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RIYADH: Filmmaker Marios Piperides traveled to the Kingdom for the first time from his home country of Cyprus to screen “Smuggling Hendricks” for Saudi audiences in Riyadh on June 16.

The screening was part of the first week-long European Film Festival, which hosted a series of 14 European films at the VOX cinema in Les Esplanades.

“Smuggling Hendricks” is based on a true story that revolves around a struggling musician, Yiannis, who plans to move away. His plans are disrupted by his dog, Jimi, crossing the border that separates the Greek south from the Turkish north. Since the exchange of animals between countries is prohibited, Yiannis calls on a Turkish settler to recover his dog. The film is a strong political and legal commentary on the issue in Cyprus, wrapped in a feel-good arthouse comedy.

The filmmaker hopes to create political discourse, share the story based on his own experience and get people to discuss “the nature of borders”, he told Arab News. “We build our own boundaries and keep people away, and we create this fear of the unknown.”

His cinematic journey began 20 years ago when he returned to Cyprus after completing his studies in the United States. This exchange opportunity allowed him to acquire knowledge of the American film industry and to contribute to the cinematographic scene of his country.

This display of cultural exchange parallels the EuroFest initiative in Riyadh, which aims to expose the Saudi people to international efforts, quickly introduce Saudi filmmakers and create space for discussion.

With the film market being competitive, the filmmaker stresses the importance of giving audiences a reason to pursue a niche film rather than larger, more accessible productions.

Filmmaker Marios Piperides. (Provided)

“I think it’s (trying) to find a way to tell something locally, but with international appeal. If you can do that, and you can share a local story that someone from Cyprus or someone from France will enjoy, that’s the bet you have to try and win. . . You have to find your own voice,” Piperides said.

With Europe’s independent film scene struggling and funding becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, it’s a wonder that the Saudi film industry is booming, the filmmaker said. While there were only 14 cinemas on the island, Arabia is currently home to over 50 locations.

“Coming from a small country, it is very important to have this opportunity to exchange and understand each other’s culture through cinema,” Piperides said.

“The good thing here is that you have a big market that we don’t have in Cyprus. You have a growing market that lacks films. The set is new. In Europe now their attendance is down,” he told a talk as part of the festival’s side-event calendar, moderated by TV and radio personality Muhammad Bajnaid.

For the filmmaker, cinemas create a space where people can share their experiences, views and opinions and pave the way for discussions on specific issues. “Cinema in Cyprus, in the 1950s or until the 1980s, was huge. There were many cinemas. In a small village of 2 to 3,000 inhabitants, there were six cinemas. And now there’s only one arthouse cinema, and it’s in trouble,” Piperides said.

“It’s important to see if they can do a side program,” he said.

Although this is the premier European film festival in Riyadh, one way to improve this is to bring independent arthouse films to the capital and neighboring towns and villages.

“It’s also important to have smaller art house theatres. To show more, not just European, more art house films, not just blockbusters, American, Bollywood or Egyptian. I believe there is an audience (for this).

Arthouse films are renowned for dealing with complex issues that appeal to a niche genre rather than a mass audience, which makes them less popular with global markets. “Distributors don’t bring (European art films) because there’s no way to get their money back. Thanks to festivals, you can see good films that you wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise,” he said.

The film premiered in 2018 and was screened in several parts of the world. “It’s still nice to see that it’s still fresh, still interesting. It is still topical because basically nothing has changed — the political situation in Cyprus. And it also deals with borders, which is always (a problem).

In a way, the film documents the evolution not only of the skills of the director, but also of the industry itself. Piperides highlights the crucial role of reflection on past works and ongoing criticism. “I see mistakes I made or more in the direction, the technique, the script, things that could have been better. . . At the time, that’s what I knew. You learn and you are trying to do better Being critical of yourself and your work is important.

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