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American director and triple Oscar winner Oliver Stone will head the international competition at the first Red Sea Film Festival in Saudi Arabia next month, taking place from March 12-21 in the Jeddah Old Town.

The 73-year-old filmmaker, known for movies such as ‘JFK’ (1991), ‘Natural Born Killers’ (1994) and ‘Snowden’ (2016), as well as penning the script for ‘Scarface’ (1983), will help judge the “original, daring” entries, with a focus on the Arab world and the Global South, according to a Monday announcement.

“[Oliver Stone’s] incredible films about the Vietnam War and American political life have changed our thinking of history,” said festival director Mahmoud Sabbagh (‘Barakah Meets Barakah’). “For a new breed of filmmakers competing for the Yusr Awards, his watchful eye and sense of authorship will be inspirational.”


• The Yusr Awards, referencing the black coral formations on the coast of Jeddah’s Red Sea, will take place on March 19. Oliver Stone is the head jury member.

• The Golden Yusr for Best Feature Film is a $100,000 (Dh367,262) cash prize, while the Silver Yusr for Best Director offers $50,000. A $50,000 prize will go to the Audience Award winner.

• A trophy will be awarded to Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Cinematic Contribution.

• Stone will also present a classic that inspired him: the Algerian-French political thriller ‘Z’ by Costa Gavras, wherein a judge investigating the murder of a Greek leftist looks into the role of government officials in his killing.


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• According to a media release, themes in the competition films include “the advancement of women’s rights with an intense look at the scourge of domestic violence, as well as immigration.”

• “We have a strong desire to push diversity, particularly in women’s position in public spaces, and for a more open society. The films present a strong look at what makes society function and the relationship between the individual to patriarchy and hegemony,” said Sabbagh.

• Participating countries are Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Columbia, France, Germany, India, Kosovo, Mongolia, Nigeria, Philippines, Spain and the United States.


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Director Spike Lee Image Credit: AFP

• ‘Transmissions’ is a masterclass series led by Arab and global industry icons, including Spike Lee, William Friedkin, Abel Ferrara, Khairy Beshara and Yousry Nasrallah.

• The festival opens with the world premiere of ‘Shams al-Maaref’ (‘The Book of Sun’), directed by Faris Godus, produced by and starring his brother Suhaib Godus. Set in 2010, it follows high school senior Husam whose fascination with video production and the online world pulls him away from typical teenage pursuits.

• A masterclass on virtual reality and immersive art, ‘On Site, On Mind’ will be led by Vishal Dar, Joan Ross, Nic Koller and Weston Rio Morgan.

• An exhibition, ‘When Fellini Dreamt of Picasso’, celebrates 100 years since the Italian filmmaker’s birth, and explores Picasso’s influence on Fellini’s work, though the two never met.

• Spike Lee’s ‘Malcolm X’ will screen on March 13; the film includes scenes shot in Makkah.

• ‘The Choice’, one of Youssef Chahine’s films, has been restored by the Red Sea Film Foundation.


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• The event runs for 10 days (March 12-21) at Jeddah’s Al Balad, a Unesco World Heritage Site founded in the 7th century.

• The box office will open on February 23.

• 107 features and shorts will screen throughout the festival, which is led by festival director Mahmoud Sabbagh and artistic director Hussain Currimbhoy.

• Titles include 16 in-competition films, 7 out-of-competition films, 15 retrospectives and classic works, three generation titles, five immersive and VR experiences, 11 titles in a ‘New Saudi/New Cinema’ category, 13 titles in the shorts competition and 23 ‘Best of the Year’ films.

• In addition, there will be 17 ‘Tajreeb’ titles, a collection of experimental films.

• Five female filmmakers — Hind Al Fahhad, Jowaher Al Amri, Noor Al Ameer, Sara Mesfer and Fatima Al Banawi — will present ‘Untitled Omnibus Feature’, an anthology of 5 short films. Palestinian filmmaker Suha Arraf is the screenwriting supervisor.

• A newly built festival complex includes five theatres, including the 1,200-seater Coral Theater. Three others can seat 120 people, while another holds 240 audience members.