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Live from Jeddah: Previewing the Red Sea International Film Festival

The very first edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival starts on December 6th for 11 days, bringing a potent mix of Arab cinema as well as more familiar festival fare - John Bleasdale reports live from the event

The inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival drops this week with a broad selection of movies, some classic selections as well as showcases for regional talents. The opening film is Joe Wright’s Cyrano (2021). Starring Peter Dinklage, the film is an adaptation of Erica Schmidt’s musical – Schmidt pens the screenplay as well – about a doomed romantic nobleman Cyrano (Dinklage) who uses his verbal skills to woo for another. It’s a tale that has been treated before, by Gerard Depardieu and, in modernised form, by Steve Martin but it’ll be interesting to see Dinklage given a lead role following his starring turn in Game of Thrones and with Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (2021) the current toast of the town, maybe this is the year the musical comes back. A potent mix of Arab cinema and more familiar festival fare promises a lively programme. Be prepared for a few surprises in store.

The Alleys by Bassel Ghandour (pictured above) is a character study of a schemer and swindler trying to raise money to give himself the opportunity of legitimising his relationship with his secret lover. In Casablanca Beats (Nabil Ayouch, 2021), an inspirational teacher uses rap to inspire the students of the Moroccan city school. Likewise a best of the fests section will screen films such as Official Competition (Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn, 2021) starring Penelope Cruz, and Antonio Banderas, a comedy which is frankly guaranteed to please festival goers. With Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast (2021)also getting a screening and, one of the best films of the year, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (2021) starring Olivia Coleman, the selection on offer is a challenging and diverse selection. Separate sections on introduce world premieres of Saudi fiction and non-fiction filmmakers, giving a platform to a new wave of cinema in the region.

As well as showcasing a robust selection of feature films, there is also a section devoted to shorts and a VR programme. Likewise a sidebar of Red Sea Treasures highlights some classic films of the past: from Youssef Chahine’s 1971 examination of the slippery nature of truth The Choice to Haifaa Al Mansou’s tale of female rebellion in Wadja, which made history in 2012 as the first film to be shot in the Kingdom. Al Mansour will be at the festival receiving a special award as part of a celebration of extraordinary women. A major step forward in a country where until recently women were not allowed to drive.

The festival also promises outreach programmers to foster local talent and to promote screenings in different parts of the city. The international jury is headed by Italian Director Giuseppe Tornatore who will also be screening his moving documentary on the life of Ennio Morricone.

The Red Sea International Film Festival runs from December 6th to 15th in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

By John Bleasdale - 05-12-2021

By John Bleasdale - 05-12-2021

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

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