Director of Saudi Arabia's Red Sea International Film Festival steps down

The inaugural film festival was postponed earlier this year

Mahmoud Sabbagh has stepped down from his role of festival director of Saudi Arabia's Red Sea International Film Festival. Getty Images 
Mahmoud Sabbagh has stepped down from his role of festival director of Saudi Arabia's Red Sea International Film Festival. Getty Images 

Mahmoud Sabbagh, the Saudi filmmaker, is stepping down from his post as director of the Red Sea International Film Festival.

A statement from the festival said he was leaving to pursue work on his third feature film.

“The foundation would like to thank the outgoing festival director for his work and efforts, which included launching the foundation and putting together the pillars of the inaugural Red Sea Film Festival,” the statement reads.

“The Red Sea Film Festival will continue its commitment to support the burgeoning Saudi film industry as well as local and regional filmmakers.”

The first Red Sea International Film Festival was to take place last March, but was postponed because of safety fears during the coronavirus pandemic. It would have been Saudi Arabia's first international festival, following the opening of cinemas in the kingdom.

Sabbagh directed the film Barakah Meets Barakah, widely hailed as the first Saudi independent rom-com, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016.

He studied film storytelling at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and since then has emerged as a major champion of Saudi independent film.

His production company, Elhoush Productions, which financed Barakah Meets Barakah, also opened Elhoush Cinema in Jeddah. The outdoor site – El Housh means “courtyard” in Arabic – is the country’s first art-house cinema.

Sabbagh had ambitious plans for the Red Sea festival, which was meant to take place in Al Balad, Jeddah's Unesco-protected Old Town.

In an interview with Variety in February, before this year's festival was cancelled, he signalled his desire for the festival to concentrate on stories from the Global South, rather than replicating festivals on the US and European circuit. More than 100 films, from the Arab region and beyond, were to be screened in Jeddah.

New dates have not yet been announced for the festival.

Updated: July 15, 2020 04:59 PM

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