Conceived in 2019, Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival begins Monday with a host of Arab and international stars expected to descend on the city.
Known for its artistic bent in a Kingdom that has made strides to promote creative industries in recent years, Jeddah has long been the focal point of the Saudi film scene.
The festival, which runs until December 16, will be held in the city’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Red Sea International Film Festival was due to hold its inaugural event in March of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic halted events worldwide.
Cinema was officially banned in Saudi Arabia until reforms ushered in by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted restrictions with a screening of Marvel’s Black Panther in April 2018.
In November, the Saudi Film Commission announced a strategy designed to grow the film industry’s revenue to $500 million.
Local and international star power
The festival will exhibit some of Saudi Arabia’s finest filmmaking talent alongside international big-hitters.
Romantic musical Cyrano — directed by Joe Wright and starring Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones fame — will open the festival.
The Maggie Gyllenhaal-directed The Lost Daughter will also be screened.
It follows the story of an English professor who strikes up an uneasy friendship while on holiday in Greece.
The film stars Dakota Johnson, Olivia Coleman, and Jessie Buckley.
A total of 27 Saudi films will also be shown at the nine-day festival.
Five Saudi directors collaborated to put together Becoming, a film that takes a deep look at contemporary life in the Kingdom through five different storylines.
These include a 40-year-old hairdresser’s struggles with contemplating an abortion, a bride who disappears on the night of her wedding, and an infertility healer whose life intersects with a young pharmacist trying to get pregnant.
Becoming was directed jointly by Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Alfahhad, and Fatima al-Banawi.
Fay’s Palette, directed by Jeddah-based Anas Batahaf, follows the eponymous protagonist who lives a secluded life, expressing her inner world through painting.
Junoon is a horror film directed by Riyadh’s Maan bin Abdulrahman. It tells the story of Khalid, a wannabe vlogger who travels to Southern California to document paranormal happenings.
Lebanese director Omar Naim’s Route Ten will premiere at the festival.
The plot centers on siblings Maryam and Nasser who are planning to travel from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to attend their father’s wedding until their flight is canceled.
Forced to make the journey by car instead, the two spend the time confronting a frayed relationship strained by their mother’s death and overbearing father – all the while facing unexpected perils of the desert road.
Several awards with prizes of up to $100,000 can be won by filmmakers at the festival.
Both feature-length and short films will be judged. There are categories designed to foster emerging Saudi talent, as well as international directors.
The New Saudi category is open to new and established directors who have produced films in which the lead creatives are from the Kingdom. The films must be produced or shot in Saudi Arabia.
The Tajreeb category focuses on Saudi films that are more experimental in nature.
Organizers selected judges from within the film community who have not taken part in the production of any film entered in the competition.