On the eve of leaving for the US to study animation film-making at the University of Missouri for a semester, Bushra Al-Andijani’s professor in Saudi Arabia told her she was one of his weakest students and she would not do well in the program.
But Al-Andijani returned as one of the top students of the semester in her American class much to the surprise, and perhaps the chagrin, of her Saudi instructor.
“Since I was a child I had this dream of becoming (a) filmmaker because it is my passion and it is what (I) am good at,” Al-Andijani told Arab News. “Thanks to Effat (University) for providing this department, I am in my hometown studying the major that I like. Of course, if it was not here in Saudi I would travel abroad to study film-making.”
Al-Andijani, 21, is a part of the first graduating class of women to earn a bachelor’s degree in Video and Digital Production (VDP) at Effat University this spring. The graduating class is also the first in Saudi Arabia to earn a degree in film-making. And for now a film-making/video/animation degree is only available to women in Saudi Arabia.
It is a remarkable achievement when just a decade ago aspiring Saudi directors had to perform guerrilla film-making to avoid getting caught making movies on public streets or had to leave the country to shoot films in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Al-Andijani’s graduating class represents the Saudi government’s efforts to broaden job opportunities for women. The move also provides more entertainment options for the public in an effort to stimulate the economy through the Vision 2030 program implemented by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
When Al-Andijani joined the VDP program at Effat University in 2012, she and her fellow students struggled to make videos, dealing with passersby that objected to public film-making. At one point members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) questioned them as they were filming a scene, but ultimately let them go with a warning.
“We were insulted by people,” she said. “Many of them threw bad words at me and my friend while shooting.”
She said film students cannot shoot without getting an approval from property owners and with a specific time and date.
Mohammad Ghazalah, department chair of VDP, said the students of the graduating class are highly qualified to operate the equipment.
“That is why most of (the) production companies have already asked to hire them,” Ghazalah said, noting that Saudi production companies need more talented and trained video-production teams to handle the complex work.
Effat’s program and the work of experienced independent Saudi filmmakers inside the Kingdom, in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and even in Hollywood defy the stereotype that Saudis have no passion for movies or animation.
“Despite the absence of cinema as studies there is a large number of people who watch YouTube channels,” Ghazalah said. “They use it as their visual media tool to (critique) their culture and to view who they are. So a dark room and popcorn is not a big deal anymore.”
In contrast, Dubai is the closest major video-production center and the largest production base in the Middle East. Saudi movie directors, writers and producers now have a chance to showcase their works on the big screen.
Yet Gazalah pointed out that it does not take formal film studies in Saudi Arabia for Saudis to produce motion pictures.
“Although this major (in video production) is not available to men here in Saudi Arabia, this will not stop whoever has the passion for film-making to study it abroad,” he said. “Similarly, film producers are not limited to produce their films in Saudi Arabia. The movies “Bilal” and “Barakah Meets Barakah” achieved great success and made a profit.”
Al-Andijani is focusing on stop-motion animation and computer-generated imagery (CGI), a process used for generating animated images, such as applied in many movies ranging from “Cars” to “Titanic.” She applied the same concept she learned at the University of Missouri to her own film, “Tita.P.”
She participated in three annual film-making festivals: Zumeff Film festival in Abu Dhabi in 2015, the 2016 Youth Film Festival in Jeddah and the Saudi Film Festival. She won the Encouragement Award at the Chitrakatha International Festival in India for animation in 2015 as well as an honor certificate at the Saudi Film Festival earlier this year.
To begin her fledgling career as a filmmaker, Al-Andijani first had to clear some hurdles. She registered at the university as an architecture major, but quickly decided to change to film production. Her parents opposed the move, but she was determined to become a filmmaker.
“When my parents first attended the show and saw how excited I was about my movie they were happy for me and they started to support me,” she said. ‘When I immersed myself in the environment of working, which requires midnight shooting, they were really worried and against the procedure to a certain point. Gradually they started to let go and set me free. I was allowed to travel alone and face the world. My parents do not get the idea but they believe in me and show that they care.”
She already has her career goals set. “I would like to have my career outside the country, as I want to gain some experience and then come back to have my own studio,” she said.
But in addition to her parents’ trepidation about her career choice, she also had to deal with a video-production department that was in its infancy.
“When we first came here to the department (at Effat) it was all empty with no equipment,” she said. “Everything was about theories. After one year all the equipment arrived.”
The department has a virtual-reality laboratory that involves modeling and animation of three-dimensional (3-D) inhabited virtual worlds. Moreover, the lab was provided with all the equipment needed, such as Microsoft HoloLens, the first fully untethered, holographic computer that enables users to interact with high definition holograms in their world.
The department’s animation-computing lab features high-end Macs, running industry-standard applications for 3-D and 2-D animation and DVD and video production.
The interactive lab provides multi-touch technology. The editing lab allows students to edit their videos and provide commentary on scenarios.
Sehaam Ismael, assistant professor in the VDP Department said: “Students here are so creative and passionate of what they are doing. They spend the whole day working on their projects and creating their own characters until 10 p.m. If they have an idea they will not settle until they make it real.”
Al-Andijani said she is focused and has no intention of letting go of her dreams.
“Although life is full of hard times, I do not leave a space for desperation,” she said. “Instead, I do not take no for an answer, I always seek for perfection. Whenever I am working on something I always want my work to be the best.”
Source: Arab News