Since Dec. 1, Saudi Arabia has become the ultimate hub for the cinematic world by hosting the 2nd edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival. So far, the greatest Arab and International cinematic work have been celebrated with films like Lebanese, “Roads Lead To Rome” and Indian, “Last Film show” receiving wide acclaim and adoration by prestigious guests, filmmakers and actors. Beyond the renowned films, the festival was also home to some of the biggest surprises and memorable moments that seemed to outshine last years edition.
Yousra’s Special Moment with Shah Rukh Khan
The festival began on a high note by placing a big celebratory spotlight on one of Egypt’s most renowned and loved artists, Yousra. During the opening ceremony, the actress who has been gracing our screens for more than 50 years received the highest honor by getting awarded the Honorary Yusr Award for her contributions to the film industry.
Beyond the honorary reward, Yousra received a heartwarming dose of praise from one of the biggest Bollywood stars, Shah Rukh Khan. In a video that was shared on Twitter, while on the main stage, Shah Rukh Khan publicly expressed his admiration for the actress, calling her “elegant”, “beautiful” as well as a “legend from Egypt”. Later in an interview with Sayidaty, the actress spoke about what it meant receiving such praise from a legendary actor in the filming industry:
Although we’ve met each other two or three times before…I didn’t expect that he’s going to say something about me… And his words were so special for me, as special as he is. He’s so loved for a reason!Yousra Via India Times
Celebrities Stunning The Red Carpet In Royal Blue
Dominating the red carpet, celebrities flaunted the latest in fashion during special screenings and premieres of this year’s major films. Every dress, jumpsuit and the like were exquisitely designed by prominent names including Lebanese designer Elie Saab. When it came to the go-to color for this year’s looks, varying shades of blue seemed to be the top pick.
Our favorite picks include UAE-based Yemeni singer Balqees Fathi’s glamorous Versace strapless Royal Blue sequenced dress as well as the Chanel dark blue stylish jacket dress adorned by the leading star of “All Roads Lead to Rome”, Ruba Zarour. Beyond the charming blue, many other looks slayed the red carpet including Tara Emad’s glittering golden jumpsuit styled by Cedric Haddad and paired with jewelry by Cartier.
The Controversy Behind Mona Zaki’s Cairo Mecca
Among the many films taking part in this year’s film festival, there was one in particular that has been generating quite a stir. Since its production in 2012, Hani Khalifa’s film “Cairo-Mecca” starring Mona Zaki was put on standby as its writer, Mohamed Ragaa refused to show it in any of Egypt’s cinemas. Today, the film has made an appearance at several film festivals yet it continues to create a stir as it was removed from the official list of films to be screened at the Red Sea International Film Festival.
Very recently, its producer Mohamed Hefzy said that the decision behind the film’s removal did not come from the Saudi film censorship committee but rather from the Egyptian censorship committee which had several concerns regarding the content of the film which they did not want to publicly disclose. So far, a few are speculating that the controversy behind the film lies in the religious themes that the film taps into. Zaki plays the role of a troubled woman who heads to Mecca to perform a pilgrimage in order to repent for her past sins but a few days before her trip a certain circumstance places her at a roadblock and makes her second-guess her decision.
Screening of Spike Lee’s Epic Biopic Malcolm X
Among the A-list celebrities attending the festival was the acclaimed US director, producer and screenwriter Spike Lee, known for his cinematic work that challenges racial stereotypes and taps into not often discussed topics as he shines a light on the African American experience. Bringing all his signature attributes to one film, the filmmaker introduced and screened his Oscar-nominated biopic “Malcolm X” at the film festival that depicts the many phases of Malcolm X’s life.
Screening Malcolm X in Saudi Arabia marks a historical event as despite the film having been released 30 years ago, it was never screened in the Kingdom up until now. What makes the screening of this particular film even more special is the fact that it is considered the first non-documentary to have some of its scenes be shot in Mecca.
During the festival, Spike Lee spoke about the journey and reasoning behind filming at Saudi Arabia’s holy city. The director wanted to showcase Malcolm X’s pilgrimage to Mecca so asked for and received permission from the highest Islamic court to shoot scenes at the holy city. Spike Lee himself was not allowed to shoot the scenes so instead, an all-Muslim camera crew was sent over to Mecca to capture the footage.
A Special Revival of Egypt’s Classic Cinematic Gems
In the world of film festivals, there has been a newly founded interest in restoring old Egyptian films to celebrate and promote Egypt’s rich golden era of cinema. With the 44th edition of the CIFF, we got to see Hussein Fahmy’s special project come to life where he selected three films from the 70s including Youssef Chahine’s 1971 classic “The Choice” that were restored and screened at this year’s festival.
Bringing back that special time in Egypt’s cinematic history, the Red Sea International Film Festival is placing the legendary Youssef Chahine in the spotlight through their ‘Youssef Chahine Films Retrospective’ screening programme. Set in Jeddah’s Hayy Cinema, Film enthusiasts in the Kingdom where able to witness classic films including “Alexandria, Why?” and “Alexandria Again and Forever”.
In that same cinema, guests got to catch a glimpse of photos depicting Youssef Chahine’s sets at a photography exhibition called “As Seen”. Youssef Chahine’s films were not the only ones that were revived and celebrated at the festival, fully restored versions of the Egyptian classics “Khally Ballak Men ZouZou” starring Soad Hosny as well as “Gharam Fl Karnak” featuring the popular Egyptian dancer Mahmmoud Reda and his special folk dance troupe were also showcased.
Premiere of First Saudi Film Shot In NEOM
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM has been making waves as the Kingdom’s first ever futuristic city that aims to achieve the impossible including the construction of Saudi’s first snowy ski resort dubbed Trojena. Such a unique city made it a prime choice as the shooting location for one of the films that took part in the Red Sea Film Festival.
“Within Sand” is officially the first Saudi film to have been shot in NEOM, making its premiere on December 6th. The film explores the life of Snam, a 23-year-old tobacco merchant who had to leave his travelling convoy behind to reach his village as his wife is about to give birth to her first child. With the entire film taking place in the desert, Mohammed Al-Atawi, the film’s director believed NEOM would be the best pick as he felt it was the perfect place to present “the desert of north Saudi in a way that champions its mysterious beauty, not only the harsh nature of a desert”. To him, beyond filming at NEOM, the director is honored to have his film featured in this year’s film festival.
Whether its unique set locations, controversial films or unexpected moments that remain entrenched in the minds of film aficionados and renowned guests, film festivals continue to go beyond celebrating the finest in the film industry. With the festival still ongoing till Dec. 10th, there will probably be even more surprises to look forward to in the ensuing days.