The third Saudi Film Festival kicked off Thursday night in the Gulf coast city of Dammam, in yet another attempt to increase the acceptance of the culture of cinema in the conservative kingdom.
About 400 people attended the opening ceremony of the festival, one of many recent initiatives aiming to establish a well-founded Saudi film industry, in hope of lifting the country's cinema ban that has been in place for 30 years .
"We try to raise the standards, to make it better. We have a lot of support from the youth, nobody can stop them," festival director Ahmed Al-Mulla told AFP .
The festival's third edition is its second consecutive annual event after it resumed last year, following a seven-year absence.
"Attendance from the Saudi Film Festival."
There are 70 Saudi films competing for the festival's Golden Palm Tree Awards, in categories that include short feature, short documentary and student films. There are also 55 screenplays still awaiting production competing in the festival
The films address a variety of social and cultural issues in Saudi life, ranging from Hajar Al-Naim's "Hope," a drama about mercy killing, to Mohammed Salman's "Yellow," a documentary about taxi drivers in Qatif city.
The festival, which is running until Monday night when its winners will be announced, is also holding workshops in acting, production and cinematography. The workshops received more than 600 applications in six hours, according to Al-Mulla.
The first official Saudi Arabian film was pioneering Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour's 2012 film "Wadjda." It was the country's first entry in the Academy Awards when it was submitted in 2013 for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
"The general supervisor of the festival Sultan Al-Bazi'e (right) and the director of the festival Ahmed Al-Mulla (left) at the inauguration of the Saudi Film Festival."
The acclaimed film, a drama that tackled women's social standing in the country through the story of a young girl dreaming about riding a bicycle in Riyadh, featured an all-Saudi cast and was shot entirely in the kingdom.
Since then, many Saudi films covering a variety of genres have been made. Some have received the attention of major international film festivals.
In February, Mahmoud Sabbagh‘s "Barakah Yoqabil Barakah," a well-received romantic comedy about relationships in Saudi society, debuted at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival to a sold-out screening .
Many young Saudi filmmakers have also been turning to the online space, where Saudis rank among the highest watchers of YouTube videos in the world. In January, the first horror film to feature an all-Saudi cast and filmmaking team and to be entirely shot in the kingdom was released on the popular platform.