Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival

Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival
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Updated 01 December 2022

Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival

Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival
  • The second Red Sea International Film Festival promises to be bigger and better than the first, with international stars flocking to the Kingdom’s cinematic spectacular

JEDDAH: The second Red Sea International Film Festival begins on Thursday in Jeddah and the red carpet has been rolled out at the glitzy Ritz Carlton hotel to welcome international movie stars and filmmakers from East and West.

Under the slogan “Film is Everything,” the event, which continues until Dec. 10, will showcase 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries, in 41 languages, made by established and emerging talents, including seven feature films and 24 shorts from Saudi Arabia.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, RSIFF CEO Mohammed Al-Turki said: “This year, we have a very proud moment as we are closing the film festival with a Saudi film. This is a clear indicator of where Saudi cinema is at.

“Our programmers, especially Antoine Khalife, are very picky when it comes to films. So, for the Red Sea International Film Festival to accept a Saudi film means that it is of a quality to showcase at an international festival.

“So we are very proud and happy to show a home-bred film, “Valley Road” — with a Saudi cast, Saudi director and Saudi writer — as our closing film. It just tells you that Saudi cinema is booming at a fast pace.”

Al-Turki said that the popularity of film has soared in the Kingdom in the five years since a decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted.

“There is a hunger for film and you see that when you look at the numbers of the box office tickets — we have exceeded all neighboring countries,” he said. “We have a bigger box office revenue than the UAE, than Egypt, in just the short time since we lifted the cinema ban in 2017.”

Far from simply playing catch-up with the global cinema industry after the long ban, Saudi Arabia is already excelling in its own right, according to Al-Turki.

“I think we are on the right path … you see a lot of people trying to excel and we’re trying to catch up from the 35 years that cinema was not present,” he said.

“So everybody is trying their best and I’m sure in the next few years we will have Saudi films on a global scale and, hopefully, we can open our film festival in coming years with a Saudi film.”

This year’s opening film “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” is a cross-cultural British romantic comedy directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Lily James, Emma Thompson, Shazad Latif, Rob Brydon, Shabana Azmi, Sajal Aly, and Asim Chaudhry. It won the Best Comedy award at the Rome Film Festival last month.

The festival schedule includes 34 international premieres, 17 Arab premieres, and 47 films from the Middle East and North Africa. It will also welcome many of the talents, on both sides of the camera, involved in the making of the films.

The festival also features an official competition, the Yusr Awards, in which 26 shorts and 16 features from Asia, Africa and the Arab world will compete in a number of categories, including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. The winners will be announced on Dec. 8.

The Saudi Film Commission has chosen the film “Raven Song” as the Kingdom’s entry for the Oscars in the Best International Feature Film category. It will have its world premiere at RSIFF on Dec. 3 and is one of the seven films competing for the Golden Yusr for Best Feature Film.

Last year, the Golden Yusr went to the drama “Brighton 4th” by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili, while the top short film award went to “Tala’Vision,” directed by Murad Abu Eisheh from Jordan.

This year, acclaimed US filmmaker Oliver Stone, the recipient of three Academy Awards and director of films such as “JFK,” “Platoon,” “Snowden” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” will head the awards jury.

The festival aims to help open the doors to the film industry for a generation of young Saudis by enriching their knowledge of the industry and providing access to expertise from around the world through a number of initiatives, including competitions that offer funding awards, and filmmaking masterclasses and workshops.

To support and help the fledgling local film industry flourish, RSIFF has its own educational program, Red Sea Labs, and has formed partnerships with TorinoFilmLab in Italy and US film institutions to teach filmmakers from Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

The RSIFF film fund also supports young Saudi and regional filmmakers during preproduction, production and postproduction, said Al-Turki, and “we have the platform, the film festival, to showcase their films. So it comes full circle.”

One of the most significant RSIFF initiatives is the Red Sea Souk, the festival’s industry market platform, which includes a wide-ranging program of curated events designed to foster agreements for coproductions and international distribution, and encourage new business opportunities.

Representatives from 46 countries will take part in the Souk, which runs from Dec. 3 to 6 and offers a chance to network and access key players in the emerging Saudi industry, along with some of the best from the wider Arab and African scenes.

