Hakeem Jomah is the superhuman force behind Saudi Arabia’s first horror movie ‘Madayen’, a story that revolves around three young Saudis who visit the haunted ruins of Madayen Saleh in the far north of the kingdom to investigate the truth about the cursed place.
The film won two awards for best writing at the Panama Film Festival and Hong Kong Underground Film Festival and one award for best acting in a foreign film at the Barcelona World Film Festival in 2016. Jomah turned producer, writer and actor for ‘Madayen’, directed by Ayman Tamano.
“I made ‘Madayen’ because I love the horror genre. I grew up listening to terrifying stories and legends coming out of Madayen Saleh, and they fascinated me,” he told Gulf News tabloid!
The 30-year-old Saudi national is primarily an actor but plays the role of a director, editor, producer, and sound designer among others when filmmaking.
“I don’t have money to hire all those technical people so I become all those people,” he said.
The Saudi film industry is still in its infancy with only a few films to its credit.
“There’s a need for more creative people in every category of filmmaking. Although, it’s basically acting where most of the taboo lies as filmmaking and directing are seen as leadership roles and are generally not as scrutinised as much as acting,” said Jomah.
However, the social and cultural scene of Saudi Arabia is now slowly changing, and with the creation of the General Entertainment Authority in 2016, as part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030, “things have started to look up and there’s a proliferation of content and opportunities for new actors.
I feel at the current rate of content growth and film awareness in the kingdom, acting will soon become a respectable profession to be taken on as a career.”
Jomah quit his medical profession a few years back to pursue a career in entertainment.
'I love films'
“I always wanted to be an actor. I love films and I always wanted to make a film and be in them as well,” he said.
Saudi film enthusiast Hisham Malaika gave Jomah his first break in acting when he offered the lead role in a localised rendition of the popular 70s American film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
The play was a hit and Jomah’s acting skills were impressive.
“This experience changed my perspective forever, and that’s when I knew beyond any reasonable doubt that I wanted to be an actor,” said Jomah, who seeks inspiration from his favourite actor Jonah Hill.
To realise his dream, and much to the dismay of his family, the ambitious actor flew to the US and took two intensive acting courses at the New York Film Academy and one at the Speiser/Sturges acting studio in Los Angeles.
Jomah then made ‘Madayen’ followed by a few short films and a science show that he co-writes and hosts.
Speaking about the challenges that Jomah faces when acting, writing or filmmaking is “finding a healthy medium to collaborate with other artists and creators in order to improve the industry by making the best possible product and learning from each other along the way.
"We can absolutely compete later, but that will happen when we have a fully formed industry to compete in. The second challenge is to set egos aside and take critiques constructively.
"It’s a very difficult skill that needs a lot of practice, but I feel if we master this skill alone, our industry will be unparalleled.”