Jeddah 2021: The Saudi Film Industry Revives Its Cultural Mecca!

After 35 years of cinema ban, Saudi Arabia is now focusing on its burgeoning film sector. As a result, in 2019, the Red Sea Film Festival was announced as an event to promote film culture in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. In addition, through year-round programs and seminars, the festival aspires to encourage filmmakers, and develop talents.


The event this year will be held in the beautiful city of Jeddah, but why there specifically? Well, Jeddah is the Western port city renowned as the “Bride of the Red Sea,” and has long been a melting pot of cultures. It is a city where different cultures collide to form a unique junction of East and West, displaying a cosmopolitan character that is always evolving. In addition, Jeddah is home to various historical sites, as well as a center for cinematographers who are revolutionizing the cinema industry in various ways. Therefore, in its renowned UNESCO Heritage Site, Jeddah seemed to be a natural choice to host the Red Sea Film Festival!


The film festival intends to emphasize Jeddah’s cinematic presence since the 1970s, in order to develop cross-cultural dialogue and to establish Saudi Arabia as a vital contributor to the International Film Industry. To contribute towards the development of the film industry in the Kingdom, they will promote and encourage the growth of the film community by developing and boosting the industry’s expertise, allowing more filmmakers to participate and share their visions.

In addition, Egypt was expected to be one of the most active participants in the festival’s activities. The festival’s organizers announced in December 2019 that it will honor Egyptian filmmakers Khairy Beshara, whose films have been remastered by the festival. Thus, event organizer of the Gouna Film Festival (GFF) hailing from Iraq, Intishal Al Tamimi, is highly optimistic about the RSIFF’s decision in this matter as well.

Mahmoud Sabbagh, the director of Barakah Meets Barakah, will be in charge of the festival. Sabbagh was named director and CEO of the festival, with the goal of bringing regional and worldwide cinema communities to Saudi Arabia’s cultural capital. Furthermore, Hussain Currimbhoy, a former documentary programmer at the Sundance Film Festival, has been designated as the Creative Director for the Red Sea Film Festival.

RSIFF Programs

The first edition of the Saudi festival was intended to take place last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and restrictions set in place by the Kingdom. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop them from supporting filmmakers across the country through funds and programs that as a way to encourage and share their films openly with the world.

The RSIFF will feature the following programs:

  • Red Sea Lodge: Teams of Saudi and Arab Directors, as well as scriptwriters, will work on projects through this intensely creative and professional training program. The Red Sea Lodge, in cooperation with TorinoFilmLab, chooses projects for creative and professional mentorship, development, and next level industry chances for filmmakers on the verge of their big break. The curriculum includes a producing coaching program, as well as ongoing script writing sessions and covers professional development, production, funding, sales, and marketing. Participants will also have the opportunity to collaborate with internationally renowned experts in the fields of directing, cinematography, sound editing, post-production, and sales during the workshop.
  • Red Sea Fund: The Red Sea Fund is providing the industry with its largest funding boost this year. With 14 million dollars in grants, 100+ directors will be able to put their ideas to the big screen, supporting film projects from development to post-production, enabling filmmakers to pursue their careers and to achieve their intended projects.
  • Cinema Al-Hara: A first-of-its-kind community out reach initiative consisting of outdoor master classes and film screening in several Jeddah neighborhoods will be presented by the Red Sea International Film Festival. The idea of bringing the festival to the heart of Jeddah and directly to the people inspired the program’s proactive approach. Six screenings of Cinema Al-Hara will be held in four different Jeddah neighborhoods, which started on October 9th and will be running all throughout the month, ending on October 30th.

The significance of the festival

The festival will feature the region’s top films, as well as an exclusive screening of a carefully picked selection of internationally acclaimed titles from around the world.

In addition, the festival provides an ideal opportunity for Saudi youth to learn about other cultures via the medium of film and to contribute to the country’s growing film industry, and the Festival will also be offering ample finance opportunities. The RSIFF foundation launched a US$10 million Red Sea Fund, which will support 100 full-length movies in development, production, and postproduction from Africa and the Arab world, with Saudi filmmakers eligible to submit for short film projects.

Muhammad Al-Turki, Chairman of the festival Committee, added that “Calling Jeddah Old Town, otherwise known as ‘Al-Balad’, our home for the Red Sea International Film Festival is really significant and means a lot to us. ‘Al-Balad’ traces back to our roots in the Kingdom, it is the jewel of Jeddah city that melds the historic with the modern in perfect harmony. It is a true honor having this UNESCO world heritage site be the hub for the region’s largest film festival that will put the Kingdom on the map of the global film stage.”

Concerns regarding the festival

According to Al Tamimi, the danger from this festival is not the outside competition, but rather a lack of development or lack of passion.

Al Tamimi also mentioned that “The presence of a festival with great potential, such as RSIFF, or a festival with a long history and a professional calibre of personnel, such as Cairo, Carthage or Marrakesh, motivates us to do more. A month and a half before the opening date, we have secured the bulk of the film program and we are moving towards the opening of the fifth round with great confidence. Perhaps my own greatest ambition since the beginning of my work in the festival is to establish a film fund, because for me that is the main component of any festival, and I hope that the right conditions for this will happen one day.”

Nonetheless, we anticipate great success from this festival, as it is primarily intended to encourage Saudi and Arab artists on pursuing their ideas!

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