Red Sea IFF unveils line up for second edition, including opening film by Shekhar Kapur

A few of our personal favorites, like Venice titles 'Nezouh', 'Dirty Difficult Dangerous', 'The Last Queen' and 'The Banshees of Intisherin', as well as 'Harka' and others from Cannes, 'A Gaza Weekend' from TIFF and the Saudi submission to this year's Oscar race 'Raven Song' are included in the initial announcement, with American filmmaker Oliver Stone set to preside over the competition jury.
Red Sea IFF unveils line up for second edition, including opening film by Shekhar Kapur

The Red Sea International Film Festival (Red Sea IFF), in partnership with Vox Cinemas and the MBC Group, today unveiled the program for its second edition, which will run from 1-10 December in Jeddah, nestled on the eastern shore of the Red Sea. The Festival will welcome filmmakers, talent, media, industry professionals, and film fans for a 10-day celebration of global cinema.

Kicking off the festival is beloved Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur's What's Love Got to Do with It? starring Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Sajal Aly, Asim Chaudhry and Academy Award winner Emma Thompson. The film is written by Jemima Goldsmith Khan, whose own life mirrored that of the protagonist in the story and is produced by StudioCanal and Working Title. The story takes place between London and Lahore, and combines themes of love and friendship, tradition and iconoclasm. What's Love Got to Do with It? is a cross-cultural British romantic comedy that follows a filmmaker who decides to document her best friend’s journey towards an arranged marriage. Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award-winning composer Nitin Sawhney CBE has created the music for the film, with British-Pakistani record producer, DJ, songwriter, and musician Naughty Boy and three-time BRIT Award and Mercury Prize nominee, Joy Crookes collaborating on the soundtrack. 

Closing the festival is a Saudi film by award winning writer and director Khaled Fahd titled Valley Road, which stars Hamad Farhan, Naif Khalaf, and Aseel Omran. Valley Road, which will world premiere at Red Sea IFF is an uplifting and enchanting feature. It follows Ali, who is perceived by his family and the people of the beautiful Saudi Arabian mountain village where he lives, Alwadi, as having a disability. Only his older sister Siham recognizes that his difference is what makes him special, not disabled. The film beautifully explores human values and encounters that can forge a personality and invites us to take a better look at the more vulnerable people around us.

The program will feature 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries in 41 languages from both established and emerging talent and will host 34 World Premieres, 17 Arab Premieres and 47 MENA Premieres, with a number of filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films. With more films expected to be added in the coming weeks.

Legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone has been chosen to lead the jury of the Red Sea: Features Competition Jury. The three-time Academy award winner is behind some of the all-time masterpieces of cinema, including Scarface, The Doors, Wall Street, JFK, Midnight Express, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Nixon and Natural Born Killers

The Red Sea: Features Competition line up includes titles from around the world

Having premiered in Venice's Giornate degli Autori, Dirty Difficult Dangerous is the latest film from Lebanese/French director Wissam Charaf. Roaming the streets of Beirut searching for metal objects to be recycled, Ahmed, a Syrian refugee, thinks he has found love when he meets Mehdia, an Ethiopian domestic worker. But in this city, such a story seems almost impossible. Added to the strain is a mysterious condition that Ahmed is experiencing which is slowly taking over his body... The film stars Ziad Jallad, an actor to watch as the possible heir to the Omar Sharif great Arab superstar crown, and Clara Couturet as the unconventional lovers.

Fresh from Venice's Orizzonti Extra is Hanging Gardens, from famed Iraqi director Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji, which tells the story of Taha and his younger brother As'ad, who make a living by searching a Baghdad rubbish dump for scrap materials. However, a huge rift is caused between the brothers when one day As’ad hits the jackpot when he finds an intimate toy which he then puts to work in a makeshift brothel. Hanging Gardens tells an intimate, affectionate and often humorous story of kids growing up. 

Lotfy Nathan makes his feature debut with Harka, which world premiered in Cannes' Un Certain Regard this year and is a recipient of the RSIFF’s Red Sea Souk Award. Harka is a powerful portrait told through the eyes of Ali, a young Tunisian man who dreams of a better life. Ali makes a precarious living selling contraband gas on the streets of Tunisia. Forced to take charge of his two younger sisters after their father’s sudden death, Ali will have to make a decision from which there is no turning back. The film is stunningly acted by Adam Bessa, an actor to watch for sure!

