The Red Sea International Film Festival (RedSeaIFF), which will have its inaugural edition from Dec. 6-15, is Wednesday announcing a number of celebrations in honor of the ground-breaking contribution of women to cinema, including tributes and masterclasses from some of the most inspiring female names in cinema.
The Festival will honor the first female Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al Mansour, who is not only one of the most significant names in the Saudi film industry, but has lead the way in championing female empowerment across the region.
Her feature debut, Wadjda, was the first film to ever be shot in the Kingdom, and was nominated for numerous international awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Film not in the English language. She has since gone on to direct numerous TV shows and films internationally, including Mary Shelley and Nappily Ever After, and continues to break ground in filmmaking.
Al Mansour explained: "I am incredibly honoured to return home to Saudi Arabia for the first edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival. Those of us who worked tirelessly with dreams of cinema finding a home here know what a truly monumental event this is for the Kingdom, the region and the world.
"I believe strongly in the power of art to foster positive development and opportunity in our community and hope that this festival serves as a strong foundation for a burgeoning industry that will nurture and amplify our stories and dreams well into the future."
When I started making films years ago, the idea of working as a director seemed outlandish. But I knew that the world was curious to hear from us, to hear our side of the story, and that films from our part of the world would strike a chord with audiences around the world. Now, returning home as an honoree at our first film festival, seems just as unbelievable.
It is an incredible honor for me, and such a wonderful opportunity to see the best of up-and-coming talent from the region. The world is still eager to hear from us, and I am so excited to see the infrastructure of a cinematic industry being built to help realize our cinematic visions. I am so excited to see what comes next!"
Academy Award and BAFTA nominated French actress Catherine Deneuve will also be honored by the Festival. Deneuve is widely considered to be one of the greatest European actresses of all time, and is renowned for her extraordinary contributions to film, most notably her performances in 8 Women, Repulsion, Belle de Jour, Dancer in the Dark and Indochine, for which she was nominated for the 1992 Academy Award for Best Actress.
She is a multiaward-winning actress, having won two of her native France's César Awards, amongst 14 nominations, and has won Venice Film Festival's prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actress, as well as many other international awards.
Deneuve said: "It is always an honor to have your work recognized by the industry, and I am especially grateful for this honour, and the opportunity to be a part of this wider celebration of the contribution of women to cinema.
"I hope that my work can help inspire young women to chart their own successful careers in this industry, and I hope that this acknowledgement of the contribution of women in cinema in general continues to underscore the importance of having a strong female presence both in front of and behind the camera."
The Festival will honor Egyptian actress Laila Eloui, who is one of the most respected and prolific actresses in the region, having starred in more than 70 films. Perhaps best known for her roles in I Love Cinema, Kalil Mina Al-Hob Kathir Mina Al-Unf and Girl's Love, she has been universally recognized for her work, and is the recipient of both awards in her native Egypt and from international festivals worldwide.
Her onscreen presence has continued to delight and uplift audiences, and festivalgoers of the RedSeaIFF will have the unique opportunity to join Eloui in a masterclass where she will discuss her extensive and storied career.
Festivalgoers will also not want to miss the masterclass delivered by a true Egyptian cinema legend, Yousra. The actress, singer and all-around megastar, is not only one of the most recognisable names in the region, but is widely considered to be one of the most exceptional and talented actors of her generation.
Her fascinating career has seen her appear in over 80 films, and she has received more than 50 awards worldwide, from local, regional and international festivals.
Alongside these tributes and masterclasses, the Festival will be screening 135 films of which 38% are directed by women.
Shivani Pandya, managing director of the RedSeaIFF, said: "Celebrating the contribution of women to cinema is central to the mission of the Festival. We are honored to be able to give a platform to local emerging female directors, writers and actors, who have been crucial in the development and progression of the Saudi film industry.
"Beyond this, we are thrilled to be able to honor the contribution of women to Arab and international cinema, through specific tributes and masterclasses, and are inspired by these women and the work they have done to lead the empowerment of women in our industry."