Saudi Arabia's Inaugural Red Sea Film Festival Postponed Due to Coronavirus

Jeddah — Publicity — H 2020
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The event was due to kick off March 12 in Jeddah.

The growing coronavirus crisis has claimed another film festival.

Organizers of the inaugural Red Sea Film Festival, due to launch March 12 in Saudi Arabia's coastal city of Jeddah, have now announced that the event is being postponed due to health fears. The news comes just as the Kingdom confirmed its first cases of the disease, having already made the unprecedented move of banning religious visitors for the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca later in the year. 

"To all cineastes, it's with feelings of deep sadness that we have had to take this tough decision," the fest posted Tuesday on its official Twitter account. "The spread of coronavirus is a battle we all must face around the globe, and it's with no hesitation that we are respecting the measures needed to meet the current health emergency."

The festival added that it would announce new dates "as soon as feasible."

Founded by Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh (Barakah Meets Barakah), the Red Sea Film Festival marked yet another cinematic step in a country where a 35-year ban on public theaters was lifted less than three 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 was the first to come under the auspices of the newly launched Ministry of Culture. 

Underlining its international outreach, the festival named Oliver Stone as head of its international jury, while confirming that Spike Lee would be attending to hold a master class. 

The event now joins Qatar's Qumra Film Festival and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, which both recently revealed that they would be postponed due to the coronavirus. Pressure has been mounting on SXSW to shift its dates, while many in the industry have been looking ahead to Cannes in May as a potential victim, as well.