Red Sea Souk and Lodge Celebrate Growth With a Focus on Training newsbhunt

It’s a busy year for the Red Sea Souk, the market arm of the Red Sea Film Festival dedicated to discovering new Arab and African talent. The same could have been said of every year of the market’s three-year history, however, with Saudi Arabia’s lightning-fast film industry solidifying the Souk as the principal film market for the Middle East and North Africa.

The third edition of the Souk, taking place between Dec. 2-5, marks the first time the market held an open call for submissions. Previously, selection happened directly or through the Red Sea Fund. According to Red Sea Souk manager Zain Zedan, the response to the open call was overwhelmingly positive.

“We had over 300 submissions, a great number for our first call. It also gives us an indication that there is a lot of interest as people are seeing what the Souk has done in the previous two years. We’re thrilled to see the progress of the films we have selected so far. We had films showing at Cannes, Toronto, Venice and more this year and it’s great to see how they have developed,” Zedan says.

The films selected for the Souk’s various competitive strands vie for cash prizes adding up to $400,000 and split between development, production and post-production. Amongst the executives attending this year’s edition are representatives from Netflix, VOX Cinemas, MUBI, Cinemox, MBC and Telfaz 11.

Jury-wise, the Souk Project Market jury consists of director Jasmila Žbanić, Oscar nominated for “Quo Vadis, Aida?,” French producer Jean Bréhat, Moon a Deal Films’ founder Lamia Chraibi, Senegalese producer Oumar Sall and head of Telfaz 11 Studios Wael Abumansour. The Work in Progress jury is made up of Italian producer Gaia Furrer, Iraqi-Italian filmmaker Haider Rashid and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu.

This year’s Souk projects span a wide range of genres, countries and themes, signalling a hunger among filmmakers in the region to venture out of drama and comedy.

“Inshallah a Boy”
Courtesy of Critics’ Week

Examples include a hybrid of musical and documentary about the West African Djeli – a storyteller who is the keeper of oral tradition and village history – in Boubacar Sangaré’s “Djeliya, Memory of Manding”; Kantarama Gahigiri’s dystopian “Tanzanite,” set in Kenya in the year 2035; an Iraqi satire about a theater director sentenced to death after insulting Saddam Hussein in Ahmed Yassin Al-Daradji’s “Madness and Honey Days”; and French-Algerian revenge horror “Animale” by Emma Benestan.

Such a trend is also noticeable in the projects selected for the Red Sea Lodge, the Red Sea Film Foundation’s 10-month residency program that culminates with the participants pitching their projects at the festival. Mohamed Kassaby’s “An Endless Night” is a tense neo-noir set in the underbelly of Cairo; Vincho Nchogu’s “Fantastic Tale” follows a child in search of a mystical pink fish in Nigeria; and Saudi’s very own Lina Mahmoud hopes to tell the story of a man who wakes up in an eerie community where inhabitants suffer from shared insomnia.

The Lodge precedes the festival and was the first initiative launched by the Red Sea Film Foundation back in 2019. This year’s edition saw several changes in the format, from accepting African films for the first time in its four-year history to an expansion of the length of the program to 10 months.

The participants also travelled around the world as part of the initiative, including a creative retreat in the desert courtesy of program funder AlUla, a visit to the home city of the Lodge’s long-time partner Torino Film Lab, and trips to film sets where filmmakers had the chance to gain hands-on experience. Johnny Depp’s upcoming directorial effort “Modi,” which is being funded by the foundation, was one of the sets included in the training scheme.

Speaking to Variety, the head of the Red Sea Labs Ryan Ashore reinforced the importance of having film labs in Saudi Arabia, a country that is still catching up on film education five years after the Kingdom lifted its 35-year ban on cinema.

“What we are living here, with the fast-paced life of the industry and the availability of funding is wonderful. However, I believe in education and I think the role of labs, if we want to build the industry, is to open multiple programs other than just the Lodge. And this is what we did this year.”

“Not a lot of labs have long-term programs like we do, but we need this,” continued Ashore. “We need it because we don’t have film schools. Other industries have their schools, institutes and programs, not to mention the fact they had a film industry for over 100 years.”

A testament to the labs’ commitment to training filmmakers below-the-line as well as producers and directors is the inaugural Music for Film, a seven-day intensive program to train composers in film scoring. Eight selected participants travelled to Los Angeles this year to visit studios and film sets, plus a series of lessons in composition paired with practical training. The aim, as with all labs, is to train professionals who can then come back home to employ their newly gained skills in local productions.

“Last year we had 200 applicants, this year it was over 400,” said Ashore of the rapid growth of the Lodge. “I think part of it is that people are starting to know the program a little bit more, and I can almost guarantee next year we will have even more applicants.”

With a few years of Lodge and Souk now on the books, both Zedan and Ashore highlight the importance of the creative ecosystem supported by the Red Sea Film Foundation, where filmmakers can get training from the Lodge, network their projects in the Souk, fund their films through the Red Sea Fund, and eventually screen at the Red Sea Film Festival.

Amjad Al Rasheed’s “Inshallah a Boy” is an example of a film that had its entire creative cycle within the foundation. The film, which received wide acclaim at festivals such as Cannes and the BFI London Film Festival, is having its homecoming at the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival. “This moving from one program to the other within the festival, through the foundation, is what we want to see. We don’t want to just have a project with us one time. We want to be able to develop it further,” said Zedan.

The Red Sea Film Festival runs Nov. 30 – Dec. 9

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