Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Fest Sets Up To $3M In Cash Prizes, Mentoring & Production Funds


Saudi Arabia’s inaugural 
Red Sea International Film Festival, set to be held March 12–21 next year in Jeddah, has announced cash prizes totaling $350K and up to $3M in support for emerging Arab talent. Filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh (Barakah Meets Barakah) is Festival Director and CEO with former Sundance documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy as Artistic Director, and Shivani Pandya Malhotra, previously of the Dubai International Film Fest, as Managing Director.

At the first Red Sea event, there will be a purse of $250K for films in competition, organizers said. The Golden Yusr Trophy for Best Feature carries a $100K cash prize and the Silver Yusr Trophy for Best Director will be presented with $50K. A Silver Yusr Trophy will also be awarded for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Cinematic Contribution. An Audience Award will see $50K go to the winner.

An additional Golden Yusr Trophy awarded for Best Short Film comes with a $50K finance award for a future project plus a three-month creative residency in Jeddah. Shorts will be entered by contemporary talent from the Arab world.

A new post-production fund, The Bait Al Montage Fund, supports up to six Arab films with grants totaling $100K. The grantees will be revealed during the Festival’s Industry Days, taking place March 13-17.

The news comes on the same day as Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour debuts her latest feature, The Perfect Candidate, here at the Venice Film Festival. The director recently told Deadline of the Red Sea event, “It’s amazing to have a festival in Saudi Arabia and to bring outsiders into the country.” A festival like this, she said, “will help young Saudi filmmakers find their voices.”

One production initiative is the $400K funding of a special Omnibus presenting up to six short films made by Saudi women filmmakers. The shorts will be shown as a collective during Red Sea.

The festival includes the existing Red Sea Lodge, an intensive five-month mentoring and training program for 12 teams of Arab filmmakers. Delivered in collaboration with TorinoFilmLab in the lead up to the 2020 Festival, two participants will be awarded grants of $500K each following an ‘in-Festival’ pitch to a jury of industry leaders. 

Also supporting production, the one-time Tamheed Fund is providing two new Saudi features grants of $500K each. Organizers say they received an overwhelming number of submissions, with The Book Of Sun by Faris Godus and Forty Years And A Night by Mohammed Alholayyil ultimately being selected. The films will premiere at the Red Sea Festival next year.

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