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The Red Sea International Film Festival was full of strong females and dirty treats!

John Bleasdale reports live from the first ever Red Sea Film Festival, in Saudi Arabia; the event showcased very subversive films (including a Lesbian drama), something unthinkable just a few years ago

Filmmaker and head of jury Giuseppe Tornatore announced the winners of the inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival. The top prize went to Levan Koguashvili’s Brighton 4th (read our review here), with the Jury Prize awarded to Panah Panahi’s Hit the Road and the Audience Award going to You Resemble Me, the debut film of former Vice journalist Dina Amer. The Festival, which took place in Jeddah from the 6th to the 15th of December, 2021, was a remarkable achievement for all those involved. A mere four years ago no commercial cinemas existed in the whole of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Here several cinemas had been purpose built for the festival.

The programme was varied but extremely strong. Opening with Joe Wright’s musical Cyrano and closing with cricketing drama 83 (Kabir Khan), the Festival showcased an astonishing breadth of cinema. Innovation of a technical nature was on display with the VR section proving popular, judged by Laurie Anderson. Before a screening of Sing 2, a moderator asked audience members if this was their first cinema experience. More than half the audience of children and adults raised their hands.

Of course, the Festival has received some criticism, as part of an effort to whitewash what is a repressive regime with a terrible human rights record. However, significantly, there was no censorship. All the films showed uncut. Subjects were diverse and challenging. Films such as Tea Lindeburg’s As in Heaven and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (pictured above) placed female life and sexuality front and centre.

It was amazing to watch the Saudi film Fay’s Palette directed by Anas Ba-Tahaf with its tale of oppression and lesbianism in a packed audience, and being received enthusiastically. Given the Kingdom’s repressive policy towards the LGBT+ community, this was little short of miraculous. It was similarly heartening to witness Haiffa al-Mansour, the director of the first Saudi film Wadjda (2012; pictured above) recognised when only a few years ago she had to direct her actors hidden in a van because she is a woman. In case we get too celebratory ,we should also remember that the week of the festival also saw Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story banned by the Saudi authorities. Progress has been made, but there is still a way to go.

Here is a list of full prizes:

  • Best Saudi Film: Rupture by Hamzah K. Jamjoom – Saudi Arabia;
  • Audience Award: You Resemble Me by Dina Amer – Egypt, France, USA;
  • Red Sea: Immersive Silver Yusr: Samsara by Hsin-Chien Huang – Taiwan;
  • Red Sea: Immersive Gold Yusr: End of Night by David Adler – Denmark, France;
  • Red Sea: Short Competition Golden Yusr: Tala’Vision by Murad Abu Eisheh – Jordan, Germany;
  • Red Sea: Competition Special Mention: Fahra by Darin J. Sallam – Jordan;
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Cinematic Contribution: Amin Jafari for Hit the Road – Iran;
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Screenplay: Neighbours by Mano Khalil – Syria, Switzerland;
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Actor: Adam Ali for his role in Europa – Iraq, Italy, Kuwait;
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Actress: Arawinda Kirana for her role in: Yuni – Indonesia, Singapore, France, Australia;
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Director: Europa by Haider Rashid – Iraq, Italy, Kuwait;
  • Red Sea: Competition Jury Prize: Hit the Road by Panah Panahi – Iran; and
  • Red Sea: Competition Best Film: Brighton 4th by Levan Koguashvili – Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, USA, Monaco.

By John Bleasdale - 19-12-2021

By John Bleasdale - 19-12-2021

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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