FIPRESCI at Film Criticism Conference in Saudi Arabia

The 1st Film Criticism Conference was held in Riyadh on November 7-14. The FIPRESCI delegates from around the globe arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet colleagues and share their knowledge and experience as well as celebrate the profession of film criticism.

The first-ever film criticism conference held in Saudi Arabia was titled “Beyond the Frame”, referring to the quote of the iconic director Andrey Tarkovsky: “What you see in the frame is not limited to the visual depiction, but is a pointer to something stretching out beyond the frame and to infinity; a pointer to life”.

Within a very intense week, the guests of the conference were introduced to a variety of events of different formats, all focused on the diverse aspects of the theory and practice of film criticism and moving images in the definition that went beyond the film as the principal art form. From film and video to new media, artificial intelligence/augmented reality/virtual reality, podcasting, and video games, the speakers of the conference presented their works, research, and projects to the international community, unfolding both classical and modern gazes on the seventh art.

Hosted by a Cultural Palace in the Diplomatic Quarter of Riyadh, the conference had a tight schedule and quite several locations, among them the Auditorium, Critics’ Stage, and Workshop Room being the main ones. Somehow the exotic setting was contributing to the atmosphere. Sitting on the cushions in the outside space in the company of the Saudi film professionals dressed up in traditional clothes, with palm trees in the background, and listening to the Chinese speaker presenting the modern TikTok trends with the adhan chanting filling up the air – isn’t that the most peculiar and at the same time the most natural zeitgeist we are living and working in? Many of us shared the same unrealistic feeling while attending the talk on the Barbie movie, or visiting the amusement quarter of Riyadh at night, beholding the Halloween-themed decorations, and heeding to the deafening sounds of screams coming out of loudspeakers.

While for many FIPRESCI members, this visit was the first tentative dive into the new cultural environment, others took an active part in the conference as speakers or moderators. The FIPRESCI president Ahmed Shawky moderated the opening conversation with prominent Egyptian filmmaker Yousry Nasrallah, who used to be a film critic in the 70s and 80s before he started making films. “Between film criticism and filmmaking” was the title of the rich convo that tackled history, sociology, politics, and of course the culture of film criticism/making.

Some of the film critics took part in the workshop on podcasting on Arabic cinema, putting themselves in the students’ shoes and testing their professional skills in the informal educational environment.

The organization of the conference was possible thanks to the initiative of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and the Film Commission. The commission is a very active entity that works continuously to establish and flourish the cinema sector in the kingdom. Saudi Film Commission and FIPRESCI discussed the possibility of future collaborations that will aim to support film criticism both in Saudi Arabia and around the world.

Elena Rubashevska, Ahmed Shawky