From 1 to 10 December, the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is the place to be for cinema. For its second edition, the event is once again putting the spotlight on Arab cinema, with some of this year's award-winning films, all under the eyes of prestigious guests - producers, filmmakers and actors.
This is only its second edition, but the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF) is well on its way to becoming a reference for film events in the Middle East. Firstly because it attracts big names in the world of cinema – Guy Ritchie, Sharon Stone and Spike Lee, in particular for this 2022 edition. Also because it offers a great platform for independent cinema. And finally, because it is one of the events – still too few in number – that allow Arab cinema to express itself before a world forum.
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A showcase for Arab cinema
Arab cinema is once again in the spotlight this year in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), on the shores of the Red Sea. Of the 154 films screened at the Red Sea Film Festival this year, 61 are in Arabic. Six of them are vying for the Best Film award, including the Lebanese “Dirty Difficult Dangerous” by Wissam Charaf, the Iraqi “Hanging Gardens” by Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji and the French-Algerian “Akhira, the Last Queen”, all three of which were nominated at the previous Venice Film Festival, or the Syrian “Nezouh” by Soudade Kaadan, winner of the Audience Award at the same Venice Film Festival and the Tunisian “Harka” by Lotfy Nathan, winner of the Un Certain Regard Award at the Cannes Film Festival 2022.
The Arab participation in the short film section is also abundant with no less than 12 productions in competition, including the multi-award winning “Warsha”, by Lebanese director Dania Bedir, winner of the Jury Prize for Best Short Film at the Sundance Festival and Best Short Film at the Berlin Interfilm Festival.
Saudi cinema under the spotlights
The RSIFF is not only a showcase for Arab cinema, but also an opportunity to shine a huge spotlight on the Saudi film industry. In a country where the film industry is still in its infancy – even if it has already produced a few references in terms of short films, notably Dunya’s Day by Raed Alsemari, best short film at Sundance 2019 – the Red Sea International Film Festival has some fine local discoveries in store this year.
Among these, in the official competition, is Mohammed Alatawai’s “Within Sand”, a breathtaking thriller – based on real events – set in the Neom desert and depicting the quest for survival of a man ambushed in the middle of the arid Saudi dunes. Another “made in KSA” film in competition is Mohamed Al-Salman’s perched “Raven Song”, which tells the story of Nasser, a man diagnosed with a brain tumour and tormented by the vision of an enigmatic young woman.
In short, between cinematographic discoveries and confirmations, Jeddah is, once again and for a few days, at the heart of the Middle East film scene. A guarantee of success for the RSIFF, which aims to become a reference in the field of regional and international film events and a springboard for Saudi cinema.