Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Fest Unveils 2023 Selection As It Pushes On With Third Edition Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict
Opening Night and comments
Red Sea films – Sensemaker at Tortoise Media
“…If it’s surprising to see Hollywood embrace a festival in a country that banned cinemas until 2018, it’s worth noting that [Will] Smith, according to Puck’s Matthew Belloni, received more than $1 million to attend while [Johnny] Depp didn’t get a direct bounty but, as the festival’s foundation backed his recent Cannes festival opening film Jeanne du Barry, was part of this year’s DNA. It also funded the Depp-directed film Modì, about Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.”
“Saudi Arabia’s third Red Sea International Film Festival handed out its prizes overnight with Pakistani-Canadian director Zarrar Khan’s horror picture In Flames winning Best Film. The jury led by Baz Luhrmann was joined on the red carpet by some serious star power in Halle Berry, Andrew Garfield, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicolas Cage and Henry Golding, among others. They followed in the wake of a raft of A-Listers making the trip to the festival’s Red Sea port home of Jeddah over the past week, including Johnny Depp, Will Smith and Chris Hemsworth.
Beyond the glitz of the red-carpet galas at the festival’s Ritz Carlton hub, the real ‘place to be’ was the Vox Cinema multiplex in Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall. The venue hosted a series of intimate In Conversations with the likes of Smith, Cage and Berry as well as packed out screenings of local and regional features.
Highlights of the latter included the Saudi premiere of Riyadh-set social thriller Mandoob, which met with a rapturous response from a youthful audience. The drama is the latest feature from rising local studio Telfaz11, which scored a box office hit with free-wrestling comedy Sattar earlier this year. Mandoob, revolving around a night courier who falls foul of an alcohol smuggling ring, has all the ingredients to achieve similar success.
Another Saudi highlight was Tawfik Alkaidi’s drama Norah, about a young girl growing up in a remote farming community in the 1990s, at the height of the crackdown on cinema and other arts. Luhrmann was spotted quietly slipping into the screening, reportedly watching the work for a second time. The film appealed to local and international spectators alike, with one critic in the room declaring it should be Saudi Oscar submission next year.
Just six years after Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year cinema ban, its filmmakers are coming into their own. Deadline Hollywood was out in force at the festival this year and you can read all our coverage here.”