This year, more than 350 distributors, producers, financiers, sales agents and festival representatives will take part in the Souk and participate in face-to-face meetings and sessions with project developers.

During last year’s festival, the Red Sea Souk hosted more than 560 meetings and welcomed more than 3,115 film and media professionals. It was credited with playing a significant role in connecting a new generation of emerging talent with established figures in the cinema industry.

Last year’s marketplace was managed by Saudi artist Zain Zedan, who told Arab News after the festival: “This year was a great first start and we are ready to work on the second edition. The energy is great and the possibilities are endless. We are creating history here.”

This year, cash awards will be provided by the Red Sea Fund and awarded by two juries. The Project Market jury will choose the recipients of Jury Special Mention awards for development ($35,000) and production ($100,000). All selected projects will be eligible for additional awards funded by Red Sea Souk sponsors and partners totaling $670,000.

Also as part of Red Sea Souk, the second Talent Days initiative will take place on Dec. 7 and 8. It will feature sessions designed to nurture the next generation of filmmakers and effectively offers an initiation into the cinema industry for aspiring filmmakers through inspirational talks and individual meetings. Acclaimed Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania will lead this year’s Talent Days.

The manager of the inaugural Talent Days last year was Rana Jarbou, a Saudi director who said that the aim was “to encourage up-and-coming young Saudi filmmakers and grow the local film industry.”

Alongside the Red Sea Souk, the competitions, the red-carpet galas, outdoor screenings, and other special presentations, the festival will also host a range of themed film programs such as Festival Favorites, New Saudi/New Cinema, Red Sea: Treasures, Red Sea: Arab and International Spectacular, Red Sea: Family and Children, Red Sea: Virtual Reality, and Red Sea: Series. In addition, Red Sea: New Vision is a new strand dedicated to filmmakers who push the boundaries of creativity with a style of genre-defining filmmaking that challenges audiences.

Kaleem Aftab, director of international programming for the festival, told Arab News about the vibrant scene within the Saudi film industry, especially after the success of the first RSIFF last year.

“The Saudi film industry is incredible, considering where it was just five years ago,” he said. “There's a lot of movement forward and a big shift in the right direction. We’re still at the beginning but it’s making a mark in the International Festival space.

“I think the success of the Red Sea Film Festival, the inaugural edition, really gave a positive feeling to Saudi people and I had the sense that cinema was being celebrated, cinema was a possibility as a career, cinema is something to be proud of rather than something to be scared of, to hide away. I think we’re seeing a change in the perception of the way people want to tell stories.”

Last week, RSIFF organizers announced that this year’s Yusr Honorary Awards would be presented to veteran Egyptian actor Yousra, acclaimed British director Guy Ritchie and Indian actor and producer Shah Rukh Khan, in recognition of their exceptional contributions to film.

Yousra was among the stars who attended the festival last year, during which she advised young Saudi filmmakers to “be patient. Do not rush to stardom, and love your career for what it is. Try and fail, and learn how to choose the right time and career circumstances. Remember, no one jumps to success.”

She added: “I want to see Saudi films that speak to the world, not to a certain region, so the world understands what and who you are.”


Georgina Rodriguez celebrates her birthday in Riyadh with Cristiano Ronaldo, children 

Georgina Rodriguez celebrates her birthday in Riyadh with Cristiano Ronaldo, children 
Updated 44 min 46 sec ago

Georgina Rodriguez celebrates her birthday in Riyadh with Cristiano Ronaldo, children 

Georgina Rodriguez celebrates her birthday in Riyadh with Cristiano Ronaldo, children 

DUBAI: Argentine model Georgina Rodriguez celebrated her 29th birthday in Riyadh on Friday with her partner, Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, and their children. 

The family was photographed at Armenian restaurant Lavash on The Boulevard.

The model wore a white midi form-fitting dress, that was off the shoulder, and a pair of white heels.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by LAVASH (@eat_lavash)

She was welcomed with a three-tier birthday cake that boasted flower designs and gold text that read “Happy Birthday” in Portuguese.

