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Virtual Reality Zone hits center stage at Red Sea International Film Festival

JEDDAH: The Virtual Reality Zone came into its own at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Saturday, showcasing 10 different projects, six of which were directed by women, ranging from video games to stories and art galleries.

Liz Rosenthal, the curator of the zone, said that in terms of telling stories, the VR medium “is in a league of its own.”

She told Arab News: “Virtual reality is many different things. One project is entirely different from another.

“Unlike movies, where you know that it has a beginning, middle, and an end on a flat screen, in VR you may be doing something with one person, two, or 100.”

The curator is seeking to show what is possible within the VR world. The projects were chosen with the Saudi audience in mind.

She added: “We make sure that we have something for everyone, so there are things for younger people, families and people who have different tastes.”
The VR scene in Saudi Arabia is still predominantly a medium for the young.

Rosenthal said:

“Even in countries like the UK, in the European region, (even in) the biggest companies, it is still too young.

“Ithra in Saudi Arabia started a year-and-a-half ago and they have made their projects, so that’s really great to see that Saudi is trying to appear on the map for VR products.”

Rosenthal added that it is important to develop further as the VR world needed people with the knowledge and tools to tell stories and create experiences into the future.

She said: “In some ways it is easier to come into a new medium because there is less of a structure stopping people, compared to something that has been going on for years like the cinema.

“It is difficult to break in, but here people are so much more welcoming.

“Another thing you need to understand is that it is real time; you are interacting with things that are around you.

“You need a lot of skills to create a good experience. Being just one thing is not enough: you need to be a good artist, a good architect, and much more.”
A recent development has been a gaming project called “Eggscape,” a multiplayer game. It allows the player to see through the lens of a VR headset and into their own surroundings. The game then projects characters and the player interacts.

JEDDAH: A panel discussion was held today in Jeddah during the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, titled “Hawjan: From the Novel to the Screen,” to shed light on the journey of transforming the best-selling novel “HWJN” into a movie.

From written words to the screen, the speakers explained the success of the famous fantasy novel and the complexities of transforming it for the big screen.

The book, pronounced Hawjan, was the number one best-selling novel in the history of Saudi Arabia when released in 2013. It is the first book of a series of metaphysical and supernatural novels that depict the results of interacting with the unknown realm of the jinn, which co-exists with the human world.
Written by Ibraheem Abbas and translated into English by Yasser Bahjatt, the action-romance story details the interaction of two worlds and the unity of two different species to stop the evil of their worlds from slipping into each other.

It also sheds light on good jinns and shows the world from their perspective, with humans haunting their homes, and shows how some humans are more evil to each other than jinn are to them.

The idea of adapting the novel has been tickling the ambitious mind of the producer-turned-director Yasir Al-Yasiri after he was gifted the book in 2017 by his friend, Emirati filmmaker Majid Al-Ansari.

At first, Al-Yasiri did not take an interest in the book, until his friend insisted he reads it. “I read it overnight and I was actually like: Woah, this is something I want to work on,” said Al-Yasiri in a press release at The Ritz-Carlton Jeddah on Saturday.

He added that he decided to work on it because it “tackles a genre that is rarely addressed in the Arab world” and to “break the norm and bring something fresh.”

The two men immediately started working on the script and started the casting and filming process in 2018 with Al-Ansari as a director and Al-Yasiri as a producer. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic restricted Al-Ansari from coming to Saudi Arabia, leading Al-Yasiri to become the director, and he proceeded with filming.

The story introduces Sawsan, a medical student from the world of humans, and Hawjan, a curious man from the realm of the jinn, which humankind cannot see. The jinn man takes an interest in knowing Sawsan and her family after they move to a new house, where Hawjan and his family have been living for years.

While trying to maintain the boundaries between his life in both worlds, Hawjan discovers that he comes from a royal bloodline and tries to reclaim his right to the throne.

The script, written by both Al-Ansari and Al-Yasiri, ensures that the story has the necessary changes for the screen, but does not drift away from the book.
One of the biggest challenges the crew faced was creating a city that exists in the jinn world —Milaj City, which no human has seen. Al-Yasiri said they had to bear in mind the civilizational scenery of the jinn world, which existed before humans.

Casting the actors was a bit tricky, trying to find characters in the actors rather than actors who could portray them. This led to the casting of the brilliant Saudi actor Baraa Alem as Hawjan, Nour Khadra as Sawsan, Nayef Al-Dhufary as Zanan, and Al-Anood Saud as Jamara.

As the book became a major hit in 2013, the publishing houses were ordered by the religious police to stop selling it 11 months after its release, as it stirred controversy among parents who started complaining that their children were learning black magic, and how to call upon jinn.

