The closing film of the 2nd edition of the Red Sea Film Festival was Khalid Fahad’s debut feature “Valley Road,” which was majority funded by the Ithra Cultural Center – the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, which has become one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest film producers.
The comedy adventure is about a young mute boy, Ali, who lives in a remote Saudi village, with his stern father and doting elder sister Siham, who is studying in a nearby city.
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His father takes him on a trip through their picturesque mountain valley, seeking to get him “cured” by the local doctor. But Alia gets lost on the way and embarks on a series of misadventures, amplified by his vivid imagination.
The family is distraught to locate their missing son, and his sister Siham urgently looks for clues as to his whereabouts.
As the characters evolve during the story, it offers a metaphor for the need to place faith in the wisdom of children, while also highlighting the strong female character portrayed by Siham, as well as the character transformation of the father who embraces a new vision of the world.
Majed Samman, Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema, explained to Variety that he hopes that the family film will capture people’s hearts and minds. It forms part of a wider production slate from the institution, which also includes pics due for release in 2024, such as the Saudi-set travel movie “Hajjan,” by Egyptian director Abu Bakr Shawky (“Yomeddine”), co-produced by Ithra and Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, which is currently shooting.
“The crew of ‘Hajjan’ includes technicians from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, New Zealand and the U.K., who have all worked on different Hollywood films,” explains Samman. “We wanted that feel and look for this movie. We have also embedded five new Saudi filmmakers into the production as an apprenticeship experience.”
Ithra is also producing a documentary, “Camel Whisperer,” about people who tame camels by singing to them.
The cultural center is also home to Saudi Film Days and the Ithra Film Society, and is co-organizer of the annual Saudi Film Festival.
Ithra had previously funded shorts by Fahad, and were keen to support his first feature, which is the first Saudi production to secure a G rating (i.e. for general audiences).
“It’s unlike any other Saudi film, which often focus primarily on social issues. This movie is more geared towards the family. It does talk about some social issues, but is above all comedy and drama, with some magical realism elements as well.”
The pic was primarily funded by Ithra and also benefited from Saudi Arabia’s 40% cash rebate and in-kind support from various companies.
“We’re not trying to be too serious in this film. It’s very much fantasy-based,” concludes Samman. “If you’re a Disney fan or have grown up with Disney movies, you can spot various tributes. There are magical visual effects that have never previously been seen in a Saudi movie.”
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