If you think that in 2008 there were no cinemas in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then you truly get the pioneering spirit of Saudi Film Festival founder and director Ahmed Al-Mulla. Named by cinematic insiders "The Godfather of Saudi cinema," one could argue that Al-Mulla had a kind of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams vision of "if you build it, they will come."
Eight editions of the festival later, not only are there cinemas in Saudi Arabia, complete with Saudi filmmakers behind the camera, but the Kingdom boast two independent film festivals and an unprecedented presence on the international festival circuit. The Red Sea IFF's luncheons and galas in Cannes were the coveted ticket of the Marché this year, and the Saudi Pavillion, which encompassed the Red Sea Foundation, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture - ITHRA, as well as Al Ula's Film Commission, became the spot to see and be seen on the Croisette.
As the Saudi Film Festival kicks off inside ITHRA, the majestic building in Dhahran, the Red Sea IFF announced their support of the eighth edition of the Saudi Film Festival in the Saudi Eastern city, taking place from the 2nd to the 9th of June, 2022. Apart from the Saudi Film Festival being the original pioneer of cinema, it remains a strong advocate of the film industry in Saudi Arabia, nurturing a selection of talented filmmakers over the past eight editions. Which also appears to be the mission of the Red Sea IFF -- to engage and support Saudi talent.
On the other hand, one of the ways Red Sea IFF helps support and develop the regional film industry is through development initiatives such as The Red Sea Lodge, the Foundation's incubator for Saudi and Arab filmmakers. This time around during Saudi Film Festival, the Red Sea IFF will be running the second workshop of the Red Sea Lodge at the Ithra Center (King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture). The RSIFF provides Saudi talent with a platform for storytelling and develops and nurtures local filmmakers through dedicated funds, as well as promoting film production in the region. The Red Sea Lodge’s intensive creative and professional training program involves tutoring and guiding teams of Saudi and Arab directors, producers and scriptwriters who will help enhance industry knowledge and guide participants with the aim of taking their film projects from idea to reality.
Al-Mulla said about the partnership: “As we look forward to another exciting edition of the Saudi Film Festival, we are also delighted with our partnership with the Red Sea International Film Festival. The growing momentum of the Saudi film scene is deeply inspiring and fills us with anticipation for a future filled with creativity, bursting from the heart of our beloved Kingdom. As we step into the eighth edition, we can’t wait to see what we can accomplish hand-in-hand with our esteemed partner the RSIFF.”
Mohammed Al Turki, CEO of The Red Sea IFF added: “We are proud of our valuable partnership with the Saudi Film Festival, an established festival in the Kingdom since 2008, and we look forward to empowering local talent together. The quality of filmmaking presented at the Saudi Film Festival as well as the Red Sea IFF is a testament to the budding enthusiasm and hunger in this industry. We look forward to building on our commitment to take the Saudi film industry to the next level on a regional and global scale.”
Through the years, the Saudi Film Festival has witnessed a wide turnout from filmmakers and scriptwriters from all over Saudi Arabia to participate in the festival's competitions and programmes, which has continued to grow over the years and which has contributed to establishing many filmmaking communities around the Kingdom, whose members exchange knowledge and work on joint projects. Through 2021 there were 865 films submitted in competition, more than a thousand scripts submitted in the various programmes and 100 awards handed out. The festival also helped produce more than 20 publications on cinema, presented 26 workshops and 29 seminars and before the pandemic hit, they managed audiences upward of 60,000 people throughout the weeklong event. With an online presence in the millions.
This year, there will be 36 films competing for 12 awards in the competitions and the Saudi Film Festival will be honouring the first Arab Hollywood star Khalid Al-Rawaf as well as Kuwaiti director Khalid Al-Siddiq.
The jury for long features films is chaired by Qutaiba Al-Jabani, an independent Iraqi film maker and producer, joined by Saudi/Canadian actress and writer Aisha Kay and Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Fawzi Saleh. The short film jury is chaired by Moroccan-American director and author Hakim Belabbas, joined by artist Ilham Al-Ali and Swiss filmmaker Ayten Mutlu Saray.
The theme of this edition is "Poetic Cinema" which is celebrated on their poster pictured above. About the theme of this session, Al-Mulla said that "the focus of this year is poetic cinema, and the light will be shed on a trend that has shaped visually astonishment, with aesthetic symbolism, and philosophical connotations. Signs and symbols stimulate creative imagination. The festival has taken the theme of poetic cinema as its visual identity, in addition to that it will present a special program of international film screenings from the heart of this current in its various artistic forms, through the festival days."
For more information, check out the Saudi Film Festival website.