Saudiwood scales up. More films and television programmes will be made in the Middle East.

When Hind, a princess in 7th-century Arabia, refuses to become an emperor's wife, she flees into the desert. With the help of a wanderer, she unites fractious tribes to battle the man she spurned.

So goes the plot of ''Desert Warrior,'' a new film co-produced by MBC, Saudi Arabia's biggest media company, and AGC Studios, a Hollywood outfit.

The film stars Aiysha Hart as Hind, alongside Anthony Mackie, who now plays Captain America in Marvel's superhero universe.

For years, the Middle East punched beneath its weight in film and television. That will change in 2023. The number of Arabic-language television series made for streaming will double compared with 2019, according to Constantinos papavassilopoulos of Omdia, a data company.

The Saudi government wants at least 100 films to be made in the country by 2030, and is willing to fund them.

The Kingdom is trying to establish itself as the Middle East's media hub. Authoritarianism has hobbled the industry in Egypt, once the regional centre for film-making. In the past five years, the Saudi government has tried to show it is moving in the other direction, lifting a ban on cinemas, taking a controlling stake in MBC, creating a film festival and pledging $64 billion to the industry.

Budgets of Arab-made flicks will grow. ''Desert Warrior'' is reportedly the most expensive film ever made in Saudi Arabia. 

''Rise of the Witches'', another MBC production, is said to be Saudi Arabia's most expensive television show. Both will be released in 2023.

Netflix is investing in Arab-made content, too, as it looks to new markets to review its growth.

In 2022 it released ''Perfect Strangers,'' its first original firm in Arabic, and 

'' Finding Ola '', a show about an Egyptian mother navigating life after divorce. A second six-episode season is expected in 2023.

For decades, Arabic dramas revolved around the Ramadan serial, where families watch one episode of a show each night of the holy month.

With a rise in streaming, more will be packaged into ten episodes or fewer. MBC is also investing in American-style open-ended soap operas.

Obstacles remain.Local Saudi crews lack experience  making films, so the industry relies on foreign know-how. But  luring people from Hollywood may be tricky.

In 2022 the Saudi's shunned Pixar's ''Lightyear", a spin-off from '' Toy Story '' and Marvel's ''Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.''

But big budgets and stars do not guarantee acclaim. In the year ahead it is viewers who will determine whether Saudi Arabia's investments will pay off.

The World Students Society thanks author Elise Burr, a freelance correspondent, New York.


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