JEDDAH — The Red Sea International Film Festival's third edition kicked off on Thursday with a star-studded affair, drawing Hollywood's finest, including Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Williams, Ammy Jackson, and Frieda Pinto, among others.

Jomana Al Rashid, Chairman of the Red Sea Film Festival’s foundation, set the tone with her opening remarks, revealing the staggering lineup: "130 films from 77 countries in over 47 languages, including 35 world premieres and 20 Arab premieres." She proudly highlighted the foundation's support for over 250 films since its launch, with eight backed films making it to this year's Cannes official selection.

Al Rashid's optimism shone as she pointed out Saudi's theatrical box office doubling post-pandemic, projecting a billion-dollar mark by 2030, saying confidently "We're just getting started."

The festival bestowed prestigious awards upon Ranveer Singh, Diane Kruger, and Abdullah Al-Sadhan, recognizing their outstanding contributions to the cinematic world.

Baz Luhrmann, President of the Jury for the main feature film competition, praised the vibrant film culture blossoming in Saudi Arabia in just five years.

Johnny Depp expressed his honor in supporting the festival, while Ammy Jackson said it's "bigger and better every year."

The festival's theme, "Your Story, Your Festival," echoed throughout the event, emphasizing individual narratives and diverse voices. The international inclusivity was apparent, with filmmakers from Asia to Africa getting a platform to shine.

The opening film, "Hwjn" by Yasir Aliyasiri, a fantasy epic set in contemporary Jeddah, set the stage for a cinematic journey.

This year, the festival, making a bold statement, featured more Saudi films than ever before, showcasing the country's burgeoning talent to a global audience.

The opening of the third edition undeniably signaled the festival's ascension as a major player on the international stage, shedding any past struggles and firmly establishing itself as the region's premier cinematic celebration.

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