The Scapegoat, a twisted comedy-drama about a remote Saudi village, has won $100,000 for a Saudi film in development at the Red Sea Souk Awards, plus a minimum guarantee of $50,000 from Cinewaves Films, for distribution rights. in the Arab world. .
Organized as a $1.5 million Saudi-Dutch co-production, the project will be directed by Feras Al-Mishri and produced by Razan Al-Saghir, both set in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, and written by Bahraini director Taqwa Ali. I participated in the Red Sea Lodge Residency Program for a period of 10 months.
The central character, Dunya, is taken from her village by her uncle when she was a child, because she is accused of being a witch, after the death of the community’s goat. She returns 15 years later to find the village divided into two zones, blue and white, with the locals hiding from each other.
Driven by a rebellious spirit, Dounia’s main mission is to reunite the village. She makes friends with the local children and they devise a plan to bring the villagers together, by creating the impression that she is truly a witch and then revealing that she is an illusion.
Speaking to Variety, the producer and director team explained that they were drawn to the project as a metaphor that shows how the Arab region can often be divided by different worldviews, easily leading to a parochial view of reality.
“Dunya is a very intuitive person and she knows that children are different,” says Al Sagheer. “She has to unite her village because she doesn’t want to be alone anymore.”
The project manager, Al-Mishri, is a film programmer at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) and project manager at the Saudi Film Festival.
He cut his teeth in the film world from 2010 onwards as a self-taught filmmaker, while filmmaking was officially banned, and has written and directed 13 experimental short films, many of which have been uploaded to YouTube.
His first short breakout was “No Escape” in 2019, which was screened in many international film festivals and exhibition venues.
He’s also now developing a TV series, “Crow’s Nest,” about two lonely love gurus who forge their marriage to host a reality TV show, and he took up a MEMI (Middle East Media Initiative) residency at USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2022 where he spent a six-week residency. .
In January, the filming of the short film “The Dead Man’s Court” will start, funded by the Red Sea Film Fund.
Al Sagheer is one of the new generation of Saudi filmmakers who have honed their skills through residency programs created in partnership between Saudi Arabia and leading European film schools. In 2018, she studied filmmaking at La Fémis in Paris, as part of the Saudi Summer Film School, funded by the first-ever scholarship for 12 Saudi directors, awarded by the Saudi Film Authority. Then, she studied at the National Film and Television School in the United Kingdom, with a scholarship from Ethphra.
She is currently working as a film producer and director between Amsterdam and Saudi Arabia, and has shot many short films in Amsterdam, where she also works as an independent producer.
Her short films have been shown at international film festivals, such as the Lift-Off Filmmaker Sessions at Pinewood Studios and the Red Sea Film Festival. She is currently developing her first animated feature, Before You Leave, in collaboration with animation director, Hala Al-Haid, for which she received a development grant from the Red Sea Film Fund.
She produced one of the 11 “New Saudi Voices” short films on Netflix – “The Day I Lost Myself” by Rami Al Zayer, and was creative producer of Khaled Fahd’s short film “The Little Bird”, which won Best Short Film at the Saudi Film Festival. in 2021.
By securing US$150,000 to fund The Scapegoat in the Red Sea market, the filmmakers now aim to continue the script development process and complete the financing. They aim to raise 80% of the budget domestically in Saudi Arabia and another 20% through co-production with Europe.
Al-Mishri believes that the time has come to create new cinematic visions in Saudi Arabia.
“The crazy thing is that five years ago there was no cinema culture here. It’s almost surreal, as if cinema had just been born, as if we had just emerged from our cocoons. We seem to have so many stories to tell.”
Al-Saghir adds that this is related to the country’s skewed demographic, given that nearly 70% of the population is under the age of 30. “It is normal for the younger generation to clash with the established system. Especially nowadays. This is what our movie is about. With the change of winds cause tensions. This is the time for our stories.”