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Saudi Arabian Film Industry “A matter of time” says Alumnus Hashem Ainousa

There are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia. They were closed in the 1980s. But Hashem Ainousa, who completed his master’s degree at Academy of Art University last semester, is working on establishing a television and film industry there, one project at a time.

Ainousa planned to finish his degree last summer, but a call from Mohammed Makki, the director of a popular YouTube series brought him back to Jeddah, his hometown. Makki was getting ready to film the second season of Takki, a groundbreaking web series that depicts the lives of young Saudis, and he wanted Ainousa as his director of photography.

Three years ago, Ainousa didn’t know a thing about filmmaking. He studied business at the King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, not because he had a proclivity for business, but because that’s where the job market was.

“I failed a couple courses but I also excelled at a couple more,” he admitted. “Little by little, I started to discover myself. I was introduced to photography and fell in love with it. It was a hobby that I directed all my energy to.”

After graduating, he got a job at an airport, but not feeling satisfied, he left for the States to learn English. Finally, in the fall of 2012, Ainousa started an M.F.A. program in the School of Motion Pictures and Television at the Academy and quickly became versed in the language of filmmaking.

While at the Academy, Ainousa put together a demo reel showcasing his talents as a cinematographer. After posting it on Facebook, he got the call from Makki. The two filmmakers had a mutual friend, and one summer Ainousa had sat in on a filming session of Takki season one.

With half a million subscribers, the show is popular among a generation of Saudis who grew up without a film and television culture reflective of their own lives. And because of the country’s limited access to mass media, the Internet has become an outlet for aspiring filmmakers. Ainousa shared that his attraction to filmmaking was a direct result of growing up in an environment where media was so limited. “If you’ve got media with poor quality, where most of the TV shows and films are imported foreign productions, you feel that you have lost your identity in this visual era,” he explained.

Ainousa is confident that Saudi Arabia will become open to a film industry, and he plans to be one of the pioneers. He’d like to start a production house that will eventually become a major studio for the production and distribution of feature films and series in Saudi Arabia. He’d also like to establish a filmmaking institute.

In the meantime, Ainousa plans to spend another year in the States. He’s working on a short film called Welcome Home, about an aspiring filmmaker who turns down a job at a major movie studio to follow his dream of establishing a film industry back home. In the end, the main character realizes that though his path shifted, two constants remained—the desire for change and enlightenment.

When asked whether it will be a major challenge to go back to Saudi Arabia next year and begin establishing his own production house, Ainousa replied with confidence, “Not at all, it’s a matter of time.”