As the Red Sea Film Festival, Saudi Arabia’s first international film event, gets underway, it’s become clear that the artistic director of the fest’s milestone first edition won’t be in charge of programming the second one.
Edouard Waintrop, a former Cannes Directors’ Fortnight chief, was conspicuously absent Monday at the opening night gala at the Vox Cinemas multiplex in Jeddah’s historic Al Balad district.
Instead of being on the star-studded red carpet, Waintrop was at his home in Spain suffering from exhaustion, he said, awaiting results from several medical exams after testing negative for COVID-19. And he won’t be returning to Jeddah, at least not in his guise as fest chief.
“For me it was always meant to be a one-shot,” Waintrop told Variety, adding: “I never even had a one-year contract; it was always renewable contracts for a few months.”
Waintrop was appointed artistic director of the Red Sea fest in June, after having previously been an advisor to the ambitious event. The festival is an integral component of a concerted effort underway to help drive Saudi Arabia’s current boom in all aspects of film industry activity following the removal of its 35-year-old religion-related ban on cinema in 2017.
“The idea has always been to successfully deliver the inaugural edition and push the boundaries for Arab cinema; show the world that the region has changed over the past three years,” said Waintrop.
“The festival is meant to appeal to a new generation of people between the ages of 19 and 40 who are educated and more progressive, and they are benefiting from the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to modernize the region,” Waintrop added, citing women’s right to drive, the opening of theaters and the upcoming launch of an arthouse cinema chain.
“We have the best Arab film selection we could have hoped for, with movies addressing contemporary issues like the role of women and male violence,” he went on to point out. “The big battle we fought during the selection process was to free ourselves from censorship and we succeeded.”
That battle, along with assembling a program comprising 138 films from 67 countries, was apparently a gargantuan and also very draining task. The first edition of the Red Sea fest runs through Dec. 15.