India’s official submission to this year's Academy Awards race is Last Film Show by director Pan Nalin, a fictionalized version of his own boyhood, as well as an ode to cinema itself. Samay, a 9-year-old boy living with his family in a remote village in India discovers films for the first time and is absolutely mesmerized. Against his father’s wishes, he returns to the cinema day-after-day to watch more films, and even befriends the projectionist, who, in exchange for his lunch box, lets him watch movies for free. The film premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

From Venice's Biennale College Cinema comes Mountain Onion is the debut feature from writer-director Eldar Shibanov. Jabai, aged 11, lives with his family in a small village in Kazakhstan. Jabai helps his family out by selling mountain onions along the highway. It has never occurred to him that his parents could be anything but happy until he catches a glimpse of his mother having an affair with a truck driver. With his little sister Saniya, he sets out for a remote corner of China to find what he has heard is the only thing that will help his father regain his rightful position as the man of the family, the so-called “golden Viagra”. 

Next Sohee is the second feature from acclaimed South Korean filmmaker July Jung and it premieres in this year's Cannes Critics' Week. The film tells the story of Sohee, a student full of life and determination, but who is constantly underestimated. When her college tells her she should be honored to get an irrelevant placement in a call centre, she is keen to do her best. Halfway through the film Detective Oh Yoo-jin defies her superiors’ indifference and the obstructions thrown in her way to investigate a series of suicides. 

From award winning Syrian director Soudade Kaadan comes her 2022 Venice Orizzonti Extra Audience Award winning film Nezouh (an Arabic word roughly translating as “displacement” in English) which tells what could be the tragic story of 14-year-old Zeina and her family, who are the last to have stayed in their besieged hometown of Damascus in Syria, with magical realism. As a missile rips through in their home, exposing them to the outside world, Zeina finds a way to survive and thrive among the ruins, because of her endless imagination but also through the help of a neighbor, a cute boy who lowers a rope into her room and opens her up to a world of freedom and possibilities.

Angolan director Ery Claver makes his directorial debut with this surreal urban tale, Our Lady Of The Chinese Shop, which tells an allegory of modern Africa through the story of a Chinese merchant’s imported plastic model of the Virgin Mary, and the miraculous ripple effect it had on members of a poor community grasping for answers. 

Raven Song is the feature debut from Saudi director Mohamed Al Salman, and was just selected as the Saudi submission to the International Feature Film Oscar race. At the age of 30, Nasser is drifting, convinced his father doesn't understand him. His life comes into sharp focus; however, he is then diagnosed with a brain tumor. At the same time, he meets and becomes infatuated with a striking but enigmatic young woman and must make some rapid decisions before he undergoes risky neurosurgery. Somehow, he must find a way to reach this young woman before it's too late.

Omar Mouldouira’s world premiere of his feature A Summer in Boujad is a personal story, tenderly told, which encourages us to reflect on our own family bonds. Seven years after the death of his mother, 13-year-old Karim has left Paris for Morocco with his father Messaoud, who has remarried and decided to return to his homeland. After a year at a French boarding school in Casablanca, Karim joins the newly blended family for the summer in Boujad. Already muddled by the anxieties of adolescence, Karim struggles to understand their world and establish his place in a family of strangers.

From Algerian directors Damien Ounouri and Adila Bendimerad, who also plays the lead role, is The Last Queen which world premiered in Giornate degli Autori in Venice. The costume drama follows Algerian King Salim Toumi who has accepted the help of feared pirate Aroudj Barbarossa to liberate Algiers from Spanish occupation. In 1516, the King dies under mysterious circumstances and the next day, Barbarossa proposed marriage to Salim's Queen Zaphira, completing his vow to his crew to take Salim's palace, horse and wife. 

The Pit is the bold and bracing debut from the Kenyan editor–turned–writer-director Angela Wanjiku. The Pit tells the story of 35-year-old ex-convict Geoffrey who is released into the care of a Catholic priests’ compound in Shimoni (translating to “The Pit”), a small and sleepy village in rural Kenya a place he knows intimately and loathes. 

