Q&A: Carla DiBello on Maskoon, the Red Sea Film Festival and Saudi Arabia’s plans for cinema

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Arab News

How is this movie starring an American in Saudi Arabia different from any other type of movie that typically takes place with a Western protagonist in an Arab or Middle Eastern country?

Carla DiBello

How is it different? First of all, Paris Verra is an aspiring actress. She has lived in LA for many years and has lived in Saudi Arabia for two years. And how it’s different, I would just say it’s fairer to show people relativity. We have our first Saudi female director, Lina Malaika, who we’ve been accompanying for a few years, in collaboration with David Darg, who is an Oscar nominated director and Emmy winner. And this is a project that we have been talking about for a while. We always wanted to do something in Al-Balad (in Saudi Arabia) because nothing was really filmed there.

Arab News

How about the location that gives it its unique filmability?

Carla DiBello

I think the story behind it is so special. You know, being in this historic district, which is also the same place where the very first Red Sea Film Festival is held. And it’s just something so magnetic in the area. So just being able to show that to the world. It’s a bit old and new in Jeddah to see what the contrast is. I mean, you have Formula 1, where people really got to experience the ledge, the beach, and the water. But you also have this contrast of Al-Balad with so much history.

Arab News

What can you tell me about working with the Saudi director and working with the Saudi assistant directors, say, or the team on the ground?

Carla DiBello

So I mean, it’s something we’ve been really passionate about for probably four and a half years. So we found the very first documentary on Formula E and Diriyah. And our structure has really, you know, selected young Saudi filmmakers and young Saudi creators to join our team, which is made up of experienced producers and directors, and we really need them and they need us. So, it’s always been a very productive collaboration. Lina, in particular, we’ve been working with her for three and a half years, just to teach her the trade, and she works closely with our manager. So for her, being able to give her the option to let this take its course, has been just plain exciting to watch, as she now has the tools and the experience of our Western team in the United States. So I think that’s just, you know, the start of a new era in the way foreign productions work with Saudi productions, teams.

Arab News

Why choose a thriller at the start rather than a different genre?

Carla DiBello

You know, I think a lot of the stuff we’ve done in the Kingdom has been very, you know, documentary style. We’ve worked a lot with all the different ministries, from the sports ministry to the culture ministry, and we really wanted to, you know, something diverse where we can show a different side of Saudi Arabia and these really rich stories that exist that perhaps the outside world does not know. So we’re launching a platform at the end of the month called Arabia +, which will be stories from the Middle East told in English to a global audience. And I feel like with Vision 2030 and all that is in development, and how closed the Kingdom has been for so long, this really is a great opportunity to use this platform to present rich stories that people don’t really know exist, such as Maskoon playing on the beliefs of the jinn. There are so many books around and about it, but people in my world or from the UK or the US wouldn’t really know these stories existed. So they’re shooting a lot of productions now in Saudi Arabia, which is great. But I think we’re at a point now where we really want to develop local stories and work with local talent to really show that we have our own stories. I’ve been here for so long, and been coming to the Kingdom since 2013, and I’ve lived, obviously, in Dubai for eight years and a lot of times we put out these huge Hollywood, big … low budget productions, but it doesn’t there really is no story on the actual location.

Arab News

Where would you find these stories? Are these people who wrote screenplays or short stories that you can adopt?

Carla DiBello

Which we did, which might not be the usual way to go where a normal production company would actually go looking for different scripts. And, you know, I think it’s just because we worked so well with young local filmmakers and heard them, how they grew up, certain beliefs that took place in different areas. I mean, we were filming in Abha, Khamis Mushait, Rijal Almaa, all those remote places that even the Saudis never visited. So I think in every place we’ve been, whether it’s with a tour guide, or a young kid who lives there, or a young filmmaker that we work with, or someone on our team, that we really learn these firsthand stories that are genuinely genuine, and we just help them develop them.

Arab News

What can you tell me about the vibe of the very first Red Sea Film Festival?

Carla DiBello

Well, the atmosphere was, I mean, it was definitely history on the move. I think Saudi Arabia as a country should be very proud. I don’t think I’ve personally ever visited – and I’ve been to a lot of film festivals – and it really reminded me of the Cannes Film Festival like in 2008. You know, where everything was so glamorous, and that old Hollywood feeling. , which I think some festivals have changed a bit, but I think they really did a good job of attracting the right people, showcasing their work and just the region alone was a historic moment. Even down to the red carpet and see all the – before you go into Al-Balad, see all the old shops, where some of these workers – because we actually walked in and talked to them before, we’ve been here for 20 years. , 30, 40 years old. And for them, to be able to see limousines and black cars and women in dresses and red carpets and flashes that are probably like no one could have imagined.

Arab News

What can you tell me about the sequel after Maskoon?

Carla DiBello

So we have a few things under development. We are starting a TV series with the Ministry of Culture called “Seven Wonders of Saudi” which we have already shot a trailer. And it’s kind of, you know, a very similar television series to Anthony Bourdain, where we kind of went to all these different places, like AlUla, Abha, Rijal Almaa, Al-Souda, and just in speaking to locals. There we went diving on Farasan Island, we met a woman who has never left Farasan and Jizan Island and we cooked for us in her garden. So we’re really trying to find some really authentic and rich stories to tell that haven’t been told before. And in March, we plan to shoot Formula 1 again, which takes place here. And we’re really focusing on Arabia +, and allowing Arabia + to be a home for Middle Eastern filmmakers to present their work to a global audience, as well as create our own original content of Middle Eastern stories told in English.

Arab News

Where and when can everyone watch the film?

Carla DiBello

We’ll be launching it exclusively after the premiere on Arabia +, so we’ll be launching Arabia + alongside it, and someone can go and watch it there. It is a free streaming platform. So we’ll have it there. And we have about three screenings, I believe at Vox Cinemas.

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