‘This is the first step’: Blacksand Pictures seeking to foster collaboration between Australian and Saudi film industries

Blacksand Pictiures CEO Kauthar Abdulalim.

As international collaboration becomes increasingly common in film and television production amid upward pressure on budgets, the future may lie outside long-established markets such as Europe and North America in burgeoning industries across MENA, according to Blacksand Pictures CEO and executive producer Kauthar Abdulalim.

The production company, known for the comedy-drama Salma’s Season, is partnering with the Saudi Film Commission for Saudi Film Nights, two separate screenings in Sydney and Melbourne at the end of this month showcasing four titles from the region – Abu Bakr Shawky’s Hajjan, Sara Balghonaim’s short film Me & Aydarous, Abdulelah Alqurashi’s comedy-drama Alhamour H.A. and Afnan Bawyan’s animated stop motion short Saleeg.

The collaboration comes after Abdulalim and Blacksand commercial affairs manager John Gregory travelled to Saudi Arabia last year for the Red Sea International Film Festival, before making their way to Kenya earlier this year, with plans to establish an office in Nairobi. It’s a goal made possible through Screen Australia’s enterprise program, which granted Blacksand Pictures funding in August last year.

Abdulalim hoped next week’s showcase would act as a “first step” of future Saudi-Australian film collaboration that would open distribution pathways between the two countries and potentially lead to a co-production agreement in the long term.

“Firstly, [Saudi Film Nights] an opportunity to see another culture and see stories from a community and a region that hasn’t been able to tell their own stories for a very long time,” she said.

“Secondly, it’s also to show there are opportunities beyond Europe and North America in regions that are fast growing around the world. We should be keeping an eye on those and building connections there because that’s where the future is.”


Having been established in 2020, the Saudi Film Commission is younger than Blacksand Pictures, which was set up a year prior.

It followed the lifting of a 35-year cinema ban as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan, launched in April 2016, which identifies promoting culture and entertainment as one of its commitments.

According to government data published in Fast Company Middle East, the Saudi film industry has grown to generate nearly US$1 billion in the six years since the first cinemas were opened in 2018, with more than 600 screens spanning 22 cities.

There have also been some key contributors from Australia, with former Twentieth Century Fox CEO Wayne Borg serving as managing director of burgeoning production and creative hub Neom Media Industries since 2019.

Gregory said while the Saudi film industry had relationships with the US and UK, its members also liked Australians.

“I think they find Australians good to work with,” he said.

“They’ve got a strong connection with Australia and Blacksand is one of the first companies to lean into that connection and start trying to set up projects.”

Saudi Film Commission CEO Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Qahtan said Saudi Film Nights reflected the Commission’s commitment to promoting the Kingdom’s film culture by highlighting Saudi films on an international stage.

“We are also fostering collaboration between international film communities, including the Australian film industry, to exchange expertise and knowledge,” he said.

Abdulalim hoped to make the showcase an annual event that would grow to incorporate “different genres and formats”, while also noting her company has feature projects in early-stage development as potential Saudi-Australia co-productions.

Saudi Nights will be held June 26 – 28. Find out more information here.