The Red Sea International Film Festival has announced the details of its programme, competition lineup, and industry initiatives for its first edition at a press conference held at Bait Qabil in historic downtown Al-Balad, Jeddah.
Set to take place March 12-21 at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the festival will shed light on local talent as well as bringing a diverse selection of films to Saudi Arabia.
Festival Director Mahmoud Sabbagh and Artistic Director Hussain Currimbhoy announced a total of 107 features and shorts that will screen in the Festival.
The selection contains 16 films in-competition titles, seven out-of-competition titles, 15 retrospectives + classic works, three generation titles, five Immersive/VR experiences, 11 pictures in New Saudi/New Cinema, 13 titles in the shorts competition, 23 Best of the Year films, 17 Tajreeb titles, which is a collection of experimental films, and the ‘Untitled Omnibus Feature,’ an anthology comprised of 5 short films.
The Competition selection this year opens a window to the world we live in with all of its current challenges. Prevalent themes surround the advancement of women’s rights with an intense look at the scourge of domestic violence, as well as immigration, in particular, concerning marginalised individuals.
The Head of the Competition jury will be American three-time Academy Award winner Oliver Stone.
Participating countries in this year’s competition include Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Columbia, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Kosovo, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nigeria, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, and the United States.
“It’s pleasing that we are bringing these great quality films discussing social issues of today,” said Sabbagh. “We have a strong desire to push diversity, particularly in women’s position in public spaces, and for a more open society. The films present a strong look at what makes society function and the relationship between the individual to patriarchy and hegemony.”
Under the theme of “Transmissions,” a masterclass series will be led by Arab and international cinema icons, who will pass on their knowledge, inspiration, and experience to young, aspiring filmmakers. Among those presenting sessions are Spike Lee, William Friedkin, Abel Ferrara, Khairy Beshara, and Yousry Nasrallah.
The pulse of next-generation talent can be seen in a carefully curated selection of short films produced or directed by the most exciting and up and coming Arab voices. With a focus on diversity and innovation, the shorts competition offers a place to discover something new and to connect with the creators.
The announcement also highlighted the lineup of New Saudi/New Cinema, a programme developed to introduce new, vital filmmakers and artists. The dynamic selection showcases the new voices shaping the Saudi cinema scene, all primed for launch on to the international circuit.
Another title from the New Saudi/New Cinema programme is the ‘Untitled Omnibus Feature,’ developed in partnership with Jeddah-based production house Cinepoetics Pictures. A platform for Saudi women in the film industry, the five female filmmakers helming the films are Hind Al-Fahhad, Jowaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Sara Mesfer, and Fatima Al-Banawi. Award-winning Palestinian filmmaker Suha Arraf is screenwriting supervisor on the portmanteau film.
Furthermore, festival attendees will get a chance to encounter site-specific installations at the Red Sea’s ‘Immersive Cinema’. Commissions by dynamic digital artists will embrace Jeddah Old Town in this wholly unique programme shaped by new takes on narrative form and technology – including powerful sound installations, holographic experiences, and 2-channel experiments.
Inaugurating the first edition of the festival is the newly built Coral Theatre with a 1200 seat capacity. Also at the newly built festival complex are four more theatres, one with a 240 seater capacity, and the remaining three with 120 seats. A special masterclass on virtual reality and immersive art, ‘On Site, On Mind’ will be led by Vishal Dar, Joan Ross, Nic Koller, and Weston Rio Morgan.
Furthermore, the festival will be exhibiting “When Fellini Dreamt of Picasso” in collaboration with Cinémathèque Française, celebrating the great Italian filmmaker100th birthday. The exhibition sheds light on the story of how many of Fellini’s films were inspired by Picasso’s paintings, though the two great artists had never met.
With scenes shot in Mecca, the festival will host a very special screening of Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’, on March 13th. ‘The Choice’, one of Youssef Chahine’s iconic films has been restored by the Red Sea Film Foundation.
A series of industry panels titled Perspectives will bring together filmmakers from around the world to explore trends, ideas, and issues shaping the industry today. These discussions will touch upon the animation industry, the new Saudi independent film scene, Arab international cinema, exploring European/Saudi co-productions, and finally, the future for Arab film production.
Sabbagh added, “We worked hard to ensure that the films being presented showcase Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry, and encourage a more open cultural exchange. This isn’t just about exporting our stories; we are bringing different perspectives, new conversations into Saudi Arabia, too.”
At this year’s festival, there will be cash awards totalling $250,000 for films in competition. The Golden Yusr Trophy for Best Feature carries a $100,000 cash prize and the Silver Yusr Trophy for Best Director comes with a $50,000 award. In addition, a Silver Yusr Trophy will be awarded for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Cinematic Contribution. A prize of $50,000 will go to the winner of the Audience Award. An additional Golden Yusr Trophy will be presented to the Best Short Film, which also brings a $50,000 investment for a future project plus a five-month creative residency in Jeddah’s Old Town.