Red Sea Film Festival announces $10 million fund to support Arab and African projects

The new cultural event also launched its first Saudi Cinema Nights initiative on Wednesday

From left to right: screenwriter Bashayer Abdulaziz, director Mohammed Hassan Alhelayil, actress Zara Al Balouchi and actor Osama Salih during the Saudi Arabia premiere of '40 Years and One Night' in Jeddah. Mariam Nihal / The National
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The Red Sea International Film Festival announced a $10 million fund on Tuesday to support projects by directors in the Arab world and Africa. In its first year, the initiative aims to help finance 100 projects with development, production and post-production.

"The Red Sea Fund will help cinema, which is in full metamorphosis," Edouard Waintrop, the newly appointed director of the Red Sea International Film Festival, which launches in November, tells The National.

He says the work of Arab filmmakers tells the untold stories of their home countries, proving how important it is for these projects to come to fruition.

“You know, in all Arab countries there are a lot of stories to tell – that’s why I’m very optimistic about the future of Arab cinema.”

Red Sea International Film Festival hosts Saudi debut of '40 Years and One Night'

Red Sea International Film Festival hosts Saudi debut of '40 Years and One Night'

On Wednesday and Thursday, the festival is also hosting its first Saudi Cinema Nights event in Jeddah. This new initiative will bring two feature films and four shorts by directors in Saudi Arabia to the kingdom's crowds for the first time.

The event will allow audiences to interact with directors through question-and-answer sessions after film screenings, giving filmmakers and actors direct access to their viewers.

In all Arab countries there are a lot of stories to tell – that's why I'm very optimistic about the future of Arab cinema

While this is Waintrop's first time in Saudi Arabia, he is familiar with the country's cinema landscape and its filmmakers.

Waintrop, who was previously the artistic director of the Directors' Fortnight, an independent programme that runs alongside Cannes Film Festival, says he's "thrilled" to be building the festival from scratch in a country that had no cinemas for more than three decades.

"It's a complete mystery to me to see how audiences here will react to movies in cinemas," he says. Waintrop is particularly interested in seeing young Saudi filmmakers, who will not have grown up going to cinemas, showcase their work.

“I have enjoyed watching movies for Saudi Cinema Nights. Even the comedies are well made; they are light but leave you with a meaningful message," he says.

"I like how movies speak of topics with a lightness – that's the case with 40 Years and One Night," he says, referring to one of the films being screened this week.

Which films will screen at Saudi Cinema Nights?

Mohammed Hassan Alhelayil's 40 Years and One Night, which makes its debut in Saudi Arabia's cinemas on Wednesday, tells the story of five siblings who rush to the hospital after their father gets into a car accident. While the father is fine, the shock causes them to share all of their past secrets over one night.

The drama addresses deep-rooted family and social issues. The film, which received $500,000 in funding from the Red Sea International Film Festival in 2020, had its world premiere at Malmo Arab Film Festival.

Edouard Waintrop, left, is the newly appointed director of the Red Sea International Film Festival. The National 

Speaking to The National, Alhelayil and screenwriter Bashayer Abdulaziz say the movie depicts relatable real-life situations and issues between parents and siblings. Actor Osama Salih, who plays Khalid, one of the siblings in the film, says he is looking forward to seeing how audiences react. "It's a very real depiction of how families are and what they discuss."

On Thursday, another Saudi feature, Carnaval City, directed by Wael Abu Mansour, will also be screened. The film, which pays homage to Paris, Texas (1984) by Wim Wenders, follows the story of two people who set out on a road trip that leads them to an abandoned theme park where their car breaks down. The adventure then takes an unexpected turn.

Before the screening of the feature films, a curated selection of short films will also be shown. This includes: ... And When Do I Sleep? (2020) by Husam Alsayed, Ongoing Lullaby (2020) by Hisham Fadel, The Girls Who Burned the Night (2020) by Sara Mesfer and Goin' South (2019) by Mohammed Alhamoud.

The films will screen at Muvi Cinemas, Mall of Arabia and seats can be booked online.

More information is available at