Though this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the accompanying Marche du Film felt a very much a depleted event, there was an underlying optimism around the town that was very much boosted by a strong Middle Eastern presence, both in terms of films being shown but perhaps more importantly by organisations taking part.
For those arriving in the South of France by plane at Nice airport it was clear from the start that Saudi Arabia intended to use the event as a springboard for itself as a major cultural and film business player. Digital advertising boards around the airport (which were replicated around Cannes itself) promoted the upcoming inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival as well as the location filming delights of the AlUla region.
Early in the festival Film AlUla staged a networking brunch to allow film executives and media to find out more of what is on offer, while the following day the Red Sea Film Festival held a lunch reception at the Carlton Beach Club, hosted by the festival’s Managing Director Shivani Pandya and recently appointed Artistic Director Edouard Waintrop.
Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival hosted the Marche’s Festivals and Markets Mixer at the Plage des Palmes, with Festival Director Intishal Al Timini introducing the event alongside Marche head Jerome Paillard. Al Timini and El Gouna’s artistic director Amir Ramses were prominently involved with the Producers Without Borders event, along with Mohannad Al Bakri, Managing Director of The Royal Film Commission – Jordan.
Also prominent in Cannes was The Doha Film Institute, with Chief Executive Officer Fatma Al-Remaihi and Director of Film Programming Hanaa Issa taking a series of meeting at Cannes’ Majestic Hotel, and many other DFI staff members also attending meetings and screenings at the festival and market.
But the power and presence of Saudi Arabia was given greater strength towards the end of the festival when the Red Sea Film Festival acted as Presenting Sponsor for the annual amfAR charity event hosted by Sharon Stone and staged at the Villa Ellenroc. amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading non-profit organisations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and advocacy.
Guests included Alicia Keys - who also performed - Spike Lee, Abdullah Al Eyaf, Caroline Scheufele, Mohammed Al Turki, Mohammed El Khereiji, Orlando Bloom, Regina King, Sacha Jafri and Shivani Pandya. The event included an exclusive dinner, auction, multiple performances and a fashion show curated by French fashion editor Carine Roitfeld.
And if a reminder were indeed needed, in the departures lounge at Nice airport further digital adverts informed passengers (just in case they had missed it elsewhere) that the Red Sea International Film Festival is due to finally arrive later this year.