Khaled Zidan _ a promising filmmaker in the thriving Saudi Arabian cinema scene
by Alex Babboni
Khaled Zidan emerges as a noteworthy figure in the burgeoning Saudi Arabian film scene, representing the new wave of filmmakers.
In 2022, Zidan’s film, “The Child in His Own Close”, secured an award at the Bright Frame Awards within the Red Sea 48Hr Film Challenge. This challenge supports emerging filmmakers aged 18-25, challenging them to conceive, film, and produce a project in just two days.
One of Zidan’s remarkable works is “Othman” . This short film serves as a metaphor for the dynamic transformations disclosing in both cinema and society within recent years in Saudi Arabia. The narrative unfolds over three days, focusing on Othman, a security guard stationed at a hospital parking lot gate, and his roommate Fahad. Unlike Othman, Fahad meditates about his existence and aim for changes regarding his societal value, what introduces a disruptive element to Othman’s repetitive routine.
The film can be interpreted as a parable about power, employing semiotic elements for nuanced readings. The hospital parking lot gate can be described as a symbol of authority or power, exemplifying the control exerted by the character over those who need to access the hospital parking lot. Moreover, there is a TV documentary about lions that offers subtle insights into how power can be manifested and integrated into the lives of the two characters. On another level, it might be seen as an allegory for Saudi Arabia itself.
Zidan skillfully introduces other power-related nuances, such as the symbolic use of money in transactions and its implications, as well as the act of assisting those in need, exemplified through a woman in a wheelchair seeking alms. Implicitly, Fahad’s TV interview highlights the challenges of poorly paid work and the absence of prospects for social advancement. This pivotal moment propels Othman towards acceptance of his reality and a desire for change, revealing aspects previously obscured by routine.
Balancing reflection and entertainment, “Othman” explores power both denotatively, through money, the parking gate, and other physical elements displayed on the plot. Also, connotatively, where the power of change symbolises transcendence. The characters envision new paths with future perspectives and possibilities, contrasting with the stagnation of routine mechanics.
“Othman” stands out as an authorial work, delivering a clear, humorous, and thought-provoking message about Saudi Arabia through its script, art and actors’ direction. Zidan, with his firm hand and great sensitivity, emerges as a highly promising filmmaker.
Further details about the filmmaker can be found below in an interview conducted during the 2023 Red Sea International Film Festival.
[Alex Babboni] Can you share your journey and insights on how you decided to pursue a career as a filmmaker?
[Khaled Zidan] Actually, since I was a child, I was in love with the idea of being able to do magic, so when I was 15 years old, I started learning filmmaking skills starting from cinematography, editing, colouring, just for fun. It became a real passion and I decided to learn filmmaking through making and watching films. I loved the magic of cinema; I decided to start my journey as a filmmaker by learning filmmaking, in a real independent way, because I think learning filmmaking just through books, workshops or film schools is not enough for the real filmmaker who is trying to tell real stories. You have to make films to learn about films, so this is how it started, and now after 7 years, it’s my real profession, film Director.
[Babboni] As a promising new talent in the film industry, what elements do you believe you can introduce that will set your voice/style apart and distinguish your work from other filmmakers?
[Zidan] Every artist, every filmmaker has a different voice, but we know that some filmmakers don’t have a really unique voice in their films. I think you can be a unique filmmaker, and you can tell different stories, with a special voice/style by trying to apply a different style each time you make a film. Trying to explore yourself, then automatically you will build your own voice that is affected by inspiring and legend directors, and by your own artistic background. As a Saudi filmmaker, I think there is a huge diversity in this country, great different cultures, so I think each local filmmaker will find his own unique style and voice through the local stories that we have here in Saudi Arabia. More local is more global and much more special.
[Babboni] To what extent has the Red Sea International Film Festival contributed to your growth and development as a filmmaker?
[Zidan] The Red Sea International Film Festival is a great opportunity for local and international young filmmakers. Actually, it’s a great opportunity to network, and being inspired by other foreign cultures, and to share your story/film and seeing it from a different and new perspective.
[Babboni] Could you please share with us the films that you personally consider to be your favourites, and some of the film directors you admire?
[Zidan] There is no specific one favourite film, but I really like the directing style of Martin Scorsese, I love his personal way in directing cast, and his way to build a unique voice for his characters. I love his film “Casino”, “Taxi Driver”, and “Shutter Island”, and from the Arab world, I like the film “Capernaum” directed by Nadine Labaki. I really loved her realistic way of telling the story.
[Babboni] As a young filmmaker, how do you see Saudi Arabia’s cinema growing in the future beyond just entertainment, and become an important part of culture and art, representing your country in a special and one-of-a-kind manner?
[Zidan] As a new generation and young Saudi filmmaker, I’m really lucky because today we live in the golden age of cinema here. There is a huge support/ investment available for the local and foreign talents in Saudi Arabia, from the government and the private sectors, and I’m sure you can see that. Today, Saudi Arabia is in a wonderful period of change at all levels, cinema and the arts are the perfect magical way to change, develop and communicate with the world.