New Riyadh-based acquisition and distribution company TwentyOne Entertainment has announced its launch at upcoming the Red Sea International Film Festival, which is due to unfold in the port city of in Jeddah from November 30 to December 9.
The fledgeling company has appointed Paul Chesney, who was previously VP International Operations at Universal Pictures Entertainment International in London, as its CEO.
On its first outing the company will be focusing on international sales for writer-director Tawfik Alzaidi first feature’s Norah, which was announced as a contender in the festival’s main competition on Monday.
Described as a “deeply moving story about the power of art to inspire and change minds”, the movie is set in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Rising actor Yaqoub Alfarhan (Rashash) stars as a newly qualified teacher who is posted to a remote village, where he meets Norah, played by newcomer Maria Bahrawi.
Her courage inspires him and awakens his artistic talent and passion, while he enlightens Norah on the wider world outside of the village, making her realise she must leave her world to find a place where her imagination and spirit can be free.
The cast also features veteran Saudi actor Abdullah Alsadhan (Tash ma Tash).
“It is very exciting to be launching at the Red Sea International Film Festival and a great honor to have a groundbreaking film such as Norah to be the first film on our slate,” said Chesney.
“Our goal is to consistently deliver a high-quality cinematic entertainment experience and be an innovative leader in this fast-developing market. We look forward to building strong partnerships throughout the region and around the world.”
Alzaidi belongs to a new wave of filmmakers emerging out of Saudi Arabia following the country’s lifting of its 35-year cinema ban at the end of 2017 as part of its Vision 2030 strategy to open the country up and move its economy away from a reliance on oil.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undergone an incredible growth and transformation in recent years in all fields. The film industry is part of this development and growth, and Saudi Arabia has now become a well-equipped location for filmmaking,” said Alzaidi.
“One of my goals while making Norah was to make a high quality, international standard film and to create a new identity for Saudi film, which will have a great impact on local and international audiences. I am excited to be collaborating with TwentyOne Entertainment to put my treasured first feature film out into the world.”
Aligned with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative, TwentyOne Entertainment will acquire and distribute new, high-quality cinematic Arabic and international content to cinemas and across traditional broadcast and streaming platforms within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The company will also distribute its new Arabic content to other territories around the world.
Alzaidi’s previous credits include the short film The Silence, which won Gulf Short Film Award in Muscat IFF in 2009.
Aside from his role at Universal, Chesney has previously held senior management roles at and Disney, as well as new technology start-ups and new studio developments, overseeing distribution and day-to-day business operations, driving company transformation and building and managing functional teams.