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Coming to a movie theatre near you … AlUla

JEDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA - DECEMBER 02: Greg Silverman, Charlene Deleon-Jones and Jessika Borsiczky pose in the portrait studio during the Red Sea International Film Festival 2023 on December 02, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for The Red Sea International Film Festival) Getty
Charlene Deleon-Jones, centre, with producers Greg Silverman and Jessika Borsiczky, says AlUla has appeal for filmmakers of all genres
  • Saudi mini-city becomes filming location
  • International travel options increase appeal
  • Film AlUla works with local community

It would make the perfect setting for Star Wars or Indiana Jones, but AlUla is developing production facilities that will expand its reach beyond sci-fi and desert adventure movies, making it one of the region’s prime locations for international shoots. 

The tourist location in northwest Saudi Arabia is fast developing into a mini-city with an internationally connected airport that can cater to a wide range of year-round filming needs, says Charlene Deleon-Jones, executive director of Film AlUla. 

“The really unique aspect of the AlUla landscape is the sandstone rock formations that are pretty awe-inspiring, which lends itself to sci-fi because people feel like they are not actually on Planet Earth when they’re there,” Deleon-Jones said on the sidelines of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. 

“We have a US TV series filming in AlUla right now. Initially they wanted to use some of our interiors, but after they did their scouting they ended up changing their script to incorporate our locations,” she said. 

Ten Hollywood movies will be shot in AlUla over four years under a $350 million deal with Stampede Ventures, founded by veteran producer Greg Silverman, whose credits include the Harry Potter, Batman, Magic Mike, Hangover and Matrix franchises. Two of them, Fourth Wall and Chasing Red, will begin filming soon using a full-time team based on site. 

“They are all feature films from different genres but what they largely share is the use of studio sets, not just mountains and desert,” Deleon-Jones said. 

Film AlUla is a key part of a government strategy to develop a local cinema industry in line with social and economic reforms launched in 2016 to diversify away from oil, attract foreign investment and tourism, and provide jobs for Saudi Arabia’s growing population. 

A film commission is also providing Saudis with training in directing, scriptwriting and acting. The industry had traditionally used Kuwaiti and Bahraini actors to avoid provoking the religious establishment, whose influence has been reduced in recent years. 

The government is creating a number of film hubs. Shoots have also begun in Neom, a region to the further northwest bordering Jordan, where a $500 billion complex of futuristic cities and resorts is being developed. Riyadh is already home to MBC Group, a leading producer of pan-Arab television drama. 

“So you have, I hope, this fantastic situation where there are a number of filming hubs in Saudi Arabia which means you can share equipment, share people, share resources,” Deleon-Jones said. She said this synergy was region-wide through collaborations with entities and experts in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. 

In the past, Hollywood productions have found it easiest to work in Morocco and Tunisia, but AlUla’s expansion as a luxury tourist destination focusing on wellness, adventure and heritage is enabling it to take on this role. AlUla airport now has flights to London, Paris and Cairo among other places. 

Film AlUla also has a mandate to work closely with the local community and create jobs. “The nice thing is that the growth isn’t being done at the expense of local people or culture,” Deleon-Jones said.

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