She posed for pictures with her family against a white backdrop covered in feathers that was lit with the message “Happy Birthday Georgina.”

The private room was decorated with white balloons, gypsophila flowers and inflated helium balloons shaped as “29” and “G.”

The pathway to one of the dinner rooms reserved for the couple was decorated with pictures of the birthday girl.

The room was decorated with candles to add a romantic feel, while Rodriguez was welcomed with a large white bouquet.

The couple were also treated to two instrumentalists, playing an oud and a violin.

Fans of Ronaldo and Rodriguez gathered outside the restaurant to cheer the couple following the celebration.

The model last week featured at the Joy Awards in Riyadh, showing off a midnight blue form-fitting velvet gown by Dubai-based Tunisian designer Ali Karoui. Her look featured a matching veil, gold pumps from Italian luxury shoemakers Le Silla, and jewelry from Kooheji, of Bahrain.

The Netflix star, who now calls Saudi Arabia home after her partner signed a record-breaking deal with Al-Nassr, shared her pictures on Instagram, and wrote: “A big thank you to everyone, love you Saudi Arabia.”

Rodriguez also showed up to support her long-time partner as he made his Al-Nassr debut against Al-Ettifaq in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday.

The footballer, 37, captained the team to a 1-0 win at Mrsool Park in Riyadh, while Rodriguez cheered on from the sidelines in a Ronaldo jersey, paired with cut-off jeans and a jacket.


Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s style impresses fans online

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s style impresses fans online
Updated 28 January 2023

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s style impresses fans online

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s style impresses fans online

DUBAI: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was spotted on Friday at a restaurant called Somewhere in AlUla, and fashion lovers on Twitter have once again gone wild over a vest that he wore. 

The crown prince championed the Italian brand Brunello Cucinelli’s zip-up gilet in white and beige. The straight hem vest, with a high neck, had two side-slit pockets. 

The vest retails for around $6,900 on luxury application FarFetch. 

Fans quickly started looking for websites selling the jacket at a lower price.

“For people who liked the jacket of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and are not able to (buy it) because of the price, this jacket is similar to it and has a number of colors and all sizes and a cheaper price,” wrote one user.

Another user noticed that the website ShopStyle increased the price of the vest after it was worn by the crown prince. 

“The crown prince’s jacket was priced at $3,850, and now its price has increased (to $4,524),” he wrote on Twitter, while another user said: “High demands on the crown prince’s jacket.”

“Someone find us a similar jacket on Shein,” joked another user. 

Videos on social media showed the crown price accompanied by the crown princes of Jordan and Oman. 

The videos shared on social media showed people posing for pictures with the Saudi crown prince. 

“I am proud to meet His Highness, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, may God protect him, and His Excellency Badr Al-Asaker in the city of AlUla,” tweeted one user sharing his pictures with the crown prince. 

It is not the first time that the Saudi crown prince has sparked a style storm online.

In 2022, a cohort of fashion lovers on Twitter went wild over a pair of dark brown Oxfords, called Hallam, from British footwear label Crockett & Jones, that retailed for about $560. 

In 2021, he was photographed wearing a quilted gilet while chairing a board meeting of the Public Investment Fund.

The prince showed off a $6,551 casual sleeveless vest by UK luxury cashmere brand Franck Namani.

In 2019, he attended the Formula E races in Riyadh wearing a navy-colored Barbour jacket worn over a crisp white thobe that immediately sent the internet into overdrive.

The outerwear item by the British heritage brand sparked its own Arabic hashtag on Twitter — that translated to “crown prince’s jacket” — with many taking to the social media platform to admire the look.


Dutch DJ Martin Garrix performs at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix 

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix performs at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix 
Updated 53 min 10 sec ago

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix performs at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix 

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix performs at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix 

DUBAI: Dutch DJ Martin Garrix hit the stage on Friday at Formula E Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia to perform to a packed audience. 

The “Animals” artist, who was ranked number one on DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs list for three consecutive years, played remixes for “Shakes,” “Summer Days” and many more. 

One of the posters read: “Martin on, world off.”  (Arab News)

Fans in the Kingdom danced, cheered and held up signs to support the DJ. 

One of the posters read: “Martin on, world off.”   

