Saudi Arabia Aims for Regional Film Leadership with "Middle Eastern Cannes"

This festival was graced by the presence of Hollywood stars Will Smith and Johnny Depp, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Diana Krieger, Bollywood star Ranveer Singh and many others from the world of showbiz

by Sededin Dedovic
Saudi Arabia Aims for Regional Film Leadership with "Middle Eastern Cannes"
© Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images

The Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF), held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, kicked off its third edition in style. As the lights sparkled on the shores of the Red Sea, famous stars like Will Smith, Johnny Depp, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Baz Luhrmann graced the event with their presence.

Excitement was high as Luhrmann, the celebrated director of "Moulin Rouge" and "Elvis", took the helm as president of the jury. Initially unsure of attending the festival due to political concerns, Luhrmann's research and visits to Jeddah and Alula, the center of Saudi Arabia's growing film industry, opened his eyes to "a lot of big changes" in the country.

He believed in supporting the festival and promoting the power of storytelling in a world dominated by political and military struggles. "The voices of film storytellers, regardless of background, must be heard," he noted. The festival itself opened with the world premiere of "Hwjn", a Saudi science fiction film directed by Iraqi director Yasir al Jasiri.

This fantastic story, based on a novel by a young Saudi author, is set in Jeddah and follows benevolent giants on a quest to reclaim their birthright. Jasiri described the film's journey, from novel to premiere, as "surreal" and "a dream come true."

Saudi Arabia wants to be the regional leader in cinematography

Combining Arabic folklore with modern themes, "Hwjn" aims to pave the way for more fantasy adventure films in Saudi Arabia.

Jasiri hopes to explore a genre rarely seen in the region while remaining authentic to cultural beliefs and appealing to a global audience. He cites movies like "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings" as inspiration, with the goal of creating a unique visual style for the mythical creatures.

Middle Eastern Cannes

Affectionately called "the Cannes of the Middle East", RSIFF screens over 130 films from 61 countries in 42 languages. The "Red Sea Souk", a bustling industrial area, attracted significant European interest in the projects of the new Arab voices.

In turn, the Saudi film fund is increasingly investing in co-productions with European and American directors. These collaborations highlight the rapid changes taking place in the country and the festival itself, embracing topics previously considered taboo.

3. RSIFF promises to be a spectacle that celebrates the power of cinema and bridging cultural divides through storytelling.

Saudi Arabia Johnny Depp Sharon Stone