When it comes to cinema, Saudi Arabia does not have much of a tradition, with only a few feature films and documentaries produced every year. But a group of young independent filmmakers from Jeddah are hoping to change that – by bringing their film to the Berlin film festival.
Barakah Meets Barakah, a quirky comedy, which debuted at this year’s Berlinale, shows the challenges of dating in Saudi Arabia, while also imparting some commentary about the limitations of public space in the country.
The film follows an amateur actor in a theatre company and a stylish adopted daughter of a rich couple, as they try to navigate their relationship.
“In the last 30 years, public space in Saudi Arabia is getting smaller, there is less room for liberals, for women, for minorities. They are less visible in the streets, so no one wants to watch a film in a public space,”
Mahmoud Sabbagh, the director of the film, told Al Jazeera.
“So I had to make a love story, and in the background there is the story of the city and of public space.”
The international premiere of the film generated a lot of interest, with the first screening attracting a sold-out crowd. The young Saudi team behind the movie financed it themselves – and apart from getting round the censors, they also had to constantly explain to people what they were doing.
“When I was in character, people would see me and they wouldn’t see Bibi [the character]. They would see me, Fatima and ask me what I was doing, so I had to deal with that,”
Fatima al-Banawi, the leading female character of the film, told Al Jazeera.
Barakah Meets Barakah, which got a great reaction from the Berlin audience, is careful to show traditional Saudi culture in a positive light. But it does not pull punches about the society’s problems. One audience member said he was surprised by how “in-your-face” the film was. The director and the actors said they hope they will inspire other filmmakers to follow in their footsteps.