Abha, a love letter

Abha, a love letter

Asir native and renowned documentary filmmaker Saad Tahaitah takes us on a cinematic journey of his region
02 April 24

"I can genuinely say that I found my calling within documentary filmmaking. I knew I wanted to portray life as it is but in a more poetic way, so people would not only watch a film, but live it." Today a renowned filmmaker, Saad Tahaitah's journey began in 2012 as a photographer, and by 2016, he veered into the realm of film. The visionary draws inspiration from every story around him, dedicating himself to documenting what he finds, regardless of the time and effort required. With a keen eye for narratives related to Asir, the region he hails from, he delves into tales that are historical, cultural, or hold a captivating human-interest aspect.

The Journey

Leading us back to where it all began, Saad takes us on a journey to Al Namas, his hometown. "Al Namas shaped me as a person and as a filmmaker. Since all my films are associated with peace and tranquility, it’s what I’ve gained as a person by living here”, he explains.

Having lived in Riyadh for the past year and a half, Saad finds respite from the city's hustle and bustle in the serene embrace of Al Namas. "It's my safe space. I always love coming back here to relax, and I see it in a different light every time."

As we walk through his childhood home, it's clear that being here makes him somewhat nostalgic for simpler times. “When we were kids, we used to play football every day in the afternoon in the valley near my house. It's been over 10 years since anyone has played in that field," he says.

With its year-round temperate climate, Abha is a big village to Saad; it was his home during university days and where his family still resides today. "Abha holds a special place in my heart. That's why I started directing films because it allows me to communicate how I feel about it. It’s an endless love.”

The next destination on our visit with him is none other than Rijal Almaa. "This is a cherished village in the Asir region, filled with so much history and culture, and considered one of the oldest villages in the area. Today, it is also a unique travel destination.”

Continuing our journey, we arrive at the historic fort in Al Makhad, Al Soudah, where Saad shot one of his films three years ago. "I'm drawn to this place because it's still as authentic as it always was, with its houses and alleyways. It also has one of the oldest mosques in Asir, dating back to 70 AH." Though not a native of Al Makhad, Saad has always felt connected to the village, particularly to its idyllic setting - set in the heart of a picturesque valley, surrounded by mountains.

Capturing home

In 2016, while strolling with his father through the misty mountains near Al Namas, Saad stumbled upon a breathtaking scene overlooking Tanumah, Qintan, and a serene valley. Captivated by the scene, he asked his father to stop, so he could capture the moment. Little did he know, this snapshot would become an icon for the people of Al Janoub and the wider Asir Region.

"My father's belief in my photographic talents sparked a pivotal moment in my journey," Saad reflects, acknowledging the profound impact of that single image on his trajectory as a filmmaker.

His cinematic debut, A Day in My Village, emerged as a poignant farewell to his hometown, as he prepared to bid adieu after high school. "I had to move to Abha city. This film was in essence a goodbye to my village. I wanted to document all its parts and details, from early mornings to sunny afternoons, and those beautifully calm evenings."

He documented every little detail - capturing images of his mother, father, siblings, life in the village, playing football, prayers at the mosque, and hiking up the mountains at sunset. He documented all of this so that whenever he missed home, he could relive those memories through film.

Despite the simplicity of his equipment at the time and the nascent stage of his filmmaking skills, Saad's passion and dedication shone through. His unexpected acceptance into the esteemed Saudi Film Festival in 2019 served as validation of his growing talent, a moment of triumph celebrated by his family.

"My family's support comes above anything else. When my mother attended the showing of my film, around 200 people started applauding. She felt very proud of me." Since then, she excitedly enquires about his upcoming projects.

Saad continues to embark on interesting and locally-relevant cinematic ventures, such as his acclaimed documentary Takhleed: The Art of Al Qatt Al Asiri - a homage to the artisans preserving the heritage of Al Qatt Al Asiri - that was also showcased at the Saudi Film Festival. This year, the talented filmmaker is participating in the same festival with two documentaries shot in AlBaha and Abha.

The power of passion

When asked about his approach to filmmaking, Saad reflects: "No matter what equipment you're using or how advanced you are creatively, I believe that the essence of filmmaking lies in love, passion, emotions, and creative direction." He emphasises the enduring power of passion. "I'm still evolving. I started out using a simple phone, but my passion has always been there since day one and it will continue forever. If you have that passion, everything else will fall into place."

Expressing his satisfaction with the Kingdom's burgeoning filmmaking scene, Saad remarks on the surprises each year brings. Attending movie screenings, premieres, and festivals was once beyond his imagination but now it's the norm. He also finds fulfillment in reconnecting with industry experts and friends from years past.

"I'm so proud of all my friends. I wish nothing but success to them and I hope we all become leaders in this industry."

Saad Tahaitah drove around Asir in a Lexus RX courtesy of Abdul Latif Jameel Motors (Lexus).

All images by Osama Jaberti