Dubai-based distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment has picked up Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region distribution rights to groundbreaking Saudi drama "Norah," which world premiered in competition at the Red Sea Film Festival.
Directed by pioneering Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi, making his feature film debut, "Norah" is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia, when conservatism was at its height and all forms of art and painting were banned for religion-related reasons.
The film's titular character, played by Saudi newcomer Maria Bahrawi, is an illiterate orphaned young woman who lives in a remote village where she faces an arranged marriage in which she will be trapped and has a need for self expression. She intersects with an artist named Nader, played by Saudi star Yaqoub Alfarhan ("Rashash"), who has given up painting and moved to the village to be a schoolteacher. This chaste encounter unleashes in "Norah" a passion for art and, by extension, for a better life away from the village.
The "Norah" script won the top prize of a funding award launched by the Saudi Film Commission's Daw Film Competition, an initiative launched by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture in September 2019 to support Saudi film production and champion the next generation of filmmakers.
The film is produced by Alzaidi and U.S. producer Paul Miller, the former Doha Film Institute head of finance who shepherded "Scales" – which was Saudi's submission for the Oscars in 2020 – and by Jordanian producer Sharif Majali. They worked with Saudi production companies Black Sugar Pictures and Nebras Films.
"Norah" was the first Saudi film to be shot in AlUla, the sprawling area of Saudi desert and giant boulders that boasts an ancient city.
Prior to the world premiere of "Norah" on Tuesday at Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, global rights to the film were acquired by a new company launched in Riyadh by former Universal Pictures exec Paul Chesney called TwentyOne Entertainment. TwentyOne, which is backed by silent private investors, did the MENA distribution deal for "Norah" with Front Row.
For Front Row, which recently scored big at the Saudi box office with smash hit wrestling comedy "Sattar," "Norah" "marks another step in supporting young Saudi filmmakers and Saudi cinema in general," the company said in a statement.
"As the Saudi market is shaping up, it is essential for us to keep supporting up-and-coming talent," noted Front Row's CEO Gianluca Chakra. "Tawfik is one of those rare passionate talents who has put together a solid team of homegrown Saudi talent to tell a universal story of freedom and self discovery that I'm sure the local audiences and beyond will respond to."
Commented Chesney: "Norah is made for the big screen and, as a new start-up in Saudi Arabia, it is critically important to us to find like-minded cinephile partners who are highly experienced and respected in the MENA region."
"Gianluca, Elie and all the team at Front Row are long established experts in film distribution and we are delighted to be working with them to give ‘Norah' the best possible release in its home region."