The inaugural edition of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival is all set to take off in November 2021. After a delay due to Covid-19 restrictions, the ambitious event is back on track to take place at Jeddah’s Old Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, between November 11 to November 20.
Under the theme of “Metamorphosis,” the festival celebrates cinema as a force for positive change. “It reflects on the festival’s local context: the impact of cinema’s triumphant return to Saudi Arabia since 2019, as well as the blossoming local and regional film scenes, exploring how cinema culture can create an interface connecting a new, outward-looking Saudi and the world,” reads a statement from the festival.
The first edition of the festival will look at how cinema has successfully adapted from being analog to digital, to new platforms delivering content, and the changing role of women in cinema. The event will also shed light on emerging talents from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. The festival comes after the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia after the removal of a ban lasting nearly four years.
40 Years and One Night by Saudi Arabian director Mohammed Alholayyil, 1982 by Oualid Mouaness, and A Son by Mehdi M. Barsaoui are some of the few films showing at the Red Sea International Film Festival this year. The plot of 40 Years and One Night follows five siblings and their children celebrating Eid al-Fitr at their family home. The happiness and joy come to a halt when the family receives an unfortunate phone call and what follows is chaos. Through the course of a single night, relationships are re-cast, and the past is rewritten.
1982, the first feature film by Mouaness, explores the Lebanese civil war through 11-year-old Wissam’s life. The film explores themes of love and fear while not being nostalgic or naive. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film received the NETPAC Award and was also chosen as Lebanon’s official submission to the Oscars.
A Son by Barsaoui follows a loving family where everything is at ease. The couple’s married life is bliss; the couple is happy at work, at home and even shares a close-knit relationship with their son. However, all those moments change in an instant when the family is caught in a random ambush. Secrets are exposed when their lives begin to unravel. Since its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the film won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor and was nominated for best film. The film also received tons of nominations and awards, including the Young Talent Award at the Hamburg Film Festival and several awards at the Cairo International Film Festival.
Heading the Red Sea International Film Festival are managing director Shivani Pandya and director of Arab programs and film classics Antoine Khalife. The two formerly worked at the Dubai International Film Festival. Kaleem Aftab, a film critic, joined as director of international programming while Jumana Zahid leads the Red Sea Lodge, an incubator for local filmmakers.
The festival looks to bring together film lovers, filmmakers, and the global film industry to celebrate cinema in the Kingdom. Several international guests were to grace the festival, which was initially supposed to take place in March last year. However, it is now unclear how many international stars will attend the festival due to current international travel restrictions.