Egyptian singer Mahmoud El-Esseily also met his fans at the event. “I am very happy to be here today. We will light up the stage, won’t we?” he told his fans. 

He sang some of his hits: “Helm Baeed,” “Ekhteraa” and “El-Leila.” 

Fans were also treated to a drone show and colorful fireworks. 

The event also presented local talent, including Saudi Lebanese record producer DJ Loush, whose real name is Ali Assi.  

The audience sang along with him to “Staying Alive,” “The Business” and “Do It To It.” 


Saudi writer, director and producer Ali Al-Kalthami talks success  

Saudi writer, director and producer Ali Al-Kalthami talks success  
Updated 28 January 2023

Saudi writer, director and producer Ali Al-Kalthami talks success  

Saudi writer, director and producer Ali Al-Kalthami talks success  
  • As one of the co-founders of Telfaz11, the writer-director-producer is now reaping the rewards of years spent establishing an authentic entertainment industry in the Kingdom 

DUBAI: Ali Al-Kalthami is trying not to let it all go to his head. But that’s easier said than done. As one of the three co-founders of the pioneering Saudi production company Telfaz11, Al-Kalthami is one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s film future. And, as we’ve seen over the last two months, that future is now.  

In that short span of time, Telfaz11’s film “Raven Song” became the latest Saudi submission to the Academy Awards, their theatrical release “Sattar” became the highest-grossing Saudi film in history, and their latest feature, “Al Khallat+,” just became the first Netflix original film from Saudi.   

“This is not overnight success, of course,” Al-Kalthami explains to Arab News. “It’s been 12 years of experience, 12 years of staying true to our stories, our philosophy, and our talents. We’re grateful that all of these projects are flourishing at the same time, but we’ve been working a long time for these things to take place, and we’re most proud that we got here by doing it the right way — doing it our way.” 

A still from “Sattar.” (Supplied)

We’re speaking to the writer/director/producer over Zoom and he doesn’t want to turn his camera on. It’s nothing personal, he explains, he’s just been filming for 12 hours straight, directing his upcoming theatrical feature “Night Courier,” a dark crime comedy, in Riyadh and he doesn’t want anyone to see him. His mood, however, belies his exhaustion — he’s still thrilled to gush about “Al Khallat+,” perhaps the Telfaz11 project that is closest to his heart.  

The film is a continuation of the 22-episode anthology web series he created, which has amassed an astounding 1.5 billion views — a viewership far too big to qualify this as a ‘cult hit.’ Rather, Al-Kalthami and co., through their years of viral YouTube videos, have defined what Saudi Arabia’s mainstream entertainment looks like, building grassroots support with content that is wholeheartedly Saudi, made with a love and authenticity that allows them to push boundaries and subvert expectations, an aesthetic that is defined in “Al-Khallat.”  

“From the start, I thought about doing a show that reflects the Saudi psyche. We wanted to capture everyday life in a way that that appeals to real people with engaging, well-crafted storytelling,” the creator explains. 

While “Al Khallat+” tells a number of unrelated stories — two thieves crash a wedding to rescue their captured partner, a chef risks his restaurant trying to save his parent’s marriage, a mother searches for her husband who in turn is searching for his son in a nightclub — they each share a defining theme, one that Al-Kalthami and his collaborators discovered while holed up writing together during COVID-19 lockdowns. 

Director Fahad Alammari on the set of “Al Khallat.” (Supplied)

“We went back to the 22 episodes we’d released on the internet, and wanted to figure out what worked and what didn’t as we started to work on the feature. And for some strange reason, we found that the stories that worked had something in common. In each of them, there was a character who had to hustle their way out of an issue brought on by society’s restrictions — and we don’t mean that negatively,” Al-Kalthami says.  

“If you think about Saudi Arabia as a largely conservative society, that comes with a lot of rules that cause restraints on social life. Watching people hustle around those restraints becomes funny, because people can relate to those situations. We approach it with a very local mindset, and that allows Saudis to come along for the ride with us.” 

