Saudi Arabia opens Red Sea Film Festival with Catherine Deneuve and Thierry Frémaux

Three years after the lifting of the ban on cinemas, the kingdom is launching the first edition of a cinephile meeting at the crossroads between the Arab world and the Indian Ocean. With prestigious guests.

Special Envoy in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia)

The art of the darkroom comes to the shores of the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia is inaugurating this Monday, December 6 in Jeddah, the first edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF) dedicated to international cinema as well as to the burgeoning local and regional scene. A remarkable event in the kingdom which, three years ago, did not have cinemas on its territory.

Organized until December 15 in the old town of Jeddah, the festival intends to present Saudi Arabia’s new openness to abroad and its desire to become a new cultural and international hub between the Western and Asian titans. In this respect, it is difficult to find a better place than the historic port of Jeddah. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as colorful as it is cosmopolitan, the city located about fifty kilometers from Mecca, eloquently underlines the modernity claimed by the kingdom, as well as the contrast between the old and the new. Crystallization of this international reach of the RSIFF, the opening film of the festival will resonate with European accents, in the flaming Vox cinema in the heart of Jeddah. Even with Bergerac accents, thanks to the British musical Cyrano, by Joe Wright; a screen adaptation of a play written in 2018 by Erica Schmidt, based on the work of Edmond Rostand.

More than a hundred films will be presented on the occasion of the nine days of the festival, including a large selection of regional feature films, on which the competition has tightened, with the idea of ​​promoting cinema from the Arab world and Indian Ocean. From the day after opening day, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad – Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2006 with Paradise Now – will come to present Huda’s Salon. This thriller set in the occupied West Bank, and which could make its way between now and the next Oscars, features a hairdressing salon around which the Israeli secret services are eyeing.

A female jury

However, the feature film will not be the only one to try its luck to win, at the end of the festival, the grand prize of the Golden Yusr. Farha, by Jordanian director Darin J. Sallam; Europa, of the Moroccan Haidar Rachid; or Brighton 4th, by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili will compete with a dozen other films – Senegalese, Moroccan, Indian, Algerian, Indonesian … – the good graces of the jury chaired by Italian filmmaker Giuseppe Tornatore (Baarìa, Malèna). The director will be supported by the Tunisian actress Hend Sabry, the Saudi director Abdulaziz Alshlahei, the American-Tunisian filmmaker Cherien Dabis as well as the director of the Morelia festival, Daniela Michel. Or three women for two men, including the president of the jury. A symbolically significant gesture in a country where Wahhabi Islam is the state religion.

Testimony to the marked international ambition of the meeting, many personalities made the trip to Jeddah for this first edition of the Red Sea Festival. Among the French guests are Catherine Deneuve, director Gaspar Noé as well as the former Minister of Culture and current president of the Arab World Institute, Jack Lang. General Delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Frémaux is also present in Saudi Arabia, where he will present his documentary dedicated to the Lumières brothers, released in 2016.

For the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation organizing the event, the RSIFF is also seen as an important platform in building a Saudi film industry. Specific sessions of the festival intend to highlight the creators of the country, in a context of rebirth of Saudi cinema. As for the jury, inclusiveness will be the order of the day. Among the more than 100 films on the program for the next few days, Saudi director Faiza Ambah will present, out of competition, her medium-length film. My vibe, the discovery of cinema by three Saudi teenagers. A beautiful synthesis of the handover which dreams of becoming the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah. Where the beautiful and fragile facades of 19th century tower housese century cast their shadow on the carefree banter of the most hip Saudi youth in the kingdom.


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