The third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, taking place in Jeddah between Nov. 30 – Dec. 9, will be the culmination of a highly successful funding cycle for the Red Sea Film Foundation. Created in 2019 following the lifting of Saudi Arabia’s 30-year cinema ban, the foundation aims to support the local and regional film industry through the organizing and championing of the festival, plus a focus on education and grants.
In 2021, the foundation launched the Red Sea Fund, a financing arm focused on supporting emerging filmmakers and established directors from the Arab world and Africa. Grants were distributed between projects in development, production and post-production. The fund supported 94 projects in the first year and over 250 films in the two years since, including films by acclaimed filmmakers such as Abderrahmane Sissako, Haifaa Al-Mansour and Kaouther Ben Hania.
More from Variety
The impact of the fund was felt throughout the biggest festivals in the world in 2023, with Red Sea Fund-backed projects making their way to Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Berlin and more. The crop was not only plentiful but also greatly successful, picking up a series of awards throughout the season.
Out of all festivals, Red Sea Fund-supported projects found the most accolades on the French Riviera, with Asmae El Moudir’s “The Mother of All Lies,” Mohamed Kordofani’s “Goodbye Julia,” Baloji’s “Omen” and Kamal Lazraq’s “Hounds” picking up awards at Un Certain Regard, and Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters” awarded the L’Oeil d’Or (Golden Eye) Award for best documentary in this year’s main competition.
“I don’t think we’ve experienced something like this before and I think it is going to be more and more successful each year,” said Ryan Ashore, head of the Red Sea Labs, the training arm of the Red Sea Foundation.
Many projects financed by the Red Sea Fund completed their entire production cycle in Jeddah, from being selected for training at the Red Sea Lodge, going through the festival’s market hub, the Red Sea Souk, receiving funding from the foundation and graduating within the film festival’s main programming.
Zain Zedan, Red Sea Souk manager, is thrilled to have seen so many films that have taken part in the Souk eventually finding success through the Fund. “We’re so very happy to have such a fund and in a short amount of time. We managed to support an incredible amount of films. It’s important to continue having that because we’re changing the industry, we are adding more of our voices and offering the support filmmakers are looking for and need. It’s a great story to have.”
The foundation’s funding success this year will continue to spill into awards season as seven titles supported by the fund have been chosen to represent their countries at the Academy Awards. Hopefuls include all previously mentioned Cannes award-winners, plus other critically acclaimed festival entries in Amjad Al Rasheed’s “Inshallah a Boy” and Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened.”
Another pivotal strategic move for the foundation in 2023 was to expand from supporting Arab and African projects through the Red Sea Fund to stepping into the global limelight through financing via the Red Sea Film Foundation. The foundation was behind Maïwenn’s Cannes opener “Jeanne du Barry” and Michael Mann’s starry biopic “Ferrari,” with both films receiving gala spots at the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival.
“I think this international financing is putting us on the map, making us more global and, for me in the labs, it’s definitely a chance to have more professional films and more on-set training,” said Ashore, highlighting how the next crop of European and Hollywood films backed by the foundation have acted not only as a global spotlight for the fund but also an opportunity to train the new generation of Arab filmmakers.
This year, the Red Sea Lodge sent pupils to gain hands-on experience on the set of Johnny Depp’s next directorial effort, “Modi.” The film, from a screenplay by Jerzy and Mary Kromolowski, is based on the play “Modigliani” by Dennis McIntyre and traces the life of Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. Riccardo Scamarcio is set to take on the titular role, with Al Pacino and Stephen Graham in the cast.
The fund is also behind Guy Ritchie’s next effort, “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” a spy film based on the 2014 book “Churchill’s Secret Warriors: The Explosive True Story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII” by Damien Lewis. The film is a Lionsgate release and features a stellar cast of Henry Cavill, Eiza González, Alan Ritchson, Alex Pettyfer, Henry Golding and Cary Elwes.
Best of Variety