Muslim Filmmakers and Stories Featured at Red Sea Film Festival

Several Muslim filmmakers and projects will be featured over the course of the festival. Fann breaks them down here.

Muslim Filmmakers and Stories Featured at Red Sea Film Festival
Created in 2019 following the lifting of Saudi Arabia’s 30-year cinema ban, the festival's parent Red Sea Film Foundation aims to support the local and regional film industry through the organizing and championing of the festival, as well as focusing on education and grants.

Last week, the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF) kicked off its third edition in Saudi Arabia with the world premiere of director Yasir Alyasiri's fantasy romance "HWJN" (2023) and a star-studded red carpet. Amongst the festival’s attendees were industry staples Will Smith, Sharon Stone, Ranveer Singh and Baz Luhrmann, as well as Johnny Depp, who attended the festival with his most recent project "Jeanne du Barry" (2023) and his directorial debut "Modi."

Occurring annually and spanning 10 days, the Red Sea International Film Festival offers a rich cinematic experience for film enthusiasts, filmmakers and the global film industry. Attendees engage with both new and classic films, connect with creators and draw inspiration from the best in the field. The festival provides a preview of upcoming blockbusters, showcases curated retrospectives of beloved classics and invites exploration of experimental and short films for a diverse audio-visual experience.

While the Israel-Gaza war has caused several movie celebrations to be canceled across the Arab film world, it has not not prevented RSIFF from forging ahead undeterred, running Nov. 30 through Dec. 9 in Jeddah.

Several Muslim filmmakers and projects will be featured at RSIFF over the course of the festival. They are as follows:

"Eid Mubarak" (2023) by Mahnoor Euceph

Six-year-old Iman goes with her family to buy a goat, as is the tradition in Pakistan before the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Azha. She picks the cutest one and takes it home. She spends all of her time with the goat, whom she names Barfi, after her favorite Pakistani dessert. Soon, however, she realizes that Barfi is not a pet, but a goat being raised for slaughter. She makes a plan to save Barfi’s life before he can be sacrificed on Eid. Along the way, through the help of her family and friends, she learns the true meaning of sacrifice, and the reason behind Eid al-Azha.

"Fishbowl" (2023) by Reema Almajid

Alia has a secret passion: she wants to be a screenwriter. After years of suppressing her ambition, she resolves to turn one of her stories into a film. Surprisingly, she finds herself confronting her innermost fears, embodied as reality in every scene. When she reveals her plan to her husband, whom she has supported in his work for years, his reaction shocks her. She sees how her life has unfolded, starting with elementary school dominated by an authoritarian teacher, to her secondary school where she had to confront a friend, until she was first married and in conflict with the family’s and society’s expectations. She realizes that, in telling her story, she is on an inner journey towards taking control of her life.

"Miles from Nowhere" (2023) by Ghazaleh Golbakhsh

Said is a young Muslim songwriter living in Auckland, New Zealand who forms a dangerous friendship with the Security Intelligence Service agent spying on him, risking his whole community to fulfill his dreams. Drawing on the author Mohamed Hassan’s real-world knowledge as Aotearoa’s foremost reporter on surveillance, counter-terrorism and Islamophobia, this six-part series combines drama and comedy in its exploration of a Muslim diaspora hitherto barely glimpsed on the screen. Led by Arlo Green as Said, an authentic cast of Australian and Kiwi actors convey a dark but hopeful story — laced with humor and music — about the tribulations of youth, overcoming mental illness and ultimately finding a unique place in the world.

"Six Feet Over" (2023) by Karim Bensalah

Sofiane is the westernized young son of an Algerian diplomat who imagines he will take up a similar position when he finishes his studies in France. His life seems to be going to plan; nobody else recognises the anxiety seething beneath his apparent self-assurance. El Haj is a moody, taciturn and unsympathetic older man who works in a Muslim funeral home. When Sofiane is obliged to get a job quickly to regularize his immigrant status, he becomes an intern at the home, working under El Haj’s direction. Difficult as this is, Sofiane finds himself learning more about life from this sour man than how to deal with the dead — and discovering himself at the same time.

"Solatia" (2023) by Hira Yousufzai

Zamda lives in a makeshift shelter in Pakistan with other displaced people. One wall is covered with photographs of missing loved ones; Zamda, a guarded young woman trying to hide her despair, is seen pasting her husband’s picture up with the rest. Amid the shelter’s bustle, she finds solace in friendship with a younger girl who makes her a gift of an inspiring drawing. She also senses her husband’s presence, reminding her of love’s enduring strength, but it is impossible to avoid seeing the hated Rusul, who was responsible for her exile but who is now in the same shelter. Zamda’s inner turmoil and the chaos around her are beautifully interwoven to bring home the daily reality of what it means to be displaced.

"Sonne" (2022) by Kurdwin Ayub

Kurdish Austrian Yesmin (Melina Benli) isn’t especially religious, but she wears a hijab in public. At home, she has no problem filming her best friends Bella (Law Wallner) and Nati (Maya Wopienka) twerking in her mother’s prayer garments for TikTok. When they suddenly go viral — with a rendition of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” — Yesmin’s habitually disagreeable mom Awini (Awini Barwari) is aghast. By contrast, her father, Omar (Omar Ayub), proudly shows the clip to all his friends. Soon the girls are being asked to perform in costume at Kurdish parties, an exotic adventure for Yesmin’s friends but disquieting for Yesmin’s already shaky teenage sense of self. Drawing on her own life, Kurdwin Ayub uses the melange of traditional and immigrant cultures as background to a story about the pressures of a life lived on social media. An extraordinary coming-of-age story about being a young Muslim in Europe that will make you laugh, cry and sing.

"South Africa Eats" (2022) by Ashfaaq Carim

You are what you eat – and what we eat also reflects who we are. The food scene in South Africa is vibrant and rich, the product of a country forged from the mingling of multiple ethnicities, migration and colonization. Over 8 episodes, series host and serious foodie Ashfaaq Carim — who is also Muslim, which informs his journey — will explore a spectrum of flavors and famous South African specialties, pairing them with original music from the regions he visits. Three pilot episodes have been shot so far. For international viewers, Carim hopes to offer an insight into his country’s complex rainbow identity. Locals, meanwhile, can take pride in their daily specials: the stews, snacks, neighborhood hangouts and breathtaking landscapes that are uniquely South African.

RSIFF took time during its opening ceremony to highligh the festival's theme: "Your story, your festival." Jomana Al Rashid, chairman of the Red Sea Film Festival's foundation, highlighted the diverse talent present at the event, emphasizing the festival’s support for 250 films since the fund's launch in 2021. She mentioned Saudi Arabia's growing theatrical box office, set to reach a billion dollars by 2030. Red Sea CEO Mohammed Al Turki noted the rising influence of the Saudi film industry in the Middle East, describing it as a central part of a cultural movement.

Al Turki and Al Rashid's statements were echoed by Luhrmann, the Red Sea jury president, who commended the vibrant film culture in Saudi Arabia just five years after the lifting of the movie ban. Luhrmann ended the ceremony by expressing his excitement about meeting young filmmakers and witnessing the region's remarkable voices and storytelling.

Follow along as Fann covers the Red Sea Film Festival in the coming days.

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