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Saif Al-Sobaihi earns two best cinematography awards for 'Pinwheel'
Since moving stateside several years ago cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi has continued to turn heads with his powerful skill behind the lens, and the success of the 2017 film "Pinwheel" serves as yet another testament to his visionary talent.

Earlier this year, Saif was recognized in a big way for his unparalleled abilities as a cinematographer with "Pinwheel" taking home two best cinematography awards from the Festigious International Film Festival and the Around International Film Festival.

Directed by Francesca Crichton and starring Gregory Dean Tompkins ("Family Values: The Rise of Anthony Morelli," "Homicide Hunter: Lt Joe Kenda") and Dorothy Hadley Joly ("Alpha," "Behind Closed Doors," "Savior's Mule"), "Pinwheel" takes place in a quaint, white picket fence neighborhood where John (Tompkins) tries to woo his neighbor with lawn ornaments, specifically pinwheels.

"I came to [Saif] with the idea and over the course of the first three months, he helped me transform the idea into what became the final cut," explains director Francesca Crichton.

"From the start, we both agreed that 'Pinwheel' was not going to have any dialogue, ultimately creating a more visually stimulating piece. We spent our pre-production meetings dissecting each scene and creating drawings that mimicked the camera movement in addition to video storyboards. In the end it was all about preparation and Saif demonstrated that throughout the production which I'm so grateful for."

Saif captures the story beautifully with his work behind the camera. Through his strategic shot choices he depicts the environment as John sees it from his side of the fence, effectively pulling us into the main character's world in a way that makes us root for him.

Crichton adds, "One of the best parts about working with Saif, especially in the pre-production phases, is his ability to view the script from more than just a cinematographer's perspective."

Though there is no dialogue, the visual language the cinematographer establishes is enough to paint a full picture of what's happening so it's not surprising that he was awarded not one, but two awards for Best Cinematography. Shot in a similar style to Wes Anderson films like "Moonrise Kingdom," "Pinwheel" is quirky, light-hearted and leaves us with a feeling of hope. It's nearly impossible not to smile when we see John, a middle-aged man who lives alone, become giddy with excitement just as a young boy would every time he sees his neighbor.

"I was very much interested in the script. It was a light hearted and beautiful film," explains Saif. "I was also invested in the story that I became the co-writer along with the director Francesca Crichton."

Saif Al-Sobaihi has spent the last few years busily immersing himself as the cinematographer behind a wide range of projects from award-winning films to hit music videos, each one revealing his seasoned skill and proving why he has become such a sought after talent. Some of his other films include the 2017 dramatic comedy "El Circo," which earned the Southeast Regional EMMY Award, "La Calvita," which was chosen as an Official Selection of the Bushwick Film Festival and the San Diego International Film Festival, the upcoming dramatic film "Leaving" from Columbian director Isabella Morelli Avilán and more.

He also shot the award-winning graffiti driven fashion film "SKEMO," which earned the Film of the Year Award in the Visual Effects category from the Rookie Awards in addition to being chosen as a Semifinalist at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards.

"Not only is he talented, that's obvious, but there are a couple things that I think make him stand out. He's a very determined person and that shows in everything that he does," explains "Pinwheel" director Francesa Crichton. "He never settles for just 'good'; everything has the potential to be great in his mind and no amount of work will deter him from achieving that. Lastly, an opinion as honest as his is hard to find."

One unique aspect of this celebrated cinematographer's path is the fact that he grew up in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during Saudi Arabia's 35-year ban on cinemas-- a ban that was lifted at the end of 2017. Though there were no cinemas in the country at the time, Saif admits that watching films was a huge part of Saudi culture, and major pastime for him in his youth. "I assure you watching movies was, and still is, a solid activity among Saudis. I remember my friends and I would rent DVDs almost every weekend and then gather in one of our houses with food, popcorn and drinks just to watch movies."

Among Saif's favorite Saudi filmmakers are BAFTA nominated female director Haifaa al-Mansour who's 2012 film "Wadjda" was the first to be shot solely in Saudi Arabia, director Ali Kalthami, who co-founded C3Films and Telfaz11, and director Abdul Khaleq Alghanem who directed "Tash Ma Tash," which Saif marks as his favorite Saudi Arabian TV series growing up.

He adds, "I am very excited that cinemas are now re-opening in Saudi and as much as I encourage that, I hope that the Saudi filmmakers notice that there is so much more to the film industry than blockbuster films. Saudi has thousands of stories that are untapped and ready to be shared with the world."

Despite growing up without cinemas, Saif Al-Sobaihi still managed to discover and cultivate his love for filmmaking and he has since carved out a prominent position for himself as a cinematographer in the film industry internationally. As cinemas begin reopening across Saudi Arabia, hopefully more and more of the country's budding filmmakers will have the opportunity to discover and grow their skills in the field as Saif has done.

"There are many ways to tell stories, from shooting on Super 8mm film to shooting on virtual reality. What's important is the audiences engagement with the story," explains Saif. "I hope that what I am capturing in front of the lens can make the audience feel the joy, sadness, anticipation, surprise, fear and love within these stories."

With several awards already under his belt, it's not surprising that he is being tapped for more and more projects. Up next for cinematographer Saif Al-Sobaihi is a fashion film shooting in Georgia with director Ryan Hance, who Saif worked with on "Jamil Houston: Make It Last," a series of poem-based films centered on love, heartbreak and family with Atlanta-based director  Taylor Searcy, as well as several music videos for some high-profile hip hop artists whose names are still being kept tightly under wraps.

The biggest and most exciting upcoming project for Saif though is an episodic docu-series called "How Come Secret Agency," which is being prod_ uced by Moeez Alrammah ("The Book of More," "Yes, We Can") of the award winning production company Ear, Eye and Heart. "Green Ray Operation," the title for the first season of the 10-episode series will center on the life and work of a Saudi Arabian scientist working in the United States.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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