Cannes: Saudi, Abu Dhabi Firms Teaming for Four Films

Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Film Festival
Fahad Albutairi

The news arrived during Saudi Arabia's historic first visit to the festival, where it has unveiled a major incentives package aimed at attracting foreign productions, alongside a grant and education program for Saudi filmmakers.

O3 Productions, the drama and film production arm of pan-Arab Saudi broadcast giant MBC Group, has announced a partnership with UAE production house Image Nation Abu Dhabi to co-finance and co-produce a slate of four Saudi films.

The news lands during Saudi Arabia’s historic first-ever visit to the Cannes Film Festival, where it unveiled a major incentives package aimed at attracting foreign productions, alongside a grant and education program for Saudi filmmakers.

Within the new slate is comedy Love Above the Law, being written by Saudi YouTube star, comedian and actor Fahad Al-Butairi (From A to B). The film will tell the story of a middle-class Saudi man marrying a girl from the kingdom’s rural community and the two discovering that they actually have a lot in common.

Details of the other features haven’t been revealed, but they are expected to film in Saudi Arabia and utilize local talent in front of and behind the camera. Development has begun on all projects, with production set to commence in 2019.

The deal follows on from another partnership between MBC and Image Nation announced last year. Under this arrangement, the two entities are currently in advanced development of a feature film adaptatjon of Saudi pop culture smash HWJN, about a devout, god-fearing jinni who forges a special bond with a talented Saudi female medical student.

Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari, whose 2015 thriller Zinzana became Netflix’s first major Arab-language acquisition, is set to direct HWJN, which will commence shooting in autumn of this year. An extensive casting search in Saudi Arabia is underway for the lead roles.

A spinoff TV series, The Delusionists, set to offer a unique take on modern Saudi and Arab society, also will go into back-to-back production with the film.

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 13 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.