Red Sea Int’l Film Festival celebrates Saudi Arabia’s arts renaissance

(Photos: RSSIF)
Against the backdrop of a country-wide arts and culture renaissance, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia became an epicenter for international film from December 1-10 as global filmmakers, celebrities, and crowds thronged to the city for the second annual Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF). اضافة اعلان

Under the motto “film is everything”, the festival was a testament to the kingdom’s expanding cultural and film landscape, showcasing films that explored both past, present, and future in Saudi Arabia and beyond, with long and short film competitions and categories for new Saudi cinema, Arab cinema, films that explore alternate modes of viewing through virtual reality, and films that bring “fresh cinematic vision” to the screen, according to the festival website.

What concluded as an impressive and successful event — both made possible and bolstered by the progressive transformations of the desert kingdom — would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago.

For 35 years, cinema itself was banned in Saudi Arabia, with the first film house opened in 2018. The sector has since grown by leaps and bounds — the kingdom now owns the most theaters in the Arab world. As of January 2022, Saudi Arabia’s 52 cinemas had approximately 473 screens, according to a report by Entertainment Solution Services, which has consulted on cinema-building in the country.

Forecasts for the country’s film presence are also bright. by 2030, Saudi box office revenues are estimated to exceed $1b — landing it among the top 20 of global cinema markets, the report noted. Meanwhile, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) expects the country to have around 350 cinemas with 2,500 screens by 2030.

A destination
Through sponsors and the considerable support of official and cultural bodies, the Red Sea Film Festival, though new, has found its place in the regional arts scene, quickly growing into a destination for Saudi, Arab, and international filmmakers.

Over the course of eight days, this year’s festival presented 131 short feature films from 61 countries in 41 languages, including 25 Saudi films, reflecting great interest in the sector.

Along with the emergence of Saudi cinema comes abundant rising talent — those with great passion for filmmaking and working in cinema in various capacities, both behind and in front of the camera.

The events were held at two different venues: the luxurious Ritz Carlton Hotel Jeddah, which hosted red carpet shows, meetings between stakeholders, the Red Sea Festival Market, and the virtual reality cinema features; and Fox Cinema at the Red Sea Mall.

Stars truly shone throughout the event: big names like Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone, Guy Ritchie, Luca Guadagnino, Spike Lee, Andrew Dominik, and Fatih Akin all made an appearance, along with Adil El Arbi, Bilal Fallah, Gaspar Noe, Kaouther Ben Hania, Andy Garcia, Akshay Kumar, Jackie Chan, Nelly Karim, Ranbin Kapoor and Hrithik Roshak.

Opening doors
During the festival, support was given to Arab filmmakers, who premiered their works under a “zero-censorship” policy. This meant that regional voices were able to address bold political and cultural questions, as in the film “The Blue Caftan” by Morocco’s Marie Tuzani.
Along with the emergence of Saudi cinema comes abundant rising talent — those with great passion for filmmaking and working in cinema in various capacities, both behind and in front of the camera.
“I don’t think you can have an international film festival if you’re going to be censored,” the festival’s chief executive Mohammed Al-Turki had stated at a press conference.

What is more, the festival paid special focus to uplifting the sector’s women, showing 35 films directed by female filmmakers, and offered several masterclasses by inspiring female names in cinema.

In partnership with Vanity Fair, the festival hosted a “Celebration of Women in Cinema” gala to express support for global female talent both on and behind the camera — a culmination of the RSSIF’s programming throughout the year to advance Arab, Asian, and African women in the film industry.

Since the launch of the Red Sea Film Foundation in 2019, it has championed women filmmakers as they blaze their own cinematic trails, and continued to advocate against barriers in the face of so many women worldwide. The foundation has also introduced programs that address the underrepresentation of women in the film industry.

In tandem with this support and the growth of the industry, the number of women directors and producers in Saudi Arabia and the region is on the rise.

The festival in Jeddah attracted not only those invested in film and international figures. Residents of Jeddah and others Saudi cities — cinema-lovers and those wishing to participate in change in their country — also attended the screenings and events.

The Red Sea International Film Festival, fun in creativity, smart in cinematic choices, and undoubtedly held at a key cinematic destination, supported this growing market in Saudi Arabia through opportunities for networking, production, directing, acting, and viewing enjoyment for broader and broader audiences.

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