The new Saudi film "Barakah Meets Barakah" is all the rage in the Arab world right now. It's only the second Saudi film to ever be submitted to the Oscars, and it's showing to sold-out theaters in some of the world's biggest festivals.
The feature is a drama comedy set in Jeddah. It depicts the relationship between a young couple who must battle through the constraints of societal segregation in the conservative kingdom, so that they can find a way to go on a first date.
Notably, it is a film that addresses well-known taboos without rehashing stereotypes. Instead, the film is a delicate maneuvering of a highly nuanced culture shrouded in secrecy. It is a Saudi story with authenticity and soul that only a person deeply entrenched in that society can tell.
Barakah made its regional debut Wednesday at Dubai's Vox Cinema in Mall of Emirates. This gave StepFeed the opportunity to "meet Barakah" ... or rather, the brains behind the film Mahmoud Sabbagh.
Hala Bassam: What inspired you to make Barakah Meets Barakah?
Mahmoud Sabbagh: Lots of things actually, first, the idea that we lack a lot [in terms of] the cinemas in our country and this was my biggest inspiration. Plus, we are the most under-told society in terms of a nation. So I wanted to say a genuine story about my society and my generation in a movie.
HB: What messages do you hope to deliver to your audience through this movie?
MS: Self-autonomy. Basically, this movie is about our generation - the millennials in Saudi and 35 years old and less. This demographic segment in society has become the least privileged economically, socially, politically so this movie is about them and casting our own destiny.
HB: How does it feel to be the second-ever Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia? What does it tell you about where the country is headed?
MS: My biggest prize is actually to make a good, genuine film from Saudi. A film that people watch, relate to it, and can be part of the change. Going to the Oscar is a great marketing and publicity step. If we be able to represent the country later in the shortlist, it would be amazing. If not, we are still very happy!
HB: Are you optimistic about Saudi 2030's effect on the films field and arts scene in the country?
MS: One thing for a fact, there is a new and young leadership in the country. For the first time, we have this leader who is 30 years old who speaks my tone and my language and we are very optimistic about it and we want to be part of the change. I made this movie out of a [no] help from the government or any type of public recourses. However, I did it with pride and I did it to be part of the national dialogue and we hope this movie sparks ... like a change.
The film was a hit in Dubai, getting thumbs up from some of the city's biggest young influencers such as Sultan Al Qassimi, who said it was a "a side to Saudi one seldom sees."
Sabbagh, though, isn't satisfied.
“It costs the Saudi around SAR 2,500 to watch this movie, between the flights, the accommodation, and the movie ticket," Sabbagh said to a packed theater yesterday.
"However, it costs you guys AED 35 to watch this movie. The day will come and Saudis will pay SAR 35 to watch movies. This is why I will fight to show this movie in KSA.”