shot in AlUla’s old town area. (Supplied)

Filming in the old town of AlUla was a deliberate choice, intertwining the narrative with the historic location’s enchanting landscapes.

“The choice of an antique shop in the old town was not only organic to the story but also perfectly aligned with the location’s authenticity,” the filmmaker said.

We were fortunate to have the director Haifaa Al-Mansour provide valuable feedback during the development process.

Hanaa Alfassi, Saudi filmmaker

“Despite the numerous regulations governing shooting location, as it’s a perceived UNESCO heritage site, the production design team led by Amany Wahba and Theory PS ensured strict adherence to all requirements.”

The Saudi filmmaker’s upcoming film was shot in AlUla’s old town area. (Supplied)

The support from mentors throughout the production was crucial as it helped fine-tune the script, enrich the film’s direction, and ensure the final product was not only a reflection of Alfassi’s vision but also collaborative filmmaking.

“Their support went beyond just providing feedback; it was a source of encouragement and motivation throughout the process,” she told Arab News.

Alfassi also served as a judge at the 10th Saudi Film Festival, which was held recently this month in Dhahran, a task that provided her with a unique vantage point and offers opportunities to partake in meaningful discussions.

“Serving as a jury member is also a learning experience exposing me to a diverse range of films and viewpoints as well as true discussions about the nature of cinema as an art form,” she said.

Alfassi’s cinematic perspective was profoundly influenced in 2012 during the premiere of “Wadjda,” the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director (Haifaa Al-Mansour) at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The film was the Kingdom’s official submission for the foreign language film category in the 86th Academy Awards, marking the first time the country submitted a film to the Academy for consideration.

At the premier, surrounded by a diverse audience, Alfassi was struck by the universal curiosity and connection films can foster. “It was a moment filled with excitement and curiosity as we witnessed people from diverse backgrounds and cultures come together to experience a film from a different place,” she said.

“This sense of curiosity has always been a part of me, but the experience reinforced its importance. It’s crucial for me today to maintain this curiosity, as it enables me to tell diverse narratives and explore new perspectives.”

Her entry into the world of filmmaking was not straightforward, but rather a series of inspired redirections. Her initial foray into the digital arts began with a 3D animation course in 1999 during her high school years in Egypt.

Although the emerging digital era fascinated her, Alfassi found the detailed process of animation to be too time-consuming. This led her to explore photography, which temporarily satisfied her storytelling impulses. However, her desire to tell dynamic, evolving stories only grew from there.

Alfassi enrolled in the filmmaking institute, setting her career trajectory firmly toward the cinema. “As I pursued my studies in mass communication at University of Ain Shams, my mother discovered a new institute founded by one of Egypt’s renowned filmmakers, Rafat Al-Meehi,” she said. “I enrolled, balancing two years of filmmaking education alongside my college curriculum.”

Over the years, Alfassi has contributed to various short films both as a director and producer. One of these, “Lollipop,” received a financial award from the ENJAAZ Film Market’s production support fund and gained support from The Heart Productions and the Industry Lab at the New York Film Academy.

“Lollipop” has been showcased at several prestigious festivals, including the Dubai International Film Festival and the Malmo Arab Film Festival. It was also featured in the “Hope” program by ANHAR, the Arab Network for Human Rights Films.

Another project she was involved in, “In Between,” directed by Dalia Bakheet, was officially selected for the renowned Annecy Film Festival in 2019.

From being inspired by a film by Al-Mansour to becoming a film director herself and having Al-Mansour on site, Alfassi’s hard work and perseverance has clearly paid off. Late last year at the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival, alongside her colleagues Jade and Mana Al-Majd, she clinched one of the two awards in the TV Series Lab category for their comedy TV pilot set in Saudi Arabia, an achievement she considers an honor.

Alfassi’s journey in filmmaking is a compelling narrative of passion, adaption, and perseverance.

Looking ahead, the Saudi filmmaker is enthusiastic about her participation in future festivals and is keen to leverage platforms like the Cannes Film Festival to broaden her network and introduce her work to a global audience.

 

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