The Saudi filmmaker Mohamed Makki in Jeddah.
This article was published by the International Business Times
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.
"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.