“Norah”: A Groundbreaking Saudi Film Makes Its Mark at the Cannes Film Festival

The 77th Cannes Film Festival marked a significant milestone for Saudi cinema with the inclusion of ‘Norah’ in the Un Certain Regard section. This recognition is noteworthy as "Norah" is the first Saudi film, entirely shot in AlUla and featuring an all-Saudi cast, to be officially selected at Cannes.

‘Norah,’ set in the 1990s, tells the poignant story of an orphaned young woman whose life is transformed upon meeting Nader, an artist and new schoolteacher in her village. Their intertwined journeys, driven by a shared passion for self-expression and creativity, explore the depths of human connection and the transformative power of artistic pursuit.

Directed, written, and produced by Tawfik Alzaidi, ‘Norah’ features performances by actors Yaqoub Alfarhan, Maria Bahrawi, and Abdullah Alsadhan. Over 40 percent of the film’s crew are Saudi nationals, showcasing Film AlUla's commitment to developing local talent and authentic Saudi storytelling.

This milestone for Saudi cinema not only highlighted the distinctiveness of storytelling from the Kingdom but also underscores the country’s cultural richness and evolving global influence in the film industry, set against the breathtaking ancient landscapes of AlUla.

Following its premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival in December 2023, where it won the Best Saudi Film Award, ‘Norah’ has continued to garner international acclaim with its human and heartwarming narrative. Its pioneering inclusion at Cannes symbolises a significant moment for the burgeoning Saudi film industry, marking its arrival on the global stage with a compelling narrative and rich cultural context. ‘Norah’ at Cannes was a true celebration of Saudi Arabia's cultural renaissance and a testament to the country's growing influence in the global film industry.

Top filming locations in AlUla

AlUla has rapidly become a hub for both local and international productions, in part because of its unique, otherworldly landscapes that make it an ideal location for filmmakers seeking a blend of lush nature, rugged terrain and wide swathes of desert. Here are some of the most compelling and unique filming locations in the city:

  1. Hegra: The most prominent cultural site in AlUla is the Nabataean city of Hegra, a sprawling ancient city covering 52 hectares, designated as Saudi Arabia's inaugural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It is home to over a hundred monumental tombs, 94 of these skillfully carved with ornate facades.
  2. Jabal Ikmah: Often hailed as an open-air 'library,' Jabal Ikmah is host to over 500 inscriptions that belong to the Dadanite and Lihyanite periods. Etched in more than ten diverse languages and scripts, these inscriptions are a precursor to the Arabic language.
  3. Elephant Rock: A natural geological icon that watches over the desert, Elephant Rock is a red sandstone marvel shaped by wind and water erosion. The formation's distinctive elephantine shape makes it an intriguing sight.
  4. Arch Rock: This unique rock formation, also known as Rainbow Rock, is a bridge-shaped structure sculpted by natural forces. Adding to its charm are the semi-precious desert diamonds—multi-coloured pieces of quartz that can be spotted both embedded in the rock and scattered on the surrounding ground.
  5. Gharameel: An hour outside the centre of AlUla, the Gharameel offers an otherworldly sight—dark, thin pillars of stone stretching towards the sky. Accessible only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle, these pillars offer a dramatic backdrop for stargazing.
  6. AlUla's Oasis: The Oasis is renowned for its fertile lands and abundant natural resources, bearing the hallmarks of multiple ancient civilisations that once flourished within its borders.

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