Exploring the Fusion of Saudi and Turkish Cultures in the Drama Film ‘Siwar’, According to Director Osama Alkhurayji

Saudi filmmaker Osama Alkhurayji successfully completed the principal photography for his first feature film “Siwar” in AlUla. AlUla, located in the northwest region of Saudi Arabia, is known for its ancient artifacts, beautiful oasis, and stunning sandstone canyons. This area has become a thriving hub for local film production.

Saudi Arabia’s film industry continues to expand with the addition of a music recording studio to the film studio facilities in AlUla. This latest development is a significant step forward in the country’s efforts to establish itself as a major player in the global entertainment industry. The music recording studio will provide filmmakers and musicians with state-of-the-art facilities to create original soundtracks and music for films produced in AlUla. This addition is expected to attract more talent and investment to the region, further bolstering Saudi Arabia’s growing film industry.

In the movie “Siwar,” two families, one Turkish and the other Saudi, find their destinies intertwined when a shocking revelation about their newborns comes to light. AlUla serves as a stand-in for Najran, a city located in southwestern Saudi Arabia near the Yemen border. This gripping drama explores the intricate dynamics that unfold as Yaner, a Turkish father portrayed by Serkan Genç (“The Game-Hiyleger Axmaqlar”), and Hamad, a Saudi father portrayed by Fhaid Bin Mohammed, cross paths after their sons are mistakenly switched at birth.

The latest Saudi film to be shot in AlUla is “Siwar”. This comes after other notable films such as the Netflix drama “The Matchmaker” and Tawfik Alzaidi’s debut feature “Norah”. “Norah” premiered locally in December at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah and will soon be launched internationally from Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section.

Omar Said, known for his work on the groundbreaking Netflix Saudi original film “Naga,” is producing “Siwar.”

In an interview with Variety, Alkhurayji, the producer of “Siwar” through his production company Hakawati Entertainment, shared what attracted him to make his debut with a drama that explores the cultural connections between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The “Siwar” story is composed of several key elements that form its foundation.

This is a tale of two families, one hailing from Saudi Arabia and the other from Turkey, who unintentionally find themselves entangled in a life-altering incident. The crux of the story revolves around their two children, who were mistakenly switched at birth and subsequently raised in contrasting environments. It delves into their journey of navigating these unfamiliar surroundings and coming to terms with the seismic shift that has occurred in their lives. At its core, the film explores the fundamental question of identity – is it something ingrained in our biology or shaped by our upbringing?

“How did the idea for “Siwar” come about?”

Back in 2012, while I was pursuing my filmmaking studies in the U.S., I came across a captivating real-life incident. Recognizing its potential for the big screen, I enlisted the help of Rashid Al-Yani, a talented writer and cousin of the Saudi individual at the center of the story. With Rashid’s invaluable insights, we collaborated to pen the screenplay.

Thriller ‘Fourth Wall’ and Jessika Borsiczky’s directed film ‘Chasing Red’ have been chosen to shoot at Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla.

The movie was filmed in Istanbul and AlUla. Can you provide some insights into the shooting process?

We spent one week filming in Istanbul and the rest of the time in AlUla, where I received a great deal of support thanks to the government’s efforts to promote filmmaking. Since the film is based on a true story, it is crucial for it to be authentic in every aspect. Although the story takes place in Najran, we chose to film in AlUla because it closely resembles the city. Filming in Najran wasn’t feasible due to the city not being fully prepared for a production of this scale. However, AlUla provided us with a setting that allowed us to capture the authenticity we were aiming for. Authenticity is of utmost importance in this film.

It has been quite challenging to integrate Turkish and Saudi cultures.

There are certainly some similarities between the two cultures, despite being distinct from one another. One commonality is the shared religion, which I incorporated into the movie as a thematic element. The Turkish family hails from Antakya, a small city located on the Syrian border, known for its more conservative values compared to other parts of Turkey. Similarly, Najran, a small city on the border with Yemen, also boasts an extremely conservative culture. These parallels offer a glimpse into the cultural overlap between the two, yet there remain numerous other aspects that set them apart.

I’m interested in learning more about the cultural contrast depicted in the film.

We can observe this cultural distinction primarily through the characters themselves, particularly the two children. Without giving away too much, the Najranic culture differs significantly from Turkish culture in that it resembles a Bedouin culture. From a young age, children are encouraged to adopt adult responsibilities. They are taught essential skills, such as horse riding, and are expected to navigate nature with confidence. It is truly remarkable to witness such maturity in children, a rarity in today’s world. Both children exemplify this, but I was particularly taken aback by the young actor who portrayed Ali, one of the main characters. Throughout his month-long stay with us, I never once saw him with a cell phone or playing video games. He exists in a different realm, disconnected from the distractions of modern technology.

During a moment of distress, I attempted to console him by offering my phone and suggesting, “Ali, go ahead and play with it.” To my surprise, he declined, stating, “No, I don’t play with phones; I don’t play games.” This interaction not only served as a personal lesson but also influenced my approach as a director. The majority of our Najrani characters are not professional actors; instead, they are authentic individuals from Najran whom I handpicked for this film. I invested considerable time and effort in training them, with some, like Ali, undergoing nearly a year of preparation. My aim was to find individuals who embodied the essence of the characters I intended to portray on screen. To encapsulate it all, while there are numerous similarities between the two cultures, there are also significant contrasts. This duality is one of the primary aspects I sought to explore in this movie.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Hollywood’s Stampede Ventures and Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla have recently announced a groundbreaking partnership, sealing a monumental $350 million deal.

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