Stars shine on the Red Sea International Film Festival

Inaugural event features home-grown talent and features alongside international icons and blockbusters

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image used for illustrative purpose.

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Image used for illustrative purpose.

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JEDDAH: Cinematic masterpieces and their creators flocked to Jeddah for the long-awaited Red Sea International Film Festival.

After nearly two years on hold, the star-studded event finally rolled out the red carpet in the Kingdom’s beating cultural heart: Jeddah’s historic downtown area known as Al-Balad. With homes dating back at least three centuries in the backdrop, the scene was shining with international, Arab, and Saudi film stars, filmmakers, directors, and producers; a beautiful mix of the old and new as history was being made.

The event, set to run until Dec. 15, will feature world premieres of selected films made by the Kingdom’s up-and-coming talent, with 138 films from over 60 countries in total. The historical event, dubbed “a landmark moment,” by RSIFF Chairman Mohammed Al-Turki, will “serve (as) a launchpad for young Saudi and Arab talent and support the development of our flourishing industry.”

Less than 24 hours ago, residents of the city watched the closing ceremony of the first Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix, another historic moment for the Kingdom and the city of Jeddah as it bore witness to one of the biggest sports events in the world.

The celebrations continue at RSIFF as it aims to bring the global film industry “to network, share knowledge and forge partnerships” and will gather local film lovers, filmmakers, and international industry leaders at one event.

The red carpet witnessed some of the Kingdom’s most prominent names in film and television. Speaking to Arab News, Saudi actress Sumaya Rida, who starred in the Saudi film “Rupture,” said how much of an honor it was to represent the Kingdom in the film industry, with “Rupture” the only Saudi feature competing on an international scale as part of the festival.

“I had the opportunity to be part of two films for the festival. ‘Rupture’ is directed by Hamzah Jamjoom and produced by Aymen Khoja. I starred with the American actor Billy Zane. I also had the pleasure to co-star in the short film ‘Junoon,’ a horror short appealing to the new wave of Saudi cinema. There are many other great Saudi films and I am honestly very excited to watch these works,” said Rida.

One of the most significant cinematic figures in the Kingdom, Haifaa Al-Mansour, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, will be honored at the RSIFF and told Arab News that the support filmmakers have received in the past few years had produced great talents with fresh ideas, especially female members of the film industry, who have received unprecedented support.

“This is a beautiful beginning and I’m proud to be at such an event in Saudi Arabia celebrating cinema and celebrating women in cinema. As a Saudi director, this is a big deal and I’m proud to see a film directed and produced by Saudi female directors. This is a major leap for women in the Kingdom,” she told Arab News.

“I’m so happy to be here in Jeddah. I’m so proud to see all of this happening and I’m so happy to see a festival at this scale in the Arab world, and (am) hoping for many more festivals,” Lebanese fashion entrepreneur and digital influencer Karen Wazen told Arab News.

The festival’s movies are divided into 11 sections: Competition, Short Film Competition, International Spectacular, Arab Spectacular, Festival Favorites, New Saudi/ New Cinema (Feature), New Saudi/ New Cinema (Shorts), Treasures, Next Generation, Immersive and Episodic.

“It’s a great honor because this is the first movie festival here and it’s a symbol, it’s a sign of developing, and I really love this because cinema and all kinds of art open the mind. It’s beautiful,” Italian actor Michele Morrone told Arab News.

The Saudi films that will screen include: “Junoon” by directors Maan B. and Yaser B. Khalid, “Route 10” by Omar Naim, “Quareer” by Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi, and Noor Alameer, “Fay’s Palette” by Anas Ba-Tahaf, “Becoming” by Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Alfahhad, and Fatima Al-Banawi, “Kayan” by Hakeem Jomaah and “Cinema Al-Hara” by Faizah Ambah.

The lineup is interspersed with high-profile international films such as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elena Ferrante adaptation “The Lost Daughter,” “Memory Box” by Beirut-born director duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, “Huda’s Salon” by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, and India’s “Paka” directed by Nithin Lukose.

The festival will host several initiatives aimed at improving the Saudi film industry and enriching the Kingdom’s cinematic scene and talent development, and host a plethora of screenings, talks, workshops, and a masterclass by no other than famous Egyptian actress Yousra, tribute talks with Laila Eloui, and many more activities.

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