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RIYADH: The award-winning Saudi film “Norah” premiered in the Kingdom on Thursday, following international success at the Cannes Film Festival.

On Wednesday evening, a special screening was held at Roshn Front’s Vox cinema, attended by director Tawfik Al-Zaidi, the film’s star, Maria Bahrawi, and her renowned collaborators Yaqoub Al-Farhan and Abdullah Al-Sadhan.

Al-Farhan told Arab News: “The acceptance at Cannes is a sign of how important this film is, and also an indication of how much progress the film industry has (made) here.

“While this is early days, we are already starting to see the results of the great work that is taking place.

“I am very positive about the future. If this is a start, I think we will see a lot of great films from Saudi Arabia in five or 10 years.”

“Norah” was a huge success at the 78th annual Cannes International Film Festival, where it was an official selection for “Un Sure Regard,” one of the event’s top titles. It also received a Special Mention from the jury, making it the most appreciated Saudi film in Cannes.

The film takes place in a remote Saudi village in the 1990s, where Norah (played by Bahrawi) dreams of seeing horizons beyond her small village. As a new teacher, Nader (played by Al-Farhan) travels to his hometown, and Norah’s world begins to open up through art, knowledge and creativity, leading her to learn more about her own family history.

“The fact that they chose me for this role just two weeks before production started was a surprise to me. But fortunately, my first film role was a success and reached an international audience. I am very proud and happy that today the film will be shown in cinemas and the world will be able to see it, and I can’t wait to see people’s reaction,” Bahrawi told Arab News.

Although it was first shown last December at the Red Sea International Film Festival, where it won the award for “Best Saudi Film,” the nationwide theatrical release marks the culmination of the film’s journey to its target audience: the Saudi audience.

Bahrawi said: “The fact that they chose me for this role just two weeks before filming started was a surprise to me. But fortunately, my first film role was a success and reached an international audience. I’m very proud and happy that it will be shown in theaters today and the world will be able to see it. I can’t wait to see people’s reactions.

“From an early age, I dreamed of being an actress and today I can say that I achieved it and played the main role in my first film… AlUla is a city that made my first dream come true. “

Last Thursday, a competition was presented to the public and all girls named Norah were invited to take part. About 500 girls took part, and the two winners received tickets to a special pre-show event.

“Norah” is the first Saudi feature film shot entirely in AlUla. “The city itself and its locations really complemented the story of the film, so it was a great location choice,” Bahrawi said.

While the film marks both Bahrawi’s big-screen debut and Al-Zaidi’s first feature film, it was also a personal experience for Al-Farhan, who is widely known for his role in the TV miniseries “Rashash.”

“There are so many similarities between me and this character, which is why this is a very personal project for me and is so close to my heart, especially after its success at the Cannes Film Festival,” he said.

In preparation for the role, Al-Farhan spent time with a professional cartoonist to learn the craft needed for the role — even simple things like how to hold a pencil correctly.

He said the initial sketches used in the film were his own work, but the final results were done by a “real artist.”

The production was supported by the Film Commission through Daw, a national initiative to support and encourage Saudi filmmakers. The film also received support from AlUla Film, the Red Sea Film Fund and Generation 2030.

The inspiration to create “Norah” came to Al-Zaidi in 2015 from the need to express something within himself. In the same way that Al-Farhan’s character, Nader, expresses his feelings on sketchbooks and canvases, Al-Zaidi uses the big screen.

He told Arab News: “I am a lover of art in all its forms, whether it is music, drawing or visiting museums. Cinema combines all these arts and presents them beautifully through the film crew.

“I wanted to create these emotions between two people who love art, Nora and Nader. Art is a means of communication between people, as well as a means of expression.”

As the Saudi film scene continues to grow and move closer to the global horizon, Al-Zaidi is confident that the industry can overcome the challenges.

“There will always be challenges, but as they say, ‘success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’… if you believe in yourself, you will get there,” he said.

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