Cannes selects first Saudi film in festival's 77-year history

Tawfik Alzaidi's first feature is entered in official category that recognises emerging talent

Norah has been selected in the Un Certain Regard section and will compete against 19 entries from around the world. Photo: Film Alula
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Six years after the country announced its intention to build a home-grown industry, a film from Saudi Arabia has been selected to compete in the Cannes Film Festival for the first time.

Norah, Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi's feature debut, has been selected in the Un Certain Regard section and will screen with 19 other entries from around the world. The category, established in 1978, runs in parallel to the festival's long-running Palme d'Or competition and aims to recognise emerging talent and non-traditional narratives.

Saudi Arabia, through its Red Sea Film Foundation, has had a strong relationship with the festival since 2018. Last year, six Saudi-backed films were shown, including the opening film Jeanne Du Barry, starring Johnny Depp. These films, however, were not made by Saudi or Gulf filmmakers.

The Red Sea Film Foundation also supported the production of Norah. The first Saudi project to be filmed entirely in AlUla, it won the Film AlUla Best Saudi Film Award when it was shown for the first time in December at the Red Sea Film Festival.

Set in the 1990s, Norah takes place before the pursuit of art was publicly supported by the kingdom. The story follows a failed artist turned schoolteacher, played by Yaqoub Alfarhan, who helps a young girl, played by Maria Bahrawi, realise her potential in an oppressive rural environment.

Last year, a Jordanian film was selected at Cannes for the first time, though not in an official category. Amjad Al Rasheed's Inshallah A Boy was shown at Cannes Critics’ Week, a non-official sidebar competition.

The 77th annual Cannes Film Festival will take place this year in the southern French city from May 14 to 25. It will host the premières of films from directors including Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather), Yorgos Lanthimos (Poor Things) and Paul Schrader (First Reformed).

Updated: April 13, 2024, 11:23 AM