Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea International Film Festival has unveiled it 2023 line-up and theme as it maintains its third edition against the backdrop of the escalating Israel-Gaza Conflict. (scroll down for full list)
The edition, running from November 30 to December 9 in the port city of Jeddah, will unfold under the theme of “Your Story, Your Festival”.
Among the key sections announced on Monday was Red Sea International Film Festival: In Competition section which will showcase 17 narrative and documentary features from Asia, Africa, and the Arab world.
Contenders include Afef Ben Mahmoud and Khalil Benkirane’s Atlas Mountains-set theatre troupe road movie Backstage, Tawfik Alzaidi’s AlUla-shot drama Norah, Farah Nabulsi critically acclaimed West Bank-set first feature The Teacher and Iranian director Parviz Shahbazi’s drama Roxana.
The festival’s Special Screenings sidebar features Johnny Depp starring costume romance Jeanne du Barry as well as Kaouther Ben Hania with Four Daughters, co-winner of Cannes documentary prize and Tunisia’s submission for Best International film this year.
In other key sections, the 11-title Arab Spectacular sidebar will showcaseTamer Ruggli’s acclaimed mother and daughter drama Back to Alexandria, Yasir Alyasiri groundbreaking fantasy with HWJN, and Meshal Al Jaser presents a humorous thriller with NAGA.
The announcement dispels questions over whether the event might cancel due to the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict, sparked by the latter’s terror attacks on Southern Israel on October 7, in which 1,400 people were killed and more than 240 hostages were taken.
Multiple Middle East and North African film festivals have abandoned their 2023 fall editions in recent weeks out of solidarity for the population of Gaza, where more than 9,000 people have been killed by Israel’s retaliatory military campaign aimed at eradicating Hamas and bringing home the hostages.
Red Sea Foundation CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and Managing Director Shivani Pandya Malhotra did not allude to the events unfolding in the backdrop in their statement accompanying today’s announcement, focusing instead on the theme and selection.
“We feel it is particularly timely to use the medium of film to look at what connects us, and to give a platform to the voices and experiences of people in our region and beyond to foster insight, understanding and compassion. We look forward to once again welcoming the global film community in Jeddah for our third edition.”
Kaleem Aftab, Director of International Programs, said films selected for the Red Sea: Competition were “a stark reminder of the many issues facing humanity today.
With three weeks to go and no sign of an abatement in the Israel-Hamas confiict, it remains to be seen how many regional and international professionals will make the trip to Jeddah this year.
One of the professionals canvassed by Deadline ahead of Monday’s announcement, said it was important for the festival to go ahead, in the face of the death and pain on both sides.
“Life should and must go on,” they said.
Launched in 2021, in the wake of Saudi Arabia’s opening up to the world under its 2030 Vision aimed at moving its economy away from a reliance on oil, the RSIFF is a cornerstone of the country’s strategy to transform itself into the leading creative industries hub in the region.
In just two editions, it has established itself as one of the region’s glitziest film events, with a raft of high-profile stars hitting the red carpet, many in return for hefty fees.
High-profile guests making the trip last year included Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, Spike Lee and Guy Ritchie alongside Bollywood stars Shah Rubk Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Priyanka Chopra, as well as Bruno Mars, who performed a set on the opening night.
TO MY SON (World Premiere)
Dir Dhafer L’abidine
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
JEANNE DU BARRY
France, Saudi Arabia
Red Sea International Film Festival: Arab Spectacular
Dir Kaouther Ben Hania
France, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Tunisia
Dir Abu Bakr Shawky
Saudi Arabia, Egypt
KHALED EL SHEIKH BETWEEN TWO FIRES, ART AND POLITICS (World Premiere)
Dir Jamal Kutbi
FEVER DREAM (World Premiere)
Dir Faris Godus
THREE (World Premiere)
Dir Nayla Alkhaja
United Arab Emirates, Thailand
HWJN (World Premiere)
Dir Yasir Alyasiri
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
BACK TO ALEXANDRIA
Dir Tamer Ruggli
France, Switzerland, Egypt
Dir Meshal Aljaser
SHAMAREEKH (World Premiere)
Dir Amr Salama
YESTERDAY AFTER TOMORROW (World Premiere)
Dir Abdulghani Alsaigh
A NOSE AND THREE EYES (World Premiere)
Dir Amir Ramses
Egypt, United Arab Emirates
I AM AL-ITTIHAD (World Premiere)
Dir Hamza Tarzan
Red Sea International Film Festival: In Competition
INSHALLAH A BOY
Dir Amjad Al Rashid
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Qatar
BEHIND THE MOUNTAINS
Dir Mohamed Ben Attia
Tunisia, France, Belgium, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Qatar
NORAH (World Premiere)
Dir Tawfik Alzaidi
HIDING SADDAM HUSSEIN
Dir Halkawt Mustafa
Dir Afef Ben Mahmoud, Khalil Benkirane
Morocco, Tunisia, Belgium, France, Qatar, Norway, Saudi Arabia
Dir Farah Naboulsi
United Kingdom, Palestine, Qatar
DALMA (World Premiere)
Dir Humaid Alsuwaidi
United Arab Emirates
Dir Ali Kalthami
SIX FEET OVER
Dir Karim Bensalah
Dir Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Dir Zarra Khan
WAKHRI (ONE OF A KIND) (World Premiere)
Dir Iram Parveen Bilal
Dir Shokir Kholikov
Dir Amanda Nell Eu
Malaysia, Taiwan R.O.C., Singapore, France, Germany, Netherlands, Indonesia, Qatar
Dir Parviz Shahbazi
Belgium, Netherlands, Democratic Republic of the Congo
EVIL DOES NOT EXIST
Dir Ryûsuke Hamaguchi