While there was an air of suspense on opening night of how Saudi Arabia’s first film festival would fare, the unprecedented bustle that had overtaken the historic Al-Balad district over the past week was one measure of the event’s success.
The festival screened 170 films from across the world. A third of those were works by female filmmakers, and 27 of them Saudi films.
“I am immensely proud of our team who have worked tirelessly around the clock to deliver a festival that, I believe, has exceeded expectations,” Mohammed Al Turki, chairman of the festival, said during the awards ceremony. He also thanked filmmakers “for trusting us to share their stories and vision over the past 10 days, which have made us look at the world a little differently.
“This was our first-ever international film festival. We have learnt a lot that we will now build upon for our second edition.”
Several films by established regional filmmakers made their Arab premieres at the festival, including Huda’s Salon by Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu Assad and Communion by Nejib Belkadhi. Favourites from the global festival circuit included Haider Rashid’s Europa, which won two awards at the inaugural Yusr awards, and Brighton 4th by Georgian filmmaker Levan Koguashvili, which won the award for best feature.
The festival was also a springboard for emerging Arab directors who were premiering their debut films for the first time in the region, including You Resemble Me, the Audience Award-winning feature of Egyptian-American filmmaker and journalist Dina Amer, as well as Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam’s Farha, which was awarded the Special Mention prize.
However, while the festival was a focused move in bringing global cinema to Saudi Arabia, perhaps more significant was its bolstering of new Saudi talents.
The festival screened works by emerging female Saudi directors including Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Al Fahhad and Fatima Al Banawi. The works by the five filmmakers were screened as part of a compilation called Becoming, and examine Saudi identity as well as the country’s ever-changing society.
Another compilation, Quareer, which features the works of Ragheed Al Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi and Noor Alameer, explored sensitive themes of abandonment, neglect, shame and abuse within a conservative society.
Feature works by Saudi filmmakers included Fay’s Palette by Hisham Fageeh as well as Rupture by Hamzah K Jamjoom, which was awarded the Yusr prize for Best Saudi Film.
“The future is bright for Saudi film and our first festival is just the beginning,” Al Turki said during the award ceremony. “We are here to stay and we are here to celebrate and recognise filmmakers and talent."