Spotlight On Red Sea, Taiwan & Philippines Funds; Vