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Saudi Arabia submits second entry for Oscars consideration

‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ tells the improbable story of a municipal agent who falls in love with a famous Instagram vlogger

Ismaeel Naar

Published: Updated:

Saudi Arabia has officially backed filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Meets Barakah” as its 2017 Academy Awards entry for best foreign-language film. The movie marks the second-ever Saudi film to be submitted for consideration.

“Barakah Meets Barakah” made its debut at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, where it received positive reviews.

The film tells the funny and improbable story of a municipal agent who falls in love with a beautiful, unpredictable, famous Instagram video blogger.

The film follows the young couple on a first date in a country where public, unchaperoned meetings are prohibited.

“Our first submission was ‘Wajda’ in 2013, which was a strong film but unfortunately didn’t make it on the Oscars shortlist. We’re hopeful we’ll pass further with ‘Barakah meets Barakah’,” Sultan al-Bazie - head of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts (SASCA), and chairman of the nominating committee - told Al Arabiya English.

Sabbagh said he has achieved more than he ever anticipated by just completing his film - his first.

“It will be an honor to represent Saudi Arabia and everyday Saudis. It’s a young nation in terms of cinema and filmmaking,” he told Al Arabiya English.

He said he made the film not specifically for an international audience, but more so for young Saudis to get a chance to see their stories and voices represented on the big screen.

“Art, including cinema, is a communication tool,” said Sabbagh. “I tried to make something that was organic and grounded without self-orientalizing and self-fetishizing. I focused on the locals to portray an accurate account of everyday life in Saudi Arabia, and by default create a visual experience for Westerners watching the film.”

The Saudi film industry, Bazie said, is growing fast. At least 70 filmmakers submitted works at the Saudi Film Festival organized by SASCA last March.

“At the 3rd Saudi Film Festival, organized by SASCA last March, we had 70 films submitted by Saudi directors, both males and females. Some of them are already working on projects and films at feature-length. So we will see more of these in the future,” Bazie said.

Director of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, Sultan Bin Abdulrahman al-Bazei speaks during the opening ceremony of the film festival on March 24, 2016 at the Saudi Cultural Center in Dammam. (AFP)
Director of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts, Sultan Bin Abdulrahman al-Bazei speaks during the opening ceremony of the film festival on March 24, 2016 at the Saudi Cultural Center in Dammam. (AFP)