The world premiere of the historical drama Within Sand marks Saudi filmmaker Moe Alatawi's directorial debut. The spectacular account of a young man making his way through the desert with the help of a wolf. Within Sand tells the story of Snam, a 23-year-old tobacco merchant who breaks away from his trading convoy in order to quickly get home to his village, where his wife is about to have their first child. Traveling alone, he's ambushed by thieves who leave him for dead. We are very excited to watch this title, having met the intelligent Alatawi in Venice and knowing that the first stills from the project look absolutely enthralling.

Rounding out the titles are Indonesian filmmaker Kamila Andini's Before Now and Then (Nana), which is set in the late 1960s. Nana, who lost her family to the war in West Java marries again and hopes to begin a new life. Her new husband is wealthy, but her place in the home is menial, and he is unfaithful. Nana suffers in silence until the day she meets one of her husband’s mistresses and everything changes. Together, the two women form an unexpected friendship that proves to be a crucial lifeline. 

And the second feature from Iranian filmmaker Reza Jami, A Childless Village which follows Kazem, an elderly filmmaker, who shot a documentary 20 years before this film takes place in a remote Azeri village claiming the women are sterile. His film was never completed and two decades later, Kazem decides to go back to the village with his camera and makes a startling discovery. 

Antoine Khalife, Director of Arab Programs & Film Classics for the RedSeaIFF, said: “The 15 films set to compete at the Red Sea Competition, of which several received crucial support from the Red Sea Fund, span a variety of different genres and eras and are created by a wide range of incredibly talented filmmakers. The Arab actors shine in extremely challenging roles, whilst the directors identify with the characters in all their complexity and we are thus confronted with regrets, redemption, courage, self-seeking and revenge, but also love in all its aspects."

Kaleem Aftab, Director of International Programming for the RedSeaIFF, added: “Following the success of our inaugural Red Sea Competition, we received a high number of submissions so there were tough decisions to be made. We have been delighted by the extraordinary storytelling and this year’s selection is of the highest caliber showcasing the enormous depth and diversity of stories from Asia, Africa and the Arab world.”

Alongside the Red Sea: Competition, Red Carpet Galas, Outdoor Screenings and Special Presentations, the Festival will host a range of cinema in the following sections: Festival Favorites, New Saudi/New Cinema, Red Sea: Treasures, Red Sea: Arab and International Spectacular, Red Sea: Family and Children, Red Sea: Virtual Reality, Red Sea: Series, and Red Sea: New Vision, a new strand dedicated to filmmakers pushing the boundaries of creativity with a style of genre-defining filmmaking that will challenge audiences. 

This year's In Conversations will include some world cinema favorites as well as MENA personalities

Film director, writer and producer Fatih Akin has won numerous awards for his work including the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his film Head On (2004), Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival for his film The Edge of Heaven (2007), and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his film In the Fade (2017). His biopic of the German rapper and label boss Xatar, Rheingold, starring Emilio Sakraya, will also premiere at the Festival. 

20 Years after the global smash hit Bend it Like Beckham writer and director Gurinder Chadha will take to the stage to discuss her illustrious career and how the film became a cultural phenomenon. Gurinder Chadha, is one of the UK’s most respected filmmakers, and was awarded an O.B.E. in 2006 for her services to the British Film Industry. She was the first-ever British-Asian woman to direct a full-length feature film with her 1993 Bhaji on the Beach, going on to gross almost £60 million at the box office, alongside receiving global critical acclaim for its wit, coming-of-age relatability and its uniquely authentic representation of British-Asian culture. Many also consider it today as a film that was well ahead of its time.

Leading Egyptian actress and one of the greatest stars of the Arab world Mona Zaki made her first performance when she was just 13 years old in Bel Araby Al Faseeh with the famous Director and Actor Mohamed Sobhi, and her raw talent and onscreen charm rapidly saw her become a favorite in Arab cinema. 

Also from Egypt, the Festival will welcome veteran actor Hussein Fahmy whose career spans more than five decades, having directed and appeared in over 100 film, television, and theatre productions. This year he returned to the role of President of the Cairo International Film Festival after a 21-year absence. Festival goers will also get the opportunity to watch Fahmy in the beloved Egyptian classic Khali Balak Min Zouzou ("Watch Out for Zouzou") directed by Hassan Al-Imam (1972). Celebrating 50 since its release, the film has been lovingly restored for audiences to discover or see again on the big screen. 

