Preview: Red Sea Film Festival

The inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival gets underway in December. Taking place in the UNESCO world heritage site of Jeddah Old Town, Saudi Arabia’s first ever film festival will showcase 138 films, including 25 world premieres, from 67 countries across ten days.

The festival opens with Cyrano, the latest film from British director Joe Wright (Atonement), which sees its UK released in January. Scripted by Erica Schmidt and based on her 2018 stage musical of the same name, it’s a retelling of the classic tale of romance and literature. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage stars as Cyrano, the lovelorn wordsmith obsessed with the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett).

With numerous strands in the festival, including Red Sea Treasures, Red Sea Immersive and Red Sea Episodic, there are also several red carpet galas, with some key films from the Middle East playing. Amongst them, Memory Box, co-directed / written by artist-filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige – a highly personal drama that reflects on those who escaped the Lebanese Civil War.

All eyes, however, will be on the Red Sea Competition, as sixteen filmmakers compete for the Golden Yusr Award. Iranian debut director Panah Panahi, son to the esteemed filmmaker Jafar Panahi, is among the line-up with his already acclaimed debut Hit the Road, which has just been named Best Film at the London Film Festival. Hassan Madjooni and Pantea Panahiha play parents in this rambunctious road movie.  

The festival will also be celebrating women in film, with the spotlight falling on Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female Saudi filmmaker, whose feature debut, Wadjda, was the first film to ever be shot in the Kingdom. She has since gone on to scale the international filmmaking scene, recently directing Ethan Hawke in The Good Lord Bird.

Other major guests expected include French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve, Egyptian actress and singer Yousra, and the Argentinean-French director Gaspar Noé, whose latest film Vortex premiered to much acclaim earlier this year in Cannes. He will be joining the festival to dissect his oft-controversial career in what promises to be a highlight in this intriguing-looking festival.

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from 6-15 December. Find out more here.

James Mottram