One month later, the book was back on shelves after the editors, and the reviewing committee, made sure it was clear of the claims.

A teaser trailer was released earlier today by Vox Cinema, giving a glimpse into the world created by Al-Yasiri. Produced by Image Nation, MBC, and Vox Cinema, the movie will be out in 2023.

RIYADH: An electronic musical festival billed as one of the largest in the world, and a sign of Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment landscape, has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to a remote desert area outside Riyadh over the past three days.

Rave-goers at the third edition of Soundstorm crowded the stages, dressed in an eclectic mix of local Bedouin attire, Saudi national dress, and streetwear in the form of colorful hoodies and jackets with the addition of glitter make-up.

MDL Beast, the Saudi entertainment company that launched the festival in 2019, is one of the most high-profile examples of the rapid social changes that have swept the Kingdom since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform plan was launched in 2016.

Last year more than 730,000 people attended the festival over the course of four days, and this year organizers expect the number to increase for the three-day festival, which ended on Dec. 3.

Soundstorm shows the power of music to bring people together for moments of shared joy.

“This is about love,” shouted American record producer and rapper DJ Khaled from the Big Beast stage on Friday during his first performance in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

With MDL Beast introducing rap and hip-hop to this year’s line-up, rap legends Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Future, Rick Ross and T.I joined DJ Khaled on stage in “DJ Khaled & Friends.”

The inclusion of hip-hop stars also underlines Soundstorm’s increasing variety of music genres, mixing top Saudi and Arabic performers with international acts — a sign of an increasing desire by global artists to perform in the Kingdom.

“The feedback from the international talent has been incredible, and we’re seeing more and more artists from abroad looking to come out to our festival to perform, which aligns with our mission to provide fans with the best possible experience,” said Talal Al-Bahiti, MDL Beast chief operating officer, and head of talent bookings and events, in a statement.

Headlining global superstars playing for the first time included Bruno Mars, Marshmello and Post Malone. Returning DJs, such as Carl Cox, DJ Snake and David Guetta, lit up the stage, while a strong contingent of female Saudi DJs, such as Biirdperson, DJ Cosmicat, Dorar, Kayan and Solskin joined their peers Dish Dash, Vinylmode and regional star DJ Aseel, making this year’s line-up the most diverse to date.

“We have such strong women Saudi DJs now,” Danah, 27, a Saudi DJ playing in Soundstorm at VIB, told Arab News.

The Saudi music scene, previously underground, has become “a beautiful culture of shared encouragement,” she said.

“One DJ would offer me her equipment; we all shared and encouraged each other,” she said. “It was such a beautiful dynamic where women were empowering women to play music, men were empowering women to play music, and it wasn’t just to fill the gap in the market. We continue to spread this love today.”

“The event represents our great unveiling,” said Ahmad Alammary, chief creative officer at MDL Beast and a DJ who goes by the name Baloo,.
“If Soundstorm had a middle name, it would be upgrade,” he added. “We love to upgrade by the way we design the event. From last year, we have learned more about people’s behavior, their preferences. And there is a lot of growth need that comes with this quick shift and lifestyle.”

This year’s festival experience was enhanced for Premium and VIB — Very Important Beast or VIP — who moved from stage to stage to exclusive view areas via a connected network of elevated walkways akin to several large loops.

Soundstorm’s enhanced structure also included open seating spaces in the form of park-like areas aligned with food and beverage stations, and parking on site for all general admission ticket holders.

The festival, which follows the three-day XP Music Conference in the JAX district of Diriyah, signals Saudi Arabia’s rapidly expanding entertainment sector.
“Heading into our third edition of Soundstorm, we do so now knowing the substantial impact the festival has on helping inspire, amalgamate and grow the Kingdom’s and wider region’s music scene and industry,”  MDL Beast CEO Ramadan Al-Haratani told Arab News.

After the debut Soundstorm in 2019, “the economic and social impact was nothing any of us had expected,” he said.

Soundstorm is fostering the growth of soft power in Saudi Arabia after years of closure. The festival offers young Saudis newfound pride in their country through the creative expression and enjoyment of music on a personal and collective level, he said.

“It gave a platform for so many talents in the region and allowed Saudis to be aware of these unexpected talents.”

According to MDL Beast, 83 percent of Saudi youth believe that Soundstorm increases opportunities for local musicians and creatives in the country, with 86 percent of young Saudis saying that their pride in the creativity and culture in Saudi Arabia has grown because of the first festival.

MDL Beast said that there was a 36.5 percent increase in demand for global artists for 12 months after the first Soundstorm in 2019, according to the IMS Business Report 2021.

According to Al-Haratani, the festival demonstrates how “the ambitious expansion of the music ecosystem can be fundamental to the Kingdom’s social transformation, including connecting Saudi fans with the global artists they love, and the establishment of new venues and record labels and the continued growth of our burgeoning music ecosystem.”

