Short animation ‘Saleeg’ heads back to Saudi Arabia after international screenings
JEDDAH: With Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival in full swing, Saudi Arabia’s up-and-coming talents are firmly in the spotlight.
Among the selection of Saudi films screening at the event, which runs until Dec. 9, “Saleeg,” a captivating short animation directed by Afnan Bawyan, stands out. This short masterpiece, running just shy of 10 minutes and produced in 2022, employs diverse puppetry techniques and was created in Amsterdam at 5 A.M. Studios.
“Saleeg” is showing in the “New Saudi, New Cinema: Shorts” category among the other 19 shorts from the Kingdom.
Saudi film director Afnan Bawyan expressed her excitement about screening “Saleeg” in Jeddah, the city that inspired the film’s creation. In an interview with Arab News before the screening, she anticipated a profound connection between the local audience and the narrative, given its roots in Jeddah and the west of Saudi Arabia.
“I am thrilled to participate in the Red Sea International Film Festival as it signifies the inaugural screening of my film in Jeddah, the city that inspired its creation. I am optimistic that the audience in Jeddah and the Saudi western region will perceive the film uniquely and forge a deeper connection with the narrative and characters compared to any other audience as they will be able to relate to it,” Bawyan said.
The film’s title draws inspiration from the traditional Saudi Hijazi dish saleeg, which originates in Taif in the Makkah region. In the film, 60-year-old Hajer is preparing saleeg for dinner with her son. In need of vegetables, she rushes outside when she hears the grocer’s bell, but forgets to cover the pot. Meanwhile in the kitchen, the rice has fallen into the boiling water where it has expanded, overflowed and is soon flooding through the house and out into the yard, carrying Hajer with it.
The film is a family drama with voices in a Saudi dialect of Arabic, subtitled in Urdu, Tigrigna and English, and it made its mark on the international stage with a premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France earlier this year.
“The film has been fortunate to receive significant publicity, especially after its screening at Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France,” the director said.
“Saleeg” was also screened in the Saudi Cultural Exhibition in Paris and at the Film Criticism Conference in Riyadh and took part in more than 15 Saudi, Arab, and international film festivals.
The work discusses various issues in Saudi society, including rapid urbanization and the tension between traditional and contemporary ways of living, particularly how the elderly is affected.
Behind this film stands a director who, despite a background in chemistry, embarked on a self-taught journey into filmmaking, enhanced by attending workshops by the Saudi Film Commission.
Crafting the stop-motion film demanded over 65 days of meticulous work, she said. Bawyan’s expertise as a script supervisor for seven Saudi feature films laid the foundation for her debut as a writer and director with “Saleeg,” which was co-produced with animation writer and producer Mariam Khayat.
Looking ahead, Bawyan is working on a clutch of projects, including a new short-animated film set in her hometown, Makkah.