Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 4 April 2020

Red Sea Film Festival 2020: What you need to know about the Saudi event

The event will host over 100 features and shorts, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality installations, talks, exhibitions and masterclasses set to take place over the course of the festival’s nine-day duration

Update: Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia organisers have postponed the event due to the coronavirus outbreak. No new date has been announced.

Excitement is mounting for the first annual Red Sea International Film Festival, set to open next weekend with The Book of Sun, the latest feature from rising Saudi talents the Godus Brothers. In total, there will be more than 100 features and shorts, as well as virtual reality and augmented reality installations, talks, exhibitions and masterclasses set to take place over the course of the festival’s nine-day duration.

RSFF may be new, but as is the case with many of the events taking place as part of the Kingdom’s opening up to the outside world, the organisers have gone big – establishing themselves from the outset as the biggest festival in the region, filling a gap in the Gulf cultural calendar that was left by Dubai International Film Festival being put on ice in 2018. With less than two weeks to go until the festival opens its doors to the public for the first time, check out our guide to the inaugural event.

When, where and what is it?

RSFF is Saudi Arabia’s first international film festival, and follows the reopening of cinemas in the kingdom in 2018, following a four-decade hiatus. At the time of writing, the festival programme included 109 films, including shorts, features, documentaries and fiction from around the world, with a particular emphasis on films from Saudi Arabia, the Arab world, and the wider global South.

RSFF takes place in a new, purpose-built festival centre in Jeddah’s historic old town, a Unesco world heritage site. The new centre includes the 1,200-seat Coral Theatre, as well as four smaller auditoriums seating from 120 to 240 audience members. The festival opens on Thursday, March 12 and continues until Saturday, March 21.

The festival’s online box office is open now at www.redseafilmfest.com.

The competition

There are 17 films in the festival’s inaugural competition section, all vying for the Golden Yusr top prize of $100,000 (Dh367,000) for the Best Film, as well as a number of smaller prizes. Films in the debut competition line up come from all over the world, including Angola, Kosovo and Mongolia, as well as Saudi Arabia itself and more traditional film hubs including the US, India and France. The competition jury will be headed by Hollywood legend and three-time Oscar-winner Oliver Stone, director of classics such as JFK, Snowden and Platoon.

Stone will also be hosting a special screening of the 1969 classic Z, Costa-Gavras’s political thriller about a state-sanctioned assassination which Stone considers influential to his own, often highly politicised, filmmaking career. The film is one of only a handful ever to be nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Film Oscars, and as an Algerian co-production remains the only Arab film ever to win an Oscar.

The Red Sea Shorts competition, meanwhile, brings some of the most promising filmmakers from the Arab world under one roof, with a $50,000 prize for the winners of the Best Short prize.

Out of competition

There’s plenty of movie action outside the festival’s official competition section, too. The 24 films in the festival’s Best of the Year section offer something for horror fans – John Krasinski’s eagerly awaited sequel A Quiet Place Part II, 24 hours before its Gulf release on March 19; football fans – Amy director Asif Kapadia’s doc about the divisive footballer, Diego Maradona; cinema history fans – Pamela B Green’s doc covering the life of Alice Guy-Blache, probably the first-ever female director, and erstwhile head of French production giant Gaumont, whose career abruptly ended in 1919; classic literature fans – Armando Ianucci’s modern reworking of Dickens’s classic David Copperfield, and plenty more besides.

The New Saudi/New Cinema programme, meanwhile, is designed to bring some of the kingdom’s most promising new film makers to the attention of audiences and industry alike, while the Retrospectives and Classics programme will feature a look back at the work of seminal Egyptian director Khairy Beshara, a specially restored version of Youssef Chahine’s masterpiece Al-Ikhtiyar , and an exclusive look at some of the earliest –known footage ever to shoot in the Gulf, and the only filmed account of the Great Arab Revolt, in The French Military Mission to Hijaz.

Highlights of the main Out of Competition section include Alexandre O Philippe’s interrogation of The Exorcist director William Friedkin and Rubika Shah’s paean to the punk and reggae bands that made up the original Rock Against Racism movement of the 1970s.

The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation has restored Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s masterpiece 'Al-Ikhtiyar' (The Choice). The murder mystery will screen in the Festival’s Retrospective and Classics section. RSFF
The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation has restored Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine’s masterpiece 'Al-Ikhtiyar' (The Choice). The murder mystery will screen in the Festival’s Retrospective and Classics section. RSFF

Not just films

As well as this feast of film, the festival offers a selection of site-specific VR, sound and holographic installations in its Immersive Cinema section, while the When Fellini Dreamt of Picasso exhibition, in collaboration with Cinematheque Francaise, celebrates 100 years since the birth of the great Italian filmmaker and explores how many of Fellini's films were inspired by Picasso's paintings, though the two never met.

The festival’s Red Sea Souk, exhibition space and masterclasses, meanwhile, while perhaps of limited interest to many audience members, promise a new meeting and market space to bring the global industry to local film makers and producers.

Perhaps the festival’s biggest draws outside of watching films, however, will be the masterclass hosted by Hollywood giant Spike Lee, the Oscar-winning director of BlacKkKansman and Do the Right Thing who, as well as attending a special screening of his 1992 biopic Malcolm X, the first major international film to be granted permission to shoot in Mecca, will be talking about his life and work on March 14.

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from Thursday, March 12 until Saturday, March 21. Full, regularly updated festival details and tickets are available now at www.redseafilmfest.com

Updated: March 4, 2020 09:03 AM

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