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The second edition of the Red Sea Film Festival starts on Thursday, Dec. 1, kicking of 10 days of cinema action in Saudi’s coastal metropolis of Jeddah.
To save international attendees some time, The Hollywood Reporter has gone through the festival program to pick out several things not to be missed.
The On-Stage Talks — Guy Ritchie, Luca Guadagnino and More
Given it’s only into its sophomore year and not exactly a short-haul flight away, the Red Sea Film Festival has managed to attract a hugely impressive assortment of international talent to its shores for special in-conversation events. Among those lined up to appear on stage at the Red Sea Mall are Andy Garcia, Guy Ritchie, Luca Guadagnino, Gurinder Chadha, Nadine Labaki, Akshay Kumar, Fatih Akin and Adil El Arbi and Bilal Fallah, with more still to be announced. El Arbi and Fallah are in town with their feature Rebel, but will they spark headlines with any mention of their infamously scrapped Batgirl? Worth sticking around to find out.
The Chance to Explore Emerging Saudi Cinema
The first-ever Red Sea Film Festival, due to take place in March 2020, was set to open with local feature The Book of Sun from brothers Faris and Suhaib Godus. Sadly, the COVID pandemic had other plans, and the inaugural event was eventually shifted to December 2021 (by which point The Book of Sun had become a local box office hit and topped Netflix charts). This year’s opener may not be Saudi (it’s What’s Love Got to Do With It?), but there’s still an impressive array of local films in the lineup, not least for a country where cinema was banned until less than five years ago.
Among the Saudi features getting their world premieres are Raven Song from Mohamed Al Salman, about a man forced to make rapid decisions when he’s diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Moe Alatawi’s Within Sand, following a young man making his way across the desert (with the help of a wolf, no less) to get to his heavily pregnant wife. The festival also closes with Khaled Fahd’s Valley Road, focusing on a young boy who is perceived as having a disability and set in the mountain village of Alwadi. All three are debut features. Giving a hint at what’s coming around the corner, the fest also has a bumper selection of Saudi short films.
The Talks and Panel Discussions in the Souk
As with most film festivals, it’s not all about the films. Over in the so-called Red Sea Souk, the festival’s industry-focused section, alongside pitching and networking sessions and market screenings, there are also a number of talks being held in association with Winston Baker, many with a sharp focus on the local sector. Among the topics are the regional sales and distribution landscape, the opportunities currently available to filmmakers in the Arab world, navigating international co-productions and the various financing avenues, while Netflix is involved in both a workshop about writing to the budget and a post-production case study.
The Opportunity to Watch the Big Hitters (and Oscar Contenders) From Other Festivals You May Have Missed
Alongside the solid assortment of Middle Eastern offerings in the lineup, Rea Sea programmers have booked a decent crop of major titles from 2022’s A-list festivals, several of which will likely be part of the upcoming awards conversation. Among the international films are Martin McDonagh’s acclaimed Banshees of Inisherin (for which Colin Farrell is expected to get a best actor Oscar nomination), plus Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All, both of which bowed in Venice, alongside Ruben Ostlund’s Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness and fellow Cannes competition titles Decision to Leave from Park Chan-Wook (heavily tipped for the best international film Oscar race) and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Broker. Elsewhere, there’s Sam Mendes’ ode to cinema Empire of Light, plus Hunt, Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae’s directorial debut.
To Explore Jeddah Itself
There’s no point flying all the way to somewhere that dates back to the 7th century and spending the entire time in darkened screening rooms and auditoriums. Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city (population around 4.7 million) and its commercial and tourism capital has plenty to offer for those with some time on their hands, including its bustling corniche, the ancient neighborhood of Al-Balad (featuring many of the city’s oldest and most beautiful wooden and coral stone buildings), and the famed floating mosque (also known as the Al-Rahman Mosque), jutting out into the water. Meanwhile, its coastal position makes fresh seafood high up on the local culinary list (although there’s pretty much everything else as well).
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