Tunisian film director and Oscar nominee Kaouther Ben Hania will share insights into her acclaimed career which began in Tunisia and, throughout her four short films, documentary and four feature films, the work she crafted is deeply rooted in life and social satire. Beauty and the Dogs competed at the 2017 edition of Un Certain Regard, and her fourth film, The Man who Sold his Skin, starring Monica Bellucci, was screened as part of the Orizzonti program of the 2020 Venice International Film Festival, and was the first Tunisian film nominated for the Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards. 

Housed inside The Ritz Carlton's 1,200 auditorium, the Red Carpet galas offer something for everyone

World premiering as a Gala screening is Saudi director Fahad Alammari’s Alkhallat+. From the creators of the generation-defining digital series “AlKhallat”, which amassed over 1.5 billion views during its 22-episode run, it is an anthology film of social deception and trickery in four unlikely places. Two thieves crash a wedding to save their co-conspirator. A chef working in a fine-dining restaurant puts the establishment on the line to save her parents' failing marriage. A friend returns to a morgue to bury a secret from the deceased’s wife. A mother searches for her husband while he searches for their son in a nightclub. There’s always a way out, and whoever has a trick in their bag, they shall use it.

Award-winning Lebanese director Lara Saba brings audiences the world premiere of All Roads Lead to Rome, a romantic comedy in the unlikely setting of a convent. Hadi (Chadi Haddad), a famous young actor, sees an opportunity to break free from the mediocre television series that made his name when he's asked to audition for a film role as the young Pope. A beautiful journey begins that will bring Hadi to a new understanding of what really matters to him: nature, human connections, love and generosity.

Broker is a South Korean drama directed and written by Hirokazu Kore-eda is inspired by the local baby box phenomenon. Church volunteer Sang-Hyeon (Parasite’s Song Kang-ho) and his friend Dong-soon (Gang Dong-won) surreptitiously steal and sell these foundlings to eager adoptive parents, arguing it circumvents red tape. When So Young (Lee Ji-Eun) has second thoughts and finds her child gone, she joins forces with the two scammers, going on the road with them to meet prospective adopters.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a dark comedy-drama and one of the best reviewed films of the year from director and writer Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside EbbingMissouri). Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two lifelong friends who find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them. 

Park Chan-Wook won best director honors for his Hitchcockian thriller for Decision to Leave at the Cannes Film Festival this year.  Decision to Leave is a beautifully constructed mystery thriller involving a detective (Park Hae-il) who finds himself too attached to a very complex criminal case that he is investigating. While delving deep into the murder investigation and chasing down leads, he finds himself being bombarded by all sorts of conflicts when he falls in love with the prime suspect (Tang Wei).

Set in an English seaside town in the early 1980s, Empire of Light is a powerful and poignant story about human connection and the magic of cinema, directed and written by Academy Award®-winning director Sam Mendes. Empire of Light features a stellar cast led by Academy Award winner Olivia Colman, BAFTA winner Micheal Ward and Academy Award winner Colin Firth and reunites Mendes with Academy Award winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (1917, Skyfall).

How I Got There is a co-production between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and a labor of love from award-winning director Zeyad Alhusaini who spent 15 years crafting this dramatic action film, the first of its kind to be set in the Gulf. When two childhood friends – now grown up and dabbling in the illegal alcohol trade – find a cache of stolen guns, they jump at the chance to get rich quick. The film starring Yaqoob Abdullah, Hamad Al Omani, Ron Perlman, and Jaaved Jaaferi takes audiences on a wild ride with its naïve protagonists encountering a murky world of arms dealers, terrorists, mercenaries and small-time gangsters.

From Egyptian director, writer and producer John Ikram Sawers comes Kamla, the story of the title character who is deeply committed to her work as a psychiatrist; her patients find her both supportive and accepting. However, society does not necessarily accept her as she’s an unmarried woman in her 40s, still living with her elderly father. Her aunt, Ansaf, insists on bringing around potential husbands and believes that if she keeps refusing them, it must be because she is no longer chaste. But Kamla has already met a man, a glamorous writer, Youssif, who speaks in defense of love, freedom and women’s rights – and fallen in love.

The Family Gala screening, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is the animated comedy adventure film directed by Joel Crawford with Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Florence Pugh voicing the characters. Families are invited to join Puss in Boots on an epic journey to find the mythical Last Wish and restore his nine lives.

