Inaugural Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia to Open With Joe Wright’s ‘Cyrano’

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The Red Sea Film Festival, Saudi Arabia’s first full-fledged international film festival, has unveiled the lineup for its inaugural edition next month.

Cyrano, Joe Wright’s musical romantic drama starring Peter Dinklage, Hayley Bennett, Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ben Mendelsohn, will open the curtain on the nine-day event in the coastal city of Jeddah. Closing the festival will be the world premiere of renowned Egyptian director Amr Salama’s latest feature, Bara El Menhag, starring Maged El-Kidwani, Omar Chareef, Rubi and Deena Maher.

The festival — which was due to launch in March 2020 but was canceled as the coronavirus pandemic spread internationally — will take place Dec. 5-14.

Elsewhere, a range of noted titles — many of which that have premiered internationally over the summer festivals — are set to screen. Among them are Hany Abu-Assad’s Toronto-bowing Palestinian thriller Huda’s Salon, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Oscar-tipped directorial debut The Lost Daughter, Ana Lily Amirpour’s Venice-premiering fantasy thriller Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, the upcoming Phoebe Dynevor-starring British period drama The Colour Room, Mamoru Hosoda’s anime feature Belle, as well as the documentary Ennio, focusing on the late Ennio Morricone.

Closer to home, the festival will welcome The Alleys from Jordanian multi-hyphenate (and Theeb co-writer) Bassel Ghandour, French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch’s Casablanca Beats, Memory Box from Joana Hadjithomas and, in Ghodwa and Daughters of Abdul-Rahman, respectively, two feature directorial debuts, the first from Tunisian actor Dhafer L’Abidine (Children of Men, The Looming Tower) and the other from Jordanian filmmaker Zaid Abu Hamdan. Also getting a special screening is the omnibus feature Becoming, made up of five short films from Saudi directors Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Al-Fahhad and Fatima Al-Banawi.

In total, the Red Sea Film Festival will feature 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages, including 25 world premieres. Among this lineup are a slate of 27 new Saudi features from emerging local filmmakers.

“We are delighted to announce the incredible slate of films being presented at the inaugural edition of the festival,” said festival artistic director Edouard Waintrop. “To be able to start so strongly, with such a wide array of incredible storytelling from both the Arab world and further afield, is significant and speaks to the promising future of this festival, both this year and beyond. The slate also underscores the diversity of cinema being presented at the festival, with authentic stories from all over the world coming from both established and emerging filmmakers.”

Alongside the film, the Red Sea Film Festival is giving out its first awards, which for its inaugural edition will be going two groundbreaking women from the region. Haifa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia’s most recognizable director who rose to prominence with her critically acclaimed debut Wadjda, will be honored, as will Egyptian actress Laila Eloui, who has starred in more than 70 films across her career. Eloui will also give a masterclass, as will Egyptian acting and singing icon Yousra. Al-Mansour, meanwhile, will take part in one of three “in conversation with” talks, the other two being with Tunisian actress Hend Sabry and Paris-based Argentinian director Gaspar Noé.

On the industry side, the festival’s Red Sea Souk industry market will run Dec. 8-11 and will include the pitching sessions for 23 films in development and works-in-progress screenings. More than $800,000 will be awarded to the projects in the Red Sea Souk Awards. The Souk will also present seven features looking for distribution, including Junoon directed by Maan B. and Yaser B. Khalid, Soula directed by Salah Issaad, Sharaf directed by Samir Nasr, Take Me To The Cinema directed by Albaqer Jaafar, plus Ghodwa and Daughters of Abdul-Rahman.

“The festival is not only a celebration of cinema but an important opportunity for the Saudi film industry as a whole,” said Red Sea managing director Shivani Pandya Malhotra. “The festival offers not only an international stage to Saudi film professionals, but also demonstrates the abundance of talent and opportunities that Saudi Arabia can offer to the international film industry. The Red Sea Souk, in particular, will play such an important role in global exchange and partnerships between the international and Saudi film industries.”

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