As Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival kicks into gear in Jeddah, a parallel film program is underway 300 miles north in the small desert town of AlUla.

Located in the northwest region of the Kingdom, AlUla County is the centerpiece in the Saudi government’s efforts to attract local and international productions to shoot in the region with its untouched wilderness and expansive valley that is home to two mountain ranges, three volcanoes and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, where Deadline caught up with writer-director Guy Ritchie.

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Ritchie is among the large delegation of Hollywood names that this week traveled to the country for Red Sea and made their way up to AlUla. Other guests include actors Scott Eastwood, Lucy Hale, and Henry Golding.

The first major project to shoot in the AlUla region was Anthony and Joe Russo’s war pic Cherry, starring Tom Holland. While that film only shot three days in the region, local officials told Deadline that establishing an industry that facilitates production is a top priority for the country’s senior leadership. In 2022, Film AlUla, the regional culture agency established by the Royal Commission for AlUla, handed out 155 film permits, up from 75 in 2021. Saudi Arabia only lifted its decades-long ban on cinema in 2017 as part of sweeping reforms to open up its society and the economy.

Below, Guy Ritchie speaks to Deadline about why he decided to travel to Saudi, what he believes the role of a film festival should be, and his forthcoming series adaptation of his 2019 film The Gentlemen.

DEADLINE: Throughout your career, you haven’t shown many of your films at festivals, so why did you think it was important to come to Red Sea? And what do you think is the role of a film festival?

GUY RITCHIE: I think film festivals are important in the sense that film needs to be celebrated. Now the big trick is to put films in there that people want to see. And if festivals can, in some way, encourage local talent, it will make them a more productive occasion.

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One of the reasons that we’re interested in here is because it’s new. And that feels exciting. Any place where there is such rapid growth you can tell there’s creativity within the equation. And you want to encourage that as much as you can, particularly while its in its infancy. You want to get it to its adolescence and then some kind of successful manifestation where it can sustain itself. So it’s more interesting to visit festivals in emerging markets. I understand festivals in places that are unrecognized, so to speak, because they serve a purpose. I’m not sure I understand like the London Film Festival. I don’t know if I’m invited there, and I never hear anything about it afterward. So there’s something more interesting about festivals in areas that don’t have an established tradition.

You don’t want to just keep repeating what everyone else is doing all over the world. But if you can do things that actually make a difference and stir something within the industry, then I think that should be the objective of what a festival should be as opposed to it just being a business thing or a bunch of boring old filmmakers going along to show their wares.

DEADLINE: You shot Aladdin in Jordan, right? What interests you about the MENA region?

GUY RITCHIE: I like the Middle East very much for all sorts of reasons: historical and religious. And increasingly, I just like the old world. The older the world, the more interested I’m in it. I don’t know why. I’m just comfortable in the Middle East.

DEADLINE: Does that mean you’re increasingly uncomfortable back in the UK?

RITCHIE: No, I love the UK to the point where I can bang on about the UK more than anyone else. I’m terribly patriotic. And I’m a big fan of English weather. What everyone sees as rotten English weather, I adore. However, it is great to get out of England. It’s just good to move. We found ourselves in the last three years or so in Spain and Turkey. We started making movies abroad. And, I have to say, I really enjoy it.

DEADLINE: Your last three films have made over $100 million at the box office. What do you think the industry should be doing to encourage cinemagoing?

RITCHIE: I have no idea what anyone else should be doing, and I’m not the man to give advice. You can only do what you’re interested in doing. And the fact about filmmaking is that its good fun. So you do feel as though you owe the people that loan you the money or distribute the film some degree of payback. So you want to make sure that your films work so you can make another. You have to compete to some degree in the sense that your films have to be financially successful. So I’m aware that them’s the rules, and you should stick to the rules if you want to keep doing what you’re doing.

DEADLINE: What do you think the biggest shifts have been in the industry since you started making films?

RITCHIE: The sand moves so quickly. You think you understand how the industry works and then you go on holiday for two weeks, come back, and the rules are different. So there’s really no point in trying to outsmart the rules. In the end, it’s down to whether you can create content, as long as you can create content, then there’s going to be some conduit to express your creativity. And I’m not sure if I care about the particular system of distribution, other than the fact that I’m familiar with the theatrical experience. And there seems to be some emotive component that comes with a 40-foot screen that you just can’t generate on a 72-inch whatever. So you do need the theatrical experience for the theatrical experience. And that does involve a 40-foot screen.

DEADLINE: Aladdin 2. What’s happening with that film? Is it in pre-production?

RITCHIE: I have no idea, honestly. I have no idea if Aladdin 2 is in pre-production.

DEADLINE: You are making a TV version of The Gentlemen though, right?

RITCHIE: I am. That I know because I’m in the middle of it.

DEADLINE: This isn’t your first TV show. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was adapted for the small screen and I know you’ve said The Gentleman was originally written as a series...

RITCHIE: Yes, it was actually. It was a movie and then a series. And then it went back to being a movie and now it’s back to TV. Lock Stock I had nothing to do with other than the movie. I will plead innocence when it came to whatever that TV thing was.

DEADLINE: So how are you finding the process of making your first TV show?

RITCHIE: I have to tell you, I’m enjoying it enormously. I think it’s pretty good. If you liked The Gentleman, you’ll like this.

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