Developing a distinct identity is one of the most acute challenges that new film festivals face, says Thierry Fremaux, director of the Cannes Film Festival.
Speaking from the sidelines of the ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival, the film critic and director of Institut Lumiere says it is still too early to form an opinion on how the nascent event is meeting that challenge. However, the festival’s programme as well as its young demographic points to the positive, he says.
“It is a pleasure being here,” he tells The National. “I’m seeing a lot of young people in the audience, which is a good sign. We’re only in the first day, and it’s hard to say how the festival is doing after opening night. We’ll make the conclusion after one week of the festival.”
Taking place at Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad district until December 15, the Red Sea International Film Festival is being hailed as a watershed cultural event for Saudi Arabia, celebrating Arab and world cinema across its 10 days.
What Fremaux seems to be most keen in observing is how well it develops an idiosyncrasy, reflecting upon the cultural identity of Saudi Arabia and the wider Gulf region.
“The first challenge is the identity, the authenticity. The way the Red Sea Film Festival will be the only Red Sea Film Festival, not an imitation of some other festival.
“We are here, in a certain region of the world, and we have to feel it,” he says. “Not to feel like being in America or in France, and that’s done through the programming and also the presence of the people.”
Fremaux says he sees a growing movement in favour of cinema in the Gulf, and that it was necessary to create a film festival to encourage rising talents and fill the gap left by the Dubai International Film Festival.
“It’s important that a film festival can be connected to the industry of its own country and to the creators, exhibitors, technicians and artists,” he says. He adds that is another challenge for budding festivals, to not only ensure continuity, but to bolster a new generation of the creative community.”
The director of the Cannes Film Festival, which celebrates turning 75 next year, says the Red Sea International Film Festival must carve out its own experience to determine what is best for its own community.
“We talk, of course. But they have to have their own experience, even their own mistakes,” he says. “It will be very interesting after the first edition to know what they think about organising a festival, which is a hard job. It’s interesting to be here and see how they do that.”