Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh is helping his country's film industry break out of its shell.
His latest film " Barakah Meets Barakah " is Saudi Arabia's second-ever entry at the Academy Awards, competing under the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Set in Jeddah, the film depicts the relationship between a young couple who must battle through the constraints of societal segregation in the conservative kingdom, to find a way to go on a first date.
The first film to represent the kingdom was Haifaa Al Mansour's "Wadjda" (2014). Mansour's film didn't win a nomination.
"Mahmoud Sabbagh is a representative of a new generation who will soon be pioneers in the history of filmmaking in Saudi Arabia," said Sultan Al Bazie, chairman of the nominating committee, according to Deadline .
"This generation, who submitted more than 70 films in the third Saudi Film Festival organized by SASCA last March, are showing a lot of creativity and determination to express themselves and their culture through cinema," he added.
Sabbagh's romantic comedy film debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in February to sold-out crowds. The film also won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Berlinale.
“I wanted to make a film about the disenfranchised youth, the millennials, who are more voiceless and have less political representation, less economic opportunities.” Sabbagh told the Hollywood Reporter . “It’s also about censorship, the layers of censorship and authority.”
Sabbagh pointed out that “it’s a love story against the odds.”
The film is also set to screen at the 41st Toronto International Film Festival in Canada.
Cinemas in the kingdom have been banned since the 1980s. However, despite restrictions on artistic expression, Saudi nationals are still working to find a voice in film.
Recently, Abu Dhabi's film and TV production company Image Nation announced plans to help Saudi Arabia builds a TV and film industry. Officials are currently negotiating plans to do so, in line with the kingdom's Vision 2030 .