Saudi filmmaker makes YouTube splash

The Saudi filmmaker Mohamed Makki in Jeddah.

This article was published by the International Business Times

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Saudi Arabia is a country of 27 million people, and not a single movie theater. Still, filmmakers there are a rising force — and Mohamed Makki is one of the names to follow, thanks to an Internet mini-series called “Takki.” In three months the first episode has racked up more than a million hits on YouTube. The second and third episodes had more than 700,000 hits each within a month of being posted.

YouTube is hugely popular in Saudi Arabia, which has 12 million Internet users but 90 million YouTube page views a day, according to a report in Al-Arabiya. One reason might be that movie theaters have been banned since the 1980s, to appease conservative clerics.

Saudi filmmakers have had to turn to the Internet in order to get an audience for their films, and Makki is no different. His “Takki” is the story of a group of young Saudi men trying to make films in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, and of their romantic entanglements with women.

“Much of the story is based on my own life,” Makki, 23, said in an interview recently. “I have my own production company called Kingdom Pictures. We produce corporate films and documentaries. That pays the bills. But I’m more interested in storytelling, which is ‘Takki’, a project that I have been working on for a year and half.”

Makki hopes to eventually film several seasons of “Takki” – which means “where are we going to hang today?” in Mecca slang — with each season consisting of 12 episodes. Each episode so far has been only 10 to 14 minutes long each, something he has done deliberately, aware of the short attention spans of today’s youth.

In the series, Moayad Althagafi plays Malek, a twenty-something aspiring filmmaker who hangs out in a trendy café-lounge in Jeddah with his buddies Majed , Abdullah and Badur. One day Malek meets and films a woman, Bayan, while shooting a documentary at the café. At the end of the day she is standing outside waiting for her driver to pick her up – since women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia — and ends up being harassed by a carload of young guys. Malek just happens to be leaving at the same time, and after much persuasion she agrees to accept a lift home in his car, mostly to escape the rowdy teenagers. Sitting in the back of Malek’s messy car she finds an interesting book that he insists she take to read. From this seemingly innocent premise — something that would hardly raise eyebrows in the West but does in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, where the sexes are strictly segregated — stems a social scandal that will make Bayan’s life hell. And in another twist to the plot, Malek does not know yet that Bayan is the new fiancée of his best friend Majed.

Social Disaster

“Bayan will face the consequences. Her father is going to find out about it, her fiancé is going to find out about it, and people on the Internet and social media are going to talk badly about her. Her reputation is going to be ruined, and she’s going to be devastated, crushed,” said Makki.

In such a stifling social climate, the director and his crew are surprisingly able to bend some rules. They’ve even filmed men and women together without being harassed by the religious police, who regularly raid restaurants in order to try and catch unmarried couples having romantic dinners. Sometimes they’ve filmed in public: “We just go ahead and start filming, we don’t stop to ask for official permission as that would slow things down,” explained Makki.

Do Começo ao Fim tackles controversial subject with compassion

Do Comeco ao FIm

I WATCHED Do Começo ao Fim, a much-awaited Brazilian film with a gay theme, on Friday night at Park Shopping, and was a little disappointed with the script and some of the acting.

Directed and written by Aluisio Abranches, From Beginning to End is the love story of two half-brothers, Francisco and Thomás, who grow up together in Rio with their mother Julieta (Julia Lemmertz) and become lovers. The first half of the film shows the two when they are six and 11 years old each. Played by Lucas Cotrin (Francisco) and Gabriel Kaufmann (Thomás), the young actors are much more convincing and natural as the young brothers than João Gabriel Vasconcellos (who is a Ford model in real life) as the grown-up Francisco and Rafael Cardoso as the grown-up Thomás, who come across as being too self-conscious and thus irritatingly corny.

The veteran actress Lemmertz is excellent as the mother of the two boys. She notices the intimacy that develops between the two half-brothers, but does nothing to stop it. Instead she has a heart-to-heart talk with Francisco and tells him if he ever wants to talk about his feelings for his brother that she will be there to listen to him, and that he shouldn’t be ashamed of his feelings.

The director Abranches had trouble getting financing for the film because of its controversial theme of gay and incestuous love. Some producers offered support only if he made the two brothers heterosexual or if they became cousins in the script. He refused and was still able to get enough backing to finish the film. The director says he is not trying to raise any flags with the film, but that he only wants to tell a love story without making any judgments on it.

Vasconcellos as the grown up Francisco kept laughing too much in his scenes, which I found annoying and seemed to be a byproduct of his feeling nervous and the fact that he is a neophyte actor. Lapses in the script also left me and other viewers wondering how the two brothers could live together as lovers and never seem to encounter any hostility from friends and relatives.

Nevertheless, Do Começo ao Fim is a fine film that tackles a potentially controversial subject with dignity and compassion.

— The film is being shown in Brasilia at Park Shopping and at the Academia de Tenis.






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