Saudi director Jamal Qutbi’s realistic portrayal of the life of Bahraini composer Khaled El-Sheikh
JEDDAH: A Saudi film director has captivated audiences with his portrayal of the colorful and unconventional life of Bahraini composer Khaled El-Sheikh.
“Gault El-Sheikh Between Two Fires, Art and Politics” Dec. It had its international premiere during the third Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on 2
El-Sheikh, a Bahraini composer known for his pioneering musical styles and defying social norms in the Gulf region, has enjoyed a unique journey in the artistic community.
Directed by emerging Saudi filmmaker Jamal Qutbi, the documentary offers an in-depth look at El-Sheikh’s personal and professional experiences. He connects the dots by interviewing various people who accompanied El-Sheikh on his artistic journey.
He told Arab News that the joy of filmmaking lies in deeply understanding people, things and ideas. “It enhances reality,” he said. “The world of filmmaking is rarefied and magical.”
This collaboration between Saudi media company Damania and the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture is a fascinating depiction of the artist’s life.
Gutby aimed to create an authentic documentary, showcasing El-Sheikh’s journey without over-dramatization.
He said: “I wanted the audience to enjoy the spaces as much as the narration and the story. I was interested in the realism of the scenes, away from Netflix-style additions or scripted scenes.
The production process lasted eight months and involved filming in various locations, including El-Sheikh’s childhood home and neighborhood in Bahrain. Goodby’s ability to engage with the local community allowed him to gather heartfelt interviews and stories.
“The Bahraini locals felt happy and comfortable talking to me once they knew I was from Makkah,” he said. “They recall the experiences of Hajj and Umrah without any hesitation or formalities. The difference in my dialect was a conversation starter and I took the opportunity to connect with them.
He added: I am grateful to them for giving me these precious moments.
Goodby incorporates an entertainment journalism approach from the 1980s into the film, capturing the shared nostalgia for El-Sheikh’s era across different generations.
“Kaleed as an artist is hard to beat and that is reason enough for me to make him the hero of the film. He was ready to share every detail of his life, his little stories, and most importantly, he was honest and open-minded,” he said.
El-Sheikh’s interest in art prompted him to leave politics, and then he got caught up in life again.
He opposed incorporating political issues into artistic structures, a stance that put him at odds with production companies. Nevertheless, El-Sheikh remained committed to his artistic integrity.
His artistic journey began after dropping out of political science in Kuwait to pursue music at the Cairo Conservatory in Egypt. There, he created a unique musical style mixing jazz blues, symphonies and Arabic lyrics.
El-Sheikh rose to superstar status following the release of his album “Whenever You’re Next to Me” in 1983, gaining recognition for his compositional skills and contributions to Gulf region music.
However, he faced challenges when he refused to participate in an awareness-raising concert when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Misunderstood, he left the music industry.
Eventually, El-Sheikh returned with a renewed focus on Gulf music and contributed to its evolution and development. His legacy continues through his daughters Noora and Samawa, whose talents in acting, singing and presenting contribute to the family’s artistic heritage.
Gutby said: “I believe this is one of those films that has an unconscious impact on the audience, connecting them with the protagonist, engaging with his emotions, triumphs and setbacks. The impact I really hope for is that influential and well-known people in our midst are encouraged to share their stories, inspiring us to make films about them.
El-Sheikh and Samawa performed a mesmerizing performance following the film’s premiere at RSIFF in front of a Saudi and international audience.
The documentary will soon be released online, helping it reach a wider audience.