by Scott Baldauf
Over the past two months, film crews have descended on the cities of Dhahran, Al Majmaah, and Riyadh, recreating scenes from Saudi Arabia’s history for a film that celebrates Saudi National Day.
The short film, produced by Saudi Aramco, was broadcast on national TV and shared on social media platforms. It tells the 89-year history of the Kingdom through the eyes of a Saudi boy, who travels through the decades carrying a message from the Kingdom’s founder, King ‘Abd Al- ‘Aziz Al Sa’ud, to King Salman ibn ‘Abd Al- ‘Aziz Al Sa’ud.
Anas S. Al-Kadi, a public relations specialist with the Corporate Communications Department (CCD), served as champion of the film project, and together with fellow CCD team members Hatem A. Alfayez and Noor R. Algadheb, the team worked with Media Production and others to hire the film company, storyboard the film, scout locations, coordinate with Saudi government authorities, and to cast and hire Saudi talent.
Young Boy Travels Through Time to tell the Story of Saudi Arabia
The film carries a powerful message about the Kingdom’s proud history, rapid development, and ambitious future, said Al-Kadi. But the story of how the film was made is as fascinating as the film itself.
“The main character is a child who travels through time, from the 1930s until the present days of 2019, so we had a lot of costume changes and we had to make sure that the clothes people wore and the cars they drove was accurate for the time period,” said Al-Kadi. “Even the thobe that the child wore changed seven times from the ‘30s until today.”
Each decade witnessed major changes in Saudi society. In the opening scene, the boy first takes the message from the King, then stumbles upon the first discovery of oil with the Prosperity Well in Dhahran in 1938. By the 1950s, the boy sees how the arrival of oil brought prosperity to Saudi Arabia’s cities, with greater automobile traffic and also the creation of girls schools.
By the 1980s, Saudi Arabia’s growing presence in science is seen with the astronaut, Prince Sultan ibn Salman ibn ‘Abd Al- ’Aziz Al Sa’ud, phoning King Fahd ibn ‘Abd Al-‘Aziz Al Sa’ud from space, and by 2019, the messenger boy finds King Salman at Ithra and gives him the founder’s message.
Careful Planning and Coordination
Every scene required careful planning and coordination between Saudi Aramco, the Hollywood filmmaker Luis Gerard, and with Saudi government authorities. Work days were exhausting, and film crews and Saudi Aramco personnel were often working from 4 a.m. until midnight every day.
“There’s a joke, ‘How many directors does it take to change a light bulb?’” Al-Kadi said. “The answer is, ‘Only one, but he has to do it 99 times.’”
“Everything took incredible preparations,” Al-Kadi added. “Shooting the scenes from the ‘70s and ‘80s was so hard, because we had to find the right location and we had so many extras, and everybody had to be dressed in ‘70s and ‘80s clothes.”
The team spent long hours of preparation, researching and double-checking minute details, everything from the appropriate style of bottle for sodas to the correct color of signboards for a girls school in the 1950s.
“This was a team effort, and we couldn’t have done this project without the collaboration and commitment from a number of individuals and departments across the company,” Al-Kadi said.
That attention to detail has paid off. The film was aired on Saudi television and the Al-Arabiya network on Saudi National Day, Sept. 23. A slightly longer version was shared on social media channels starting Sept. 19.