Saudi film submitted for rare Oscar nomination

Barakah Meets Barakah is the second Saudi film to be nominated for an Oscar
 ‘Barakah yoqabil Barakah’ has been submitted for consideration in the 2017 Academy Awards.
‘Barakah yoqabil Barakah’ has been submitted for consideration in the 2017 Academy Awards.

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Saudi Arabian film ‘Barakah yoqabil Barakah’ (Barakah Meets Barakah) has been submitted for consideration in the 2017 Academy Awards under the ‘best foreign language film’ category.

Barakah Meets Barakah, a light-hearted look at the challenges of romance in the desert kingdom, received positive reviews when it debuted at Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

Screened in the Forum section of the Berlinale, outside the main competition, Mahmoud Sabbagh's (director) debut feature was billed as a romantic comedy, though this is not how he describes it.

"I like to call my film a coming-of-age story rather than romantic comedy," Sabbagh told Reuters in an interview.

"I borrowed from so many genres in my film, because I said we are defining the perception of cinema, we have no precedents before us."

Public film screenings were banned in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s when the powerful religious establishment took a position against cinema.

However, Sabbagh said the availability of video-on-demand in Saudi Arabia made him confident the majority of Saudis will see his work.

"Saudis watch and consume a lot of art so this is our chance to produce art, and my film is about public space, it's about individual freedom," he said.

The film tells the story of Barakah (Hisham Fageeh), a civil servant from Jeddah who has a chance meeting with Bibi (Fatima AlBanawi), the adopted daughter of a rich couple.

Despite their different class backgrounds, the two set about trying to meet up, which is not easy in a country where women's activities are strictly controlled.

Actor Hisham Fageeh, who has a background in comedy, hopes the film gives an insight into Saudi life.

"A city like Jeddah gives a really fresh image on how people should see Saudi Arabia and it's a very honest depiction," he said.

Following the film's screening actress Fatima Al Banawi, who plays Bibi, spoke to some women from Saudi Arabia who were in the audience and was delighted the movie resonated with them.

"If the girls in Saudi feel that they can relate and they could laugh at ... Bibi's experiences and her own struggles, it would be basically the point of the film," she said.

The film is the second ever to be submitted for consideration to the Academy Awards.

“Mahmoud Sabbagh is a representative of a new generation who will soon be a pioneer in the history of filmmaking in Saudi Arabia,” Sultan Al Bazie, head of the Saudi Arabian Society for Culture and Arts and chairman of the nominating committee, told Variety.

“This generation, who submitted more than 70 films in the third Saudi Film Festival organised by SASCA last March, are showing a lot of creativity and determination to express themselves and their culture through cinema,” he added. “We feel proud to nominate ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ as our country’s second entry to the Oscars and we are optimistic that the next years will have more entries from Saudi Arabia.”

With input from Reuters

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