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The inaugural Red Sea Film Festival — which was due to launch March 12, 2020 in Saudi Arabia’s coastal city of Jeddah and became one of the first festival casualties of the coronavirus — has finally been rescheduled.
Almost a year to the day that the festival was canceled as the kingdom reported its first cases of COVID-19 and much of the world was beginning to feel the devastating effects of the pandemic, organizers have revealed that the festival will now take place Nov. 11-20, 2021.
Under the theme of “Metamorphosis,” the first edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, according to organizers, is set to “celebrate cinema as a force for positive change,” while also reflecting on the “blossoming local and regional scenes.”
Originally the brainchild of Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh (Barakah Meets Barakah), the Red Sea Film Festival marks another cinematic step in a country where a 35-year ban on public theaters was lifted less than four years ago. While not the nation’s first film event — that honor goes to the Saudi Film Festival, which had to operate mostly in the shadows until recent developments — it’s the first to come under the auspices of the newly launched Ministry of Culture.
Several months after the cancellation in 2020, however, Sabbagh stepped down from his role to focus on his own projects. Another festival director is yet to be announced.
The current team is led by managing director Shivani Pandya and director of Arab programs and film classics Antoine Khalife, both formerly of the Dubai International Film Festival. Film critic Kaleem Aftab has joined as director of international programming, while Jumana Zahid leads the Red Sea Lodge, the Red Sea Film Foundation’s incubator for Saudi and Arab filmmakers, now in its second edition.
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