Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival Sets Dates, Announces New Team

After a delay due to coronavirus, Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival is now on track to hold its first edition in November with a partly renewed team in place.

The ambitious event, which is Saudi’s first full-fledged film festival and market with international ambitions, is set to run Nov. 11-20 in the historic district of Jeddah, a Unesco World Heritage site.

The theme of the fest’s first edition will be “Metamorphosis,” intended as a celebration of “cinema as a force for positive change,” organizers said in a statement. The theme “reflects on the festival’s local context: the impact of cinema’s triumphant return to Saudi Arabia since 2019, as well as the blossoming local and regional film scenes, exploring how cinema culture can create an interface connecting a new, outward-looking Saudi and the world.”

Moviegoing is now booming in Saudi after the country in late 2017 removed its religion-related ban on cinemas, and a major effort is underway to foster a Saudi film industry.

In terms of management, the fest’s general manager remains Shivani Pandya, the now defunct Dubai fest’s former top exec, while Antoine Khalife, also a Dubai fest veteran, is also still on board as director of the Saudi fest’s Arab Program.

However, following the exit of Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh as Red Sea fest chief, there have been some changes in the team. London-based film critic Kaleem Aftab is joining as director of international programming, in charge of selecting international titles in various sections — a role similar to the one previously held at the Red Sea fest by former Sundance artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy, who has stepped down.

Jumana Zahid leads the Red Sea Lodge program to nurture new voices in Arab cinema, now in its second edition. The Red Sea Souk, the fest’s industry platform for distributors, sales agents and producers is headed by Zain Zedan, who replaces French industry veteran Julie Bergeron.

The Red Sea fest’s senior management team, which has a 50/50 gender split, is completed by Ibrahim Modir, head of shared services.