In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Khaled Al Siddiq

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • References
  • Books and Journals
  • Film Reviews

Islamic Studies Khaled Al Siddiq
Alia Yunis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0274


Khaled Mohamad Al Siddiq (also known as Kaled Mohamad Sidik) was born in Kuwait in 1945. He is best recognized as the director of what is considered the first feature film directed by a Gulf national, The Cruel Sea (Bas ya Bahar, 1972), which he also financed. It won the FIPRESCI award at the Venice Film Festival in its debut and went on to win awards at international film festivals in Chicago, Tehran, Damascus, and Carthage, and continues to play in film retrospectives around the world. It is a tragic portrait of the lives of pearl divers and their families, set in a pre-petroleum Gulf. It stars two of Kuwait’s most famous theater and television actors, Saad Al Faraj and Hayat Al Fahad, who play the parents of young man, played by Mohammed Al Mansour, determined to follow in his father’s steps and become a pearl diver, despite his parents’ pleas that he does not. His main goal is to make money so he can marry his neighbor, Noura (Amal Bakr), who is from a wealthier family. The film was censored in Kuwait before it screened there, deleting a rape scene during a wedding. Al Siddiq made only one other feature film, Wedding of Zain (Ors Zein, 1976), set in Africa and based on a story by the celebrated Sudanese writer Tayeb Saleh. It was selected for the Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight in 1976. Since 1976, he has worked to finance several films, succeeding in co-producing two features: Heart of a Tyrant (1985, Hungary), directed by Milos Janco, and Forest of Love (Italy, 1983), directed by Alberto Bevilacqua. In 1990, Al Siddiq was editing a feature, Shaheen of Winter and Summer, filmed in Italy and Asia, but work stopped during the Kuwait invasion, during which some of the original footage were destroyed. He never released the film. Al Siddiq still lives in Kuwait. His father was a merchant trading with India, and Al Siddiq was educated at St. Peter’s High School in Bombay in the pre-oil era. He began his introduction to filmmaking volunteering at film studios in India. He also trained in filmmaking in Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He made his first short film in 1965. Called Alia and Esam, it is based on a Bedouin poem about two lovers from rival tribes who sacrifice their lives to be together. Other shorts followed, all of which he independently financed and often acted in: Stage of Hope (1969), Faces of The Night (1968, Bronze Award, Tashkent Film Festival), Internal Security (1967), Last Voyage (1966). Al Siddiq appears as an actor in several of these films, and he was the first Kuwaiti director to transition Kuwaiti TV and theater actors into film actors. He received his first award at the Carthage Film Festival for the short documentary The Falcon (1965). Unlike his other films, which were self-financed, including The Cruel Sea, The Falcon was funded and commissioned by the government of Kuwait. Al Siddiq retains full rights to and copies of most of these short films, but declines to make them public. However, since the mid-2000s the Gulf countries, particularly the UAE and Qatar, began to invest heavily in film production and film festivals, and the concept of “Gulf cinema” developed. This has included training and festival categories just to support and encourage Gulf filmmakers, and this opened the door to looking back at what Gulf cinema already existed. That door always leads to The Cruel Sea, which up until the 2000s was the only Gulf-made film that had an international audience. This led to its revival in festival retrospectives. It has become the anchor film of the Gulf film history narrative. Al Siddiq has also directed Kuwaiti TV series and variety programs. From 1966 to 1973 he was a news reader with a Radio Kuwaiti English-language program. He has received honorary awards from the Dubai International Film Festival (2013), Doha Tribeca Film Festival (2012), and the Gulf Film Festival (2009). Since 1980 he has been on the board of directors of the Asia-Pacific Producers Association.

General Overview

Aside from a handful of filmmakers, the Gulf was not a major producer or financier of cinema until the late 2000s. As such, academics barely mentioned the region when discussing Arabic-language cinema. Limited scholarly or other work referenced Al Siddiq’s films until recently, but most of the current work only references The Cruel Sea as “the first film by a Gulf filmmaker” in the context of giving a history of filmmaking in the region. While the film has had renewed interest in recent years, as the Gulf has become more conscious of developing its history and heritage, Al Siddiq has not made the task easier, as he declines interviews or the sharing of his films for what he calls “legal reasons.”

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