Jeddah is About to Host Saudi Arabia’s First International Film Festival and Here’s What You Need to Know
The first-ever edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival is coming to the port city of Jeddah in March. The event is the first of its kind to take place within the Kingdom, marking an artistic paradigm shift. Debuting on March 12th, the festival aims to enrich Saudi film culture in an effort to put the country on the proverbial cinematic map of the world.
Prior to April 2018, the filmmaking industry of Saudi Arabia did not exist. Although a number of Saudi directors operated outside the Kingdom, on the home front, this form of art was discouraged. Yet, with the change in vision that came with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a number of reforms have been implemented, including opening cinemas and film houses as well as lifting the ban on filmmaking.
The Jeddah International Film Festival is organized by the Red Sea Film Foundation, a non-profit foundation which is chaired by Prince Badr Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s minister of culture, and headed by the Saudi director, Mahmoud Sabbagh. American director, Oliver Stone, will also be making an appearance at the festival, heading the jury of the international competition.
“It’s pleasing that we are bringing these great quality films discussing social issues of the day, said Sabbagh, Festival Director. “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.”
The ten-day event contains a total of 16 films in-competition, 7 out-of-competition titles, 15 Retrospectives and 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 ‘Untitled Omnibus Feature’, an anthology comprised of 5 short films.
Film experts are expecting that The Red Sea International Film Festival is gearing up to be one of the most influential filmmaking events in the region, with features from 17 countries participating in the competition as well as cinema legends such as three-times Oscar winner Oliver Stone heading the jury.
If you are an aspiring Saudi filmmaker or a cinema buff, the Red Sea International Film Festival is offering a series of masterclasses in the various disciplines of the field. Furthermore, a myriad of iconic Arab, as well as international, cinematic figures such as Spike Lee, William Friedkin, Abel Ferrara, Khairy Beshara, and Yousry Nasrallah, will make appearances to give their input to the Kingdom’s next generation of filmmakers.
The festival is also going to showcase the world premiere of Saudi film ‘Shams Al-Mareef’, one of two films to receive a USD 500,000 grant given to emerging Saudi filmmakers.
The screenings are to include Spike Lee’s ‘Malcom X’, which contains scenes shot in the holy city of Mecca and the festival is also paying homage to the forebearers of Arab cinema by showcasing ‘The Choice’, a Youssef Chahine production that has been restored by the Red Sea Film Foundation.
The entire award-pool for this edition of the festival comes to a total of USD 250,000 for films in competition. The Golden Yusr Trophy for Best Feature carries a USD 100,000 prize and the Silver Yusr Trophy for Best Director comes with a USD 50,000 award. Moreover, a Silver Yusr Trophy will be awarded for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Cinematic Contribution. A prize of USD 50,000 will go to the winner of the Audience Award and an additional Golden Yusr Trophy will be presented to the Best Short Film, which also promises a USD 50,000 investment for a future project, plus a five-month creative residency in Jeddah’s Old Town.
Jeddah has been known for years to be the cultural capital of the Kingdom, and through this festival, Saudi is looking to encourage grassroots cinema movements as well as aspiring filmmakers from all over the region.