What ideas did you present at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 and what are your ambitions for the film industry in Saudi Arabia?
The 2018 Cannes Film Festival was an historic moment because it was Saudi Arabia's first-ever official participation, and an opportunity for us to open the door and highlight our creative and filmmaking talent, while at the same time letting the global film industry know that we are open for business. Some of the media dubbed Saudi as the star of this year's Festival and our press conference was attended by 73 media outlets from all over the world. We showcased nine short film in the Cannes Short Film Corner, and held workshops on a broad range of topics, including Arab women filmmakers and production capabilities in Saudi, as well as hosting a Saudi band at our pavilion. We look at our ambitions for the film industry in Saudi Arabia in two ways—in Saudi for Saudi and in Saudi for the world. To support Saudi nationals, in Cannes we announced a National Fund to support young Saudi filmmakers, especially for short films, and a grant program for training for Saudi nationals, for both men and women, to study abroad at globally-recognized educational institutions like the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, La Fémis in Paris, and others. By offering these incentives, and by training our local people, we are putting the pieces of the Saudi film industry together. There are already well-known filmmakers and production companies in Saudi. This demonstrates the potential, and we need to ensure that we unlock that full potential. To show what we offer to the global film community, we announced our incentive program, which is probably one of the most generous available in the world today international. Filmmakers will get 35% cash back on all spend used and consumed in the Kingdom, and when they employ Saudi talent, we will reimburse 50% of those costs. Our objective is to create a sustainable industry, and by enabling and encouraging Saudis to be employed on film sets we help elevate their skills to the level found in other countries with strong film industry ecosystems. In addition, we expect our incentives will lead to further creative and job creation opportunities in all aspects of film and production, like lighting and sound engineers, and the industries that grow up to support them including accommodation, transportation and catering. Cannes 2018 gave us the opportunity to deliver our message that Saudi is open for business in the film and content industry.
The GCA has also announced its plans to hold 300 events per year across a broad cultural spectrum. What are the ambitions here?
We have two types of cultural events—within and outside Saudi. During the international visits of the Crown Prince in March and April, we organized Saudi Cultural Days, with custom-made cultural events for all the countries we visited. We showcased Saudi contemporary art, film, music and heritage in London, New York and Paris. The objective of these international events is to introduce the world to the incredible creative talent and cultural history we have in the Kingdom and start to move perceptions away from the stereotype of oil, desert, and camels. For our internal cultural events, the objective is to encourage the development of a local industry and support local artists. We want Saudis to know and learn more about their own culture. The Kingdom is large and diverse, and many people might not know of the unique cultural aspects of other parts of the country. We also aim to encourage people to appreciate art, whether in the form of dance, music, painting, visual arts, or others.
Could you tell us more about your role in the Quality of Life Program 2030?
Everything we do at GCA is in line with Vision 2030, which has 12 programs, one of which is the Quality of Life program. The program is targeted at moving our cities up in the global rankings of livability, and not just the three major cities. There are a number of requirements to achieve this, including having excellent infrastructure such as the availability of theaters, cinemas, galleries and other cultural centers. In Saudi, this is relatively new territory, and there are increasingly more options for people to enjoy these cultural facets of life and to experience local and international music, plays, opera, and dance. These activities not only raise one's appreciation of the arts, but also allow them to enjoy life. They give people a chance to step out and see what is happening and be exposed to other cultures. It also helps parents introduce their children to these experiences and opens up opportunities for them. A city has to have both these hard and soft elements to be livable. In the past, Saudis used to drive across the bridge to Bahrain or fly to Dubai to watch a movie or visit a music concert. Now, we want to have these events take place in our cities.
What is the GCA's vision for capitalizing on Saudi's cultural heritage?
There are two elements when it comes to cultural heritage: tangible and intangible. The tangible heritage, the physical structure, is under the supervision of the Saudi Tourism Commission. The other element is the intangible heritage, like music, calligraphy, dialectics, recipes, and traditional dances and games. GCA is launching a program to capture, celebrate, and preserve Saudi Arabia's intangible heritage. This is a big program that will cut across the entire country to ensure we preserve and promote our entire intangible heritage.
What is your message to the business community in Saudi and abroad to participate in the cultural sector?
Culture and entertainment are amongst the main programs under Vision 2030, which speaks of the government's commitment to culture and the sizable budget allocated to it. At the end of the day, this cannot be done without the private sector. To be sustainable in the long run, the private sector needs to develop a sustainable sector where young Saudi can thrive. The earlier the private sector gets involved, the better. There is an opportunity to pioneer in this field now. The Saudi filmmaking industry is nascent, and starting today is relatively easy. Films require an infrastructure to be produced, and the private sector can develop these studios. This industry has the opportunity to become a multi-billion-riyal industry, starting from almost zero. Investors will reap the benefits as the industry matures.