BEIRUT: Organizers of Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival have announced the postponement of its inaugural edition, scheduled for March 12-21. The decision dropped a week after Riyadh banned international travel to Mecca and Madina, just months ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage season.
“To all cineastes, it’s with feelings of deep sadness that we have had to take this tough decision,” the Tuesday evening press release said. “The spread of coronavirus is a battle we all must face around the globe, and it’s with no hesitation that we are respecting all the measures needed to meet the current health emergency.”
Saudi Arabia has joined the queue of countries who have responded to coronavirus fears by cancelling international cultural events. With the World Health Organization confirming that, as of March 4, 2020, more than 3,000 people have died globally from COVID-19, as coronavirus is officially known, with more than 92,000 infections confirmed in dozens of countries, it’s no surprise that large scale international cultural gatherings have taken a hit.
Tuesday witnessed the cancellation of the 2020 Leipzig Book Fair, scheduled for March 12-15, also due to the new coronavirus strain. The London Book Fair (March 10-12) announced its cancelation Wednesday. Art Basel Hong Kong, which had been scheduled to open March 19, was cancelled Feb. 6.
Tuesday afternoon saw announcements that two more important arts events in the Gulf region would shutter in response to fears of COVID-19. The Doha Film Institute announced the cancellation of Qumra, its yearly film incubation platform. A few hours later the managers of Art Dubai announced it would “postpone" the 14th edition of the emirate’s yearly fair of contemporary and modern art.
Scheduled for March 15-20, Qumra 2020 would provide networking and development opportunities for 46 film and series projects from 20 regional and international countries in various stages of development.
“The 46 selected projects remain a priority for DFI this year,” the institute’s press release said. “We will work internally to find solutions to best support them through this period of new challenges and will inform you of opportunities where you can contribute to the success of this year's selected projects.”
Rather than an outright cancellation of Art Dubai 2020, scheduled for March 25-28, the fair’s team outlined a “postponement,” with local actors participating in programed events (exhibitions, talks, local and regional gallery presentations) on the same dates, which overseas guests are welcome to attend.
“Further details of the program will be announced in due course,” the press release concluded. “With Dubai deploying the strictest medical and hygiene protocols, we will welcome international visitors in March, recommending that individuals follow advice from the authorities of their resident countries.”
With a young team clustered around a core of veteran organizers (several associated with Dubai’s former film festival), the debut edition RSIFF was to be an ambitious undertaking.
On the exhibition side, the festival promised a 16-feature international competition (with a total purse of $250,000). The programing also included seven out-of-competition titles, a 15-film retrospective section, five immersive/VR experiences, a New Saudi/New Cinema section of 11 pictures, a 13-strong shorts competition, a 23-film panorama program and an experimental film program of 17 titles.
Leading the contingent of blue-chip guests was three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone, who signed on to chair the competition jury. A program of master classes promised appearances by Spike Lee, William Friedkin, Abel Ferrara, Khairy Beshara and Yousry Nasrallah.
On the film development side, RSIFF unveiled its Red Sea Lodge, a film development lab organized with TorinoFilmLab. The inaugural edition had invited 12 projects, a third of which are directed by women, and over a quarter which have female producers. Six Saudi projects and six more from Jordan, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon would compete for a pair of $500,000 production prizes and a world premiere opportunity at RSIFF 2021.
“Rest assured, the festival will take place at a later date, as we remain committed to all filmmakers, producers, partners and audiences,” the RSIFF press release concluded. “We will announce the new dates for the 2020 edition as soon as feasible, and shall ensure to keep you informed about any new developments.”