Ali Kalthami, creative director and co-founder of C3 Films and Telfaz11, which provides comedy videos on YouTube, sounds off about the film scene to Variety’s Alissa Simon.
What is the mission of Telfaz11 and has it changed over time?
I started Telfaz11 in 2011 with my partner, the CEO of Telfaz11, Alaa Yoosef. At the time our main goal was to shed light on local artistic and creative talents in various fields such as acting, script writing, design, music and film. There was a lack of platforms for showcasing such talents and few incentives or validation for those pursuing creative fields. Through the powerful influence of the internet and social media, an environment emerged that supports the production of local content and art while highlighting Saudi artists who are eager to produce content and express themselves. The vision of Telfaz11 has grown along with the growth of our productions to include contributing to the independent Saudi film industry by supporting filmmakers in Saudi and the Gulf region by publishing short films and sharing them with our more than 12 million subscribers.
What does the name mean?
The name Telfaz11 is a combination of the Arabic word for television and the year 2011. Because our network developed through online media it is entirely different to the medium of TV, which was dominant in the Middle East and didn’t offer the viewer the opportunity to participate or comment and share opinions on what they are viewing. This was an important change in the viewer’s capacity and experience of content consumption. We linked this idea to 2011, the year we launched our network, because it was also the year of the Arab Spring, which materialized in Saudi Arabia in the form of an independent intellectual and artistic movement that opened up discussion and debate across the country and various spectrums of society.
How many new videos go up on the site each week?
Telfaz11 releases roughly five to six videos per week on its network including short films, music videos and shows. Our two most-viewed releases thus far have been “No Woman, No Drive” by Alaa Wardi, which has reached 13 million views and “Manhood Academy,” which has reached 10 million views.
Who are the content creators?
Telfaz11 content comes from two sources. The first is inhouse productions made by members of Telfaz11, who are a team of over 40 actors, directors, producers, cinematographers, editors and marketers. We work in Jeddah, Riyadh and the U.S. to make most of the shows and films available on our network. Within the company, we have a creative department, production department, talent management department and marketing department, which all work in unison on Telfaz11’s inhouse content. The second source of Telfaz11’s content is externally produced by artists and filmakers in the Arab world and abroad; they collaborate with Telfaz11 to publish their work and we select them based on the quality of their productions as well as the originality and artistic style of their content. We are just beginning to commission videos for the new season of our show “Khambalah” and consider this a trial phase, which we hope will grow and include collaborations with many talented content producers from the region.
Are there guidelines for what the content should be?
Naturally, there is an innate group sense for appropriateness of content and the red lines to avoid with regards to politics and religion, but there are no internal rules or regulations that determine what content we share. This is mostly a cultural sensitivity that we each grew up. Our aim is to elevate cultural expressions and creativity by presenting subjects that are intellectually engaging to the viewers and encourage discussion through art and entertainment.
Has the government censored any of the content?
Telfaz11 content is not confrontational in nature. It takes an indirect approach that invites the viewers to rethink and question important and often sensitive subjects through comedy and drama. I think this type of content is positive because it encourages the viewer to critique and question rather than passively receive. There are some censorship agencies in the Ministry of Culture and Media who we communicate with and have found that they respect our work and contributions. They have never asked us to remove any of our content. In fact, we discuss and collaborate with them on how to promote the film industry in Saudi and motivate youth. I see that there is an environment in Saudi today for discussing and rethinking many traditions that are no longer relevant in our world while maintaining our identity and avoiding disconnecting from our heritage or copying other cultural identities.