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HomeentertainmentMovie NewsJournalist's note: Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Film Festival stands alone with sharp,...

Journalist's note: Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Film Festival stands alone with sharp, star-studded second edition

The most common question I was asked by local Saudis working at the Red Sea Film Festival earlier this week was “Is this your first time here?” followed by “Have you liked it so far?”

These aren’t the mandatory marketing queries they’re instructed to ask, or at least they don’t seem to be. Many of the festival’s international guests not only visited the festival, but also visited Saudi Arabia for the first time, with genuine curiosity about their impressions and a desire for people to enjoy them experience.

Of course, for myself and for the vast majority of people I met there, they were.

Now in its second year, the Red Sea Film Festival, set in the coastal city of Jeddah, exudes the calm and confidence of a grand event, where financial resources are often a key factor in film gatherings (we recently watched to a few that were forced to close due to funding problems) – it didn’t seem like a big deal. The deep pockets of Saudi Arabia not only help fund the biggest industry marketing campaign I’ve ever seen (posters and promos seem to follow me at every major A-list festival this year), but they back it up with events that prove Justification for promotion.

Opening night at UK screenings rom-com What has love got to do with it? Sharon Stone, Guy Ritchie, Shah Rukh Khan, Oliver Stone, Luca Guadagnino, Priyanka Chopra, Henry Golding, Michelle Rodriguez, Nadine Labaki, Freida Pinto, Melanie Laurent, Lucy Hale and Scott Eastwood were just some of the stars who headlined the red carpet at the Ritz-Carlton Jeddah, the festival’s huge, palatial and extraordinarily shiny base of operations. Are they getting paid there? Possibly (some sources tell me that some names earn seven figures purely for appearances). There is still much to do.

At a later party on the hotel grounds, many guests, myself included, were surprised to discover that the singer performing a lengthy Bruno Mars cover was indeed Bruno Mars himself.

But it’s not just about the red carpet and photo ops (one of the criticisms of the festival’s inaugural event last year). In addition to screenings, the next few days will feature presentations, press conferences, master classes, panel discussions and, thankfully, a focus on local industry. After all, for a country where movie theaters didn’t even exist five years ago, Saudi Arabia is now the country with skyrocketing global box offices, and two-thirds of the population lives in 000 years old – there is now a huge amount of creativity trying to gain a foothold in the industry, and ensuring that some of that success ends up being due to local productions.

While it may launch with a Western title, the festival will feature the world premiere of Valley Road Closing with screening, one of several Saudi specialties and numerous shorts. Can’t say enough, Saudi Arabia actually only later overturned the 400 year movie ban 35. The progress made in this small area alone is remarkable.

In a conversation I attended with Spike Lee – he presented the next day Malcolm X, 30 in which it made history for many years by filming in Mecca After – Most of the audience’s questions came from local up-and-coming filmmakers seeking advice. While many festival-goers may have rolled their eyes at the somewhat self-indulgent questioning, it certainly showed that Saudi talent was eager to take advantage of the opportunity (to one, Lee simply replied that he was “not in any The location tells the Saudis what to do — that’s what white Americans would do”).

, with those who came and went in the bays of Abu Dhabi and Doha in the early days, there is a comforting sense of similarity. From the lavish five-star locations to the relatively easy entrance and location navigation, the free lunch offered to anyone with a pass, the regular shuttle bus that picks people up, and the evening events with lavish buffets (zero alcohol, of course), this is A happy and relaxing holiday.

That’s what a whole bunch of petrodollars can afford.

When the Dubai Film Festival closed four years ago, many local filmmakers I knew expressed concern about the disappearance of an event that had grown into a major platform for Arabic cinema, many through their various Projects come to life through a variety of initiatives, networking meetings and funding programs. It seems to me that the Red Sea Film Festival seems to be filling that void quickly, and judging by the activity of the industry-focused Red Sea fairgrounds – not to mention $000, value of prizes allocated to items – will be exceeded soon An impressive achievement for Dubai.

Of course, there are lessons to be learned. I’ve heard that some Saudi film premieres are less well attended, possibly due to the somewhat ominous and luxurious (not to mention heavily guarded) presence of the Ritz Carlton, perhaps making locals feel like it’s not for them. From this From inside the center, it doesn’t have the community feel of other festivals. That said, the free public screenings on the Corniche were sold out (one screening on opening night absolutely blew up when Shah Rukh Khan made a surprise appearance). Of course, the Ritz-Carlton was only a (less shabby) temporary location, while a more permanent festival center was built in Jeddah’s more public Old City.

Yes, the no-drinking issue was brought up by many (especially those who were involved in various late night parties or sneaking somewhere to watch a World Cup match). But then, I found that waking up every morning with a clear head really had something to do with it (I also found out that non-alcoholic malt drinks really weren’t worth bothering with). On my last morning at the airport, I never felt so fresh as I took a taxi to the airport. In the years to come, will drinking become as much a part of society as it has been in other Gulf countries…who knows? Honestly, for the festival, it really doesn’t matter.

Of course, there is a giant elephant in the room, which has been mentioned so often before but still cannot be ignored (although some coverage of the festival did just that). Allegations that the Red Sea Film Festival was part of a major and costly art purge to whitewash the international reputation of a country with a dire human rights record and repression of political dissent have been accused of murdering columnist Jamal Khashoggi and leading The bloody military intervention in Yemen is justified.

But at the same time, while the above may be true, the actual optimism and excitement of a country that has long been cut off from the international community cannot be ignored. Not only is it now welcoming major directors to its shores, but it is rapidly enabling homegrown filmmakers to share the Saudi story with the rest of the world. Film – like sports (sorry, Qatar) – is intrinsically linked to politics, especially in this region. But cinema also has the capacity to challenge and change.

Speaking of change, many people I met said that the social changes in Jeddah – and most of Saudi Arabia – were unbelievable. I see as many bare-haired women on the street as women in hijabs, which was obviously unthinkable just a few years ago. And on the festival’s opening night, while many guests did cover their arms (the description said “respect”), there was also a fair amount of meat on display. If the festival manages to bring the supermodel-soaked glitz and glam of the amfAR extravaganza to future editions, it’ll be interesting to see what happens (Sharon Stone’s royal treatment certainly helps pave the way).

Whatever the future of the Red Sea Film Festival holds (let’s hope it has a future and doesn’t become a blip before a billion dollars and the focus shifts elsewhere), the groundwork it has laid is truly impressive deep impression. It clearly has the star pull of a red carpet (the closing scene is as ridiculous as the opening scene, with Jackie Chan , Antonio Banderas , Joel Kinnaman, Naomi Campbell, DJ Khaled and Mike Tyson present), but has also provided the most important platform for filmmakers. For those visiting the country for the first time, first impressions are far from what many expected, much to the delight of the Saudis working the reception.




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