Rising Saudi star Yaqoub Alfarhan, who stars in the hit MBC TV series “Rashash,” is attached to star in “nora” a revolutionary drama written and directed by Tawfik Alzaidi who is currently filming AlUla the sprawling area of Saudi desert and giant rocks that houses an ancient city.
Set in 1990s Saudi Arabia, when conservatism was at its height and all forms of art and painting were banned for religious reasons, “Norah” sees Alfarhan (pictured) plays an artist named Nader who gave up painting and moved to a remote village to become a schoolteacher. There he meets the titular of the film “Norah”, an illiterate young orphan woman who faces an arranged marriage in which she will be trapped and needs to speak out. She records her thoughts and memories in an old tape recorder. This encounter unleashes the protagonist’s passion for art and, by extension, for a better life away from the village.
“This film really shows how Saudis lived their lives at a time not too long ago when artists were systematically stigmatized here,” said Alfarhan (pictured above) speaking on the ‘Norah’ set.
Alfarhan – who recently became a Saudi star playing the titular Saudi drug trafficker convicted of murder and other crimes after being nabbed by the police in the late 1980s in the game-changing big-budget skein “Rashash,” points out that he and “Norah” director Alzaidi were both born in the 1980s and “are all both the first generation of artists in our families.
“Since I was very young, I had a passion for creativity and art and I always tried to find out why it was forbidden in my society,” said Alzaidi, who is now making his film debut after having been part of the first wave of new Saudi directors to start making short films, since the country’s cinema ban was lifted in 2017.
“As I was thinking and looking for ideas for my first feature film, I came across some of the stories of artists who were deleted in the 80s and 90s. Their stories resonated with me and I felt that we were exactly the same situation. We were artists trying to create something in a society devoid of art,” he added.
The script for “Norah” won first prize in a funding prize launched by the Saudi Film Commission’s Daw Film Competition, an initiative launched by the Saudi Ministry of Culture in September 2019 to support Saudi film production and championing the next generation of filmmakers.
Saudi television and theater actor Abdullah Alsadhan (“Tash ma Tash”, “No Filter”) plays Abu Salem, the village chief who “must mediate this situation,” he said. Although there have been previous attempts to make truly meaningful Saudi films, “this is the first script I’ve read that really feels like a real movie that you can believe in,” added the veteran.
Newcomer Maria Bahrawiu who plays ‘Norah’ (pictured below) said what’s special about her character gradually empowering herself through art is “that she is ambitious: she wants to realize her dreams; she is strong and she knows what she wants.
“Norah” is produced by a British producer Paul Miller, the former Doha Film Institute finance chief who helmed “Scales” – which was Saudi Arabia’s 2020 Oscar bid – and Jordanian producer Sharif Majali. They work with Saudi production companies Black Sugar Pictures and Nebras Films.
“Norah”, which is the first Saudi film to be shot in AlUla, is supported by the Film AlUla film commission which helps with logistics, crew, locations, casting and local expertise. The casting process to find local talent in AlUla for the film was also key to maintaining the authenticity of the story.
AlUla Film Commissioner Stephen Strachan pointed out that ‘Norah’ is the first feature film to use a new cinema complex that was recently set up with living quarters, offices and now a pool for the crew. filming.
The Saudi-funded Hollywood blockbuster “‘Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh and starring Gerard Butler, which wrapped in January, was filmed in AlUla and also in Jeddah.
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