While “Al Khallat” has a perspective purely his own, Al-Kalthami is always quick to give credit to his collaborators. If he is proud of anything personally, it’s that he’s created a platform which has allowed the Kingdom’s rising talent to thrive, from the myriad actors featured to the crew behind the camera, many of whom he has known for years.  

“When I saw the first edit, I was very emotional. I was able to see in front of my eyes so clearly all the ideas that we’d written come to life through such great production. Fahad Alammari, the director, executed this so well, for example, and seeing all these actors — all of my friends — having fun bringing these characters to life is so rewarding,” says Al-Kalthami. 

“From the beginning, I always wanted this to go somewhere beyond the internet. I had no other experience at the time, but I knew we would get there eventually. To have something that I created with my friends get picked up and treated as a franchise is very humbling.” 

The challenge that Al-Kalthami now faces is to keep pushing forward and rewriting the template that he and his collaborators have made.  

“As a writer, you often create this illusion around yourself when you create something successful. If you’re not careful, there’s a barrier that rises between you and reality. You have to force yourself not to believe the hype, to be true to who you are and true to the society you live in — and force yourself to keep living in it. You can’t isolate yourself and become carried away by your success,” he says. “You have to embrace life, and live like a normal person, and get inspired the right way. I’m always trying to force myself to stay grounded, which can be very tricky with this kind of success, especially when you’re in on the ground floor. You have to force yourself to continue to push the envelope, break boundaries and do great work, and you have to help build this industry the right way. That’s the responsibility of pioneers.” 

While Al-Kalthami is usually focused on the future — committed to pushing himself as a writer and helping Saudi talent flourish both within his own projects and theirs — he does, occasionally, allow himself to look back and take stock of all he and Telfaz11 have accomplished over the last dozen years. Often, the emotion hits when he least expects it. 

“Somebody sent me a TikTok video last week. In it, someone had put together pictures of all the Telfaz11 founders, filmmakers and family members, spanning every moment they could find from 2010 to 2022. They wrote that we were the voice of our local inner life, that we were filmmakers that Saudis believe in. It was just so poetic, so nice, and so innocent. It just really got to me,” Al-Kalthami says. “I was so overwhelmed, I could hardly control it. To know that a lot of people in Saudi feel we represent their voice, their authentic life, truly means everything.” 


ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition
Updated 28 January 2023

ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

LONDON: The international music festival, ULTRA Worldwide, has announced the first wave of headliners set to play the inaugural edition of ULTRA Abu Dhabi on March 4-5 at Etihad Park.

“Multi-award winning and platinum-record selling artist Afrojack is no stranger to headlining ULTRA Main Stages across the world, and will be on hand to deliver yet another high-octane set,” organizers said.

“Responsible for some of the biggest hits in the world, Grammy-nominated Calvin Harris will bring the beats to Yas Island for one of his signature high-energy sets (and) Dharma Worldwide boss KSHMR will whip the crowd into a frenzy with his culture-crossing sonics,” they also said.

Gud Vibrations label co-founder NGHTMRE will appear on the Main Stage with his signature blend of electronic music and producer Skrillex, who has won eight Grammy Awards — more than any other electronic dance music artist, will bring his shapeshifting soundscapes to the festival.

ULTRA Abu Dhabi will also host ULTRA’s underground techno and house concept RESISTANCE, featuring Drumcode founder and Swedish techno titan Adam Beyer.

“Producer and EXHALE label boss Amelie Lens will return to the Middle East to deliver her mesmerising blend of techno, while British legends Sasha_John Digweed bring decades of dance floor expertise to Abu Dhabi,” they added.

Etihad Park, located on Yas Island, is the largest open-air venue in the region and one of the world’s fastest growing leisure and entertainment destinations.

“ULTRA Worldwide sets the benchmark when it comes to delivering the ultimate festival experience, combining top-tier talent, cutting-edge technology and large-scale productions,” the statement said, adding: “As the most international music festival brand boasting active events on all six inhabited continents, it’s no surprise that ULTRA Worldwide’s Middle East debut will be one of the most highly anticipated events across the UAE this year.”

The three-day festival will offer a premium general experience pass that allows access holders to dedicated entrance gates, toilets, food and beverage stands, as well as a private lounge area. It will also offer VVIP passes at both stages.