Queens is the uplifting feature debut from Moroccan filmmaker Yasmine Benkiran, which stars Nisrin Erradi, Nisrine Benchara and Rayhan Guaran. The film impressed audiences and critics at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year. Queens is the sprawling, colorful adventure film that begins in Casablanca, where a trio of women with the police on their tail embark on long escape that takes them across the rugged red terrain and flower-filled valleys of the Atlas desert to reach the Atlantic coast.

Prolific Moroccan directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's latest film Rebel is an immensely powerful, personal, and nuanced portrayal of a family torn apart over a little Muslim boy’s future. Featuring powerhouse performances from Amir El Arbi, Aboubakr Bensaihi and Tara Abboud, the film, was one of the most challenging and impressive films at this year's Cannes Film Festival which must be seen to be believed. The directing duo was behind the highly successful Ms. Marvel, which streamed on Disney+ earlier this year -- the first Muslim female superhero in the Marvel sphere, now unofficially confirmed for an upcoming second season.

In Ruben Östlund’s outrageous Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness, social hierarchy is turned upside down, revealing the tawdry relationship between power and beauty. Celebrity model couple, Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean) are invited on a luxury cruise for the uber-rich, helmed by an unhinged boat captain (Woody Harrelson). What first appeared instagrammable ends catastrophically, leaving the survivors stranded on a desert island and fighting for survival. The film divided critics but walked away with the top prize in Cannes -- so it's up to audiences to decide the film's worth for themselves.

Shivani Pandya Malhotra, Managing Director of the RedSeaIFF, said: “The country is rapidly securing its position as a hub for film, culture, arts, and fashion as it becomes a world-class center for film production. The Red Sea IFF is very much at the heart of this transformation providing a platform to showcase a new generation full of energy and creativity. Through the Red Sea Souk, we are in position to support filmmakers in all stages of their careers and our programs throughout the year follow the full-cycle of filmmaking. We are delighted to be welcoming acclaimed international and Arab talent, pioneering industry leaders, the next generation of filmmakers and exciting gamechangers for a program of screenings, in-person panels, masterclasses, networking and talks at a time of immense change to ensure we are part of the wider global conversation.” 

Saudi talents featured in short and feature film program at this year's festival

Not to be forgotten are the homegrown talents at this year's RedSeaIFF, which are many and include both short films and features.

Mohyee Qari, Program Manager at the RedSeaIFF, said: “Since the inaugural edition of RedSeaIFF we’ve seen significant progress made within the Saudi film industry. Having seven Saudi features in this year’s festival line-up, two of them in our official competition, is a true testament to the impressive filmmaking in the Kingdom. The RedSeaIFF has created a unique opportunity to showcase the work of young Saudi filmmakers and we’re incredibly proud to have created a platform that allows us to showcase these remarkable talents to the world.”

The Festival will close with the world premiere of Valley Road as we wrote previously.

Then, world premiering as a Gala screening is Saudi director Fahad Alammari’s Alkhallat+, also previously highlighted.

Slave, directed by Mansour Assad, follows Sakkir and his wife Latifa who together have made a movie. However, their creation has created outrage within society. As a result, Sakkir is questioning his life and existence and is struggling with whether to continue living, or to go back in time to appease the same society his film created uproar within. The film stars Mohammed Ali, Khairiah Abulaban and Ziyad Alamri.

Sattar tells the story of Sa’ad, a huge wrestling fan who finds out a professional wrestling organization is holding auditions in his hometown of Riyadh. In the hopes of becoming a Saudi wrestler, Sa’ad attends the audition but in a crushing moment he fails. However, his luck has not completely run out as he meets Ali Hogan, an eccentric man who offers to be Saad's manager and promises to change his life. 

The world premiere of the historical drama Within Sand marks Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Alatawi's directorial debut.

Raven Song is the feature debut from Saudi director Mohamed Al Salman and this year's Saudi submission to the Oscar race.

Saudi-Kuwaiti co-production How I Got There is also included in the line up.

The second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival will screen the best of the Arab and international cinema in Jeddah. The Festival will also showcase a retrospective program to celebrate the masters of cinema. The Red Sea International Film Festival is a platform for Arab filmmakers and industry professionals from around the world to connect, host competitions for short and feature films, and organize masterclasses to support emerging talent. It will take place from December 1 — 10, 2022.

For more information, check out the RedSeaIFF website.

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