JEDDAH: With more than 130 films set to be screened at the Red Sea International Film Festival, VOX Cinemas are on a mission to support and promote local films the best way they can.
The Red Sea International Film Festival kicked off its festivities at Jeddah’s UNESCO World Heritage Site old town, Al-Balad, on Dec. 6. It will run until Dec. 15, in partnership with VOX Cinemas and others.
VOX Cinemas will screen 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages. The content was produced by established and emerging talent, with fans, film enthusiasts, filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films.
A slate of new Saudi films — 27 from an exciting wave of Saudi filmmakers — will be shown alongside the best of contemporary international cinema.
“We’re very proud to be partners of this festival, especially since this has been the first international Red Sea Film Festival taking place in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Toni El Massih, managing director of VOX Cinemas, told Arab News.
RSIFF is a significant breakthrough for the whole industry, exhibitors, distributors and producers, he said. “This platform will help future filmmakers and storytellers know that this country is so full and rich in culture and storytelling. This is the exact platform that is needed for the talent to come across and present their project,” he added.
On tour to the main VOX Cinema sites in Al-Balad that have been constructed to screen RSIFF films, Arab News spoke to Mohamed Al-Hashemi, KSA chief of Majid Al Futtaim. He said: “The Red Sea Film Festival is a statement for the Kingdom. There were no cinemas prior to April 2018, however, customers enjoyed the set of experiences as soon as they opened.
“With life coming back to normal after the COVID-19 period, the Red Sea Film Festival is a statement from the Kingdom to the world that Saudi Arabia will be a major player when it comes to local content production, demand for international content, and most importantly, demand for exhibitions as well, when it comes to the best of the best that can be offered to consumers.”
With movie theaters in more than six cities across the Kingdom in over 15 locations, VOX Cinemas operates 154 screens in Saudi Arabia. “We are considered to be the largest cinema exhibitors in the Kingdom in terms of site numbers and screen counts,” Al-Hashemi said.
Why is the screen count so important?
“The screen basically is the only platform where people can showcase local content producers on the big screen. With more big screens, more local content will be produced for the local market and the regional market, and hopefully Saudi as well to the international market,” Al-Hashemi said.
“The RSIFF is where the Kingdom can act as a local content producer and where we can bring out the folded and untold stories of this beautiful company, to the customers within Saudi,” he added.
On Dec. 6. during the inaugural red-carpet event, VOX Cinemas announced an ambitious initiative that aims to foster homegrown talent and showcase untold stories on the big screen.
A plan was made to boost regional film production and develop 25 Arabic films in the next five years.
El Massih said that many of these films would be from Saudi Arabia, with Saudi talent working as directors, producers and actors. There will also be films coming out of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Speaking on the genres of the future films, he said: “The genre that we are focusing on and that has proven to work best is the comedy-drama. This is the sort of film that we’ll be working toward.”
As part of the initiative, VOX Cinemas will continue to support the next generation of homegrown content developers and provide resources for emerging filmmakers to bring their scripts to screen.
“This platform will search and scout for talent. It’ll be the same case later in the UAE and in other festivals that are taking place across the region.
“Accordingly, we’ll start putting a team together, building screening and writing rooms, getting stories from each of the different regions together, and then we’ll take that forward and then do the necessary films that we’ll see on the big screen,” El Massih said.
“Majid Al Futtaim has been very active in the region since 1999, starting off with exhibition, and then elevating our activities into film distribution, and recently in film production.”
Being a main contributor and partner of RSIFF is “huge,” he added, saying that such an opportunity will support emerging talent.
El Massih said: “This is the perfect platform for us to be participating and searching for the emerging talent and filmmakers that we can bring on board.”