Wild Bunch co-founder Vincent Maraval drew comparisons between the burgeoning film industry in Saudi Arabia with that of China during a business-focused keynote at the Red Sea film festival this morning.
The keynote, hosted by Deadline’s Diana Lodderhose, began with Maraval explaining his approach to selecting and investing in projects, which he described as “talent-led” before discussing the evolution he has witnessed in the Middle Eastern market.
“When I started working, like, 25-30 years ago, the Middle East was basically Lebanon,” he said. “Today that has all changed. The growth of the region in terms of box office, streamers, and Netflix is coming, but most of the streamers will come. What happened in Saudi Arabia in the last five years is on a scale very comparable to the growth rate of Chinese exportation.”
He added that there is “huge growth potential” to be had in Saudi Arabia as well as the whole MENA region, but industry professionals must establish a greater understanding of audience consumption and taste in the region now and in the future.
“We all know when a market starts, there is a progression of the local product, and then there is a maturity. That’s why we need to be clever and find the right positioning,” he said.
Saudi Arabia lifted its decades-long ban on cinema in 2017. The move fell within the country’s Vision 2030 program spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud as part of sweeping reforms to open up its society and the economy.
However, Maraval said that he believes positive industry shifts aren’t resigned to only the MENA region, and a similar trend will likely soon develop across the Red Sea in Africa.
“There is also a huge potential not only here, but it will probably be the same in Africa too,” he said. “We can see there’s a middle class in Africa coming and subscribing to streaming services and going to the cinema. They are building theaters.”
He added that the most exciting part about the growth in Saudi and other developing markets is the make-up of the audience.
“In Europe, the cinema audience is getting older. It’s like we lost all the young generation to the streamers,” he said. “But here, or in South East Asia or Latin America or in Africa, it is the young generation that goes more and more to the cinema.”
Maraval’s comments were echoed by fellow panelist Siddharth Roy Kapur, Founder and Managing Director of the Indian-based Roy Kapur Films, who said he recently went to see Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The Fablemans in New York City and when he walked into the theater, he saw a “sea of grey hair” in the audience.
“I actually took a video of it because there was only grey hair. I don’t consider myself a spring chicken, but I was the youngest person in that auditorium,” he said.
“So that did actually tell me something. It tells me that in developed markets, the theatrical experience is becoming more and more unique. And something you do for only films like Wakanda Forever, which is gonna have a younger audience. But Steven Spielberg’s movie is not.”
Kapur added that he believes markets like Saudi, which are opening up and adding cinemagoing to their culture, will see massive growth in the coming years.
“That’s where a lot of us need to be focussing our energy and attention to ensuring we create the movies that will draw those audiences in,” he said.