A new regional distributor and sales operation was announced a few weeks before the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Based in Riyadh Paul Chesney, a former Universal and Disney executive from Britain, leads TwentyOne Entertainment, which will be bringing its first purchase, Saudi writer-director Tawfik Alzaidi’s debut feature Norah, to the festival. Set in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s, the movie is also the first to be shot entirely in the AlUla region of the nation.

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Shortly after making this statement, Chesney revealed Red Palm Pictures, a new production company based in Saudi Arabia that would operate under TwentyOne’s umbrella. Reaffirming its dedication to Alzaidi, Red Palm debuted Thuraya, an action and adventure drama that he is slated to develop and direct, along with a multi-picture deal.

The new companies will be joining a Saudi Arabian film industry that has grown from almost nothing in a matter of years, helped along by the world’s fastest-growing box office. Furthermore, regional titles are at last succeeding in becoming well-known.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Chesney talked about Red Palm Pictures, TwentyOne Entertainment, his desire to draw in local talent, and whether or not to take on some of the more well-established studio heads.

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Distribution is something that a few people in the area do exceptionally effectively. Based on my understanding and the learning curve I’m now experiencing, a lot of Saudi-produced video has been of TV or YouTube caliber. However, this is a very talented group. Every time I see Tawfik AlZaidi, I take something away from him. But Norah is such a fantastic movie. We at TwentyOne Entertainment also wanted to represent it. Therefore, it only seemed logical to start the distribution side with Norah as our first title and to truly create something that would communicate something on screen that is genuinely original, distinct, and unseen before. Additionally, for the past five years, tentpoles have dominated the landscape, but with content originating from Turkey, Egypt, and India rather than Saudi Arabian cinematic productions. We therefore hope to modify that story slightly through the distribution business as the audience grows more astute. We would like to take part in it.

As a distributor serving the Middle East and North Africa, is Saudi Arabia your main priority?

It is as a result of the expanding film industry. There are currently 600 displays here, but in a few years, there will be 2,500. It is therefore a very fertile area. However, we are not neglecting the other MENA (Middle East and North Africa) regions; in fact, the name TwentyOne Entertainment refers to the 21 territories we cover. The entire region is full of gifted people. Thus, this isn’t about pursuing financial gain. It’s about being a part of the change and involved in an exciting environment that is undergoing significant expansion.

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Are your titles primarily intended for theatrical release?

Not always. Distribution options include streaming services and theaters. In terms of production, we plan to create documentaries as well as movies for theaters and streaming services. We won’t focus on anything specific. Our goal is to draw exceptional people to the area. We invite aspiring directors, screenwriters, and anyone with a story to tell to get in touch with us. Our goal is to speak for them and represent them. That will be among the production entity’s main objectives.

The MENA region is home to a number of well-known manufacturing and distribution firms, including Front Row and Mad Solutions. Do you think you’re in the same place, or are you different in some way?

I suppose the main distinction between us is that we won’t be concentrating only on film production. However, these are businesses that we might consider collaborating with. They’ve both been performing admirably, so I won’t sit here and predict that we’ll be in direct competition with them in the near future. That is not a sensible thing to do. We envision ourselves working both independently and in tandem with the top professionals in the industry.

Have you previously been involved in the area much?

I worked for Universal Pictures’ home entertainment division, and I had a global function that was initially centered in London and later moved to Los Angeles. As part of that responsibility, I spent some time managing our licensing markets, which included the Middle East. These were around 50 areas. However, a lot has changed since I last visited this place. However, it wasn’t that that drew me to this region of the world; rather, it was all of the changes that are taking place.


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