Among the challenges MDL Beast has faced is how to handle unprecedented large crowds of men and women dancing all night long in a country where this was unheard of a few years ago.

After several harassment claims during the first and second editions, MDL Beast launched the “Respect and Reset” anti-harassment campaign, and said it would take action against anyone who is abusive or offensive.

Signs with “Respect & Reset” and “Visit our R&R spaces for help with harassment” were publicized throughout the venues. A designated white tent to help those who had experienced harassment was set up next to a medical tent.

Al-Haratani said that security was increased this year to over 3,800 personnel on site, with an estimated one guard for every 35 guests. Additionally, the festival was monitored by more than 300 CCTV cameras. Free water was available throughout the night in all venues.
Baloo said that the festival set-up included “safe dancing zones.”

“If anyone is feeling insecure or unsafe or just wants to dance alone or in a couple, then we have created zones within the big stages where women and couples can go dancing comfortably,” he told Arab News. “Everyone is welcome to come.”

“In the last three years things have changed from zero to 100 here,” Lana Alsherif, 23, social media coordinator for XP Music Futures, told Arab News.
“It’s so beautiful to see this for the music industry. Everything is happening now. There’s a lot of opportunities and everyone wants to find talent. We want to build connections with everyone from here in Saudi, encourage local talent and bring international artists. We want to become a new benchmark for the music industry.”

RIYADH: The Riyadh International Philosophy Conference brought together philosophers, scholars, historians, politicians, and artists from around the world to help drive research in the field of humanities, the CEO of the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission told Arab News.
Mohammed Hasan Alwan said that the three-day event, which began on Thursday, delivered multifaceted content for all age groups.
He said: “Philosophy has a wide range of freedom to criticize the past and investigate the future, in the short and long term.
“As a result, we may state that the things that are contradictory to realities and possibilities of time are at the center of philosophy’s activity.”
Alwan said the conference was an attempt to figure out new research areas and find new answers in the interests of humanity.
He added: “The conference comes at a time when such cultural activities are needed to fill a vacuum that has always been unoccupied. It is also needed to reinvigorate dialogue.”

The conference has looked at pressing contemporary philosophical issues, and the subject’s role in understanding today’s world.
The event has featured 17 interactive sessions, 12 keynote and public lectures, and 13 workshops, including 11 for children aged 7 to 15.
Participants from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, The National University of the Northeast in Argentina, the Independent National University of Mexico, and the International Federation of Philosophical Societies attended.

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 14,133 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, according to an official report.
From Nov. 24 to 30, a total of 8,148 people were arrested for violations of residency rules, while 3,859 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,126 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 377 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 51 percent were Yemeni, 37 percent Ethiopian, and 12 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 40 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and nine were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be aiding illegal entry to the Kingdom, including transporting and providing shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), or confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.
From Nov. 17 to 23, the Saudi authorities also arrested 9,131 people for violating residency regulations, 2,416 for labor violations and 4,166 for border violations.

RIYADH: As the mercury dropped in Riyadh, thousands of music enthusiasts flocked to MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 on Thursday in Riyadh sporting hoodies and jackets in a variety of colors and designs.

Nana, a 22-year-old, was spotted in the Dance Tent (one of MDLBEAST’s stages) wearing a colorful 70s style jacket with ripped jeans and glitter around her eyes.

“I have been here since it all started in 2019, and every year I am surprised by the changes, and this year we noticed a better organization in the parking area,” Nana, who was visiting the music festival with her friends, told Arab News.

Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.

MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.
• Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.

• MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.
• Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.

Reshma Choudhary, manager of the MDLBEAST store, said that people like to buy souvenirs from the festival so that when they return home, they can treasure a piece of MDLBEAST.

“The MDLBEAST brand is growing now, and it’s really good for us to have personalized merchandise, especially for people here who come here to have fun; it’s good to take it as a souvenir now, and I think it’s a good collaboration with the Saudi artists to do something cool,” Choudhary said.
Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.

Founder Abdullah Marwan said: “I think it’s important to participate in MDLBEAST as it gives exposure because there are thousands of people here, and it fits our niche in terms of consumers … and the Riyadh style has gone hardcore into hoodies in the last couple of years, so this is why we have special edition hoodies in our brand inspired by MDLBEAST.”

Fahad Al-Qahttani, an Emirati citizen who came all the way from Dubai to attend the festival, wore a leather jacket, sunglasses, bandana and 70s-style colored pants.

“I visit Riyadh often because of all the activities that I find here, and I didn’t miss the MDLBEAST last year … and I love what people are wearing tonight,” Al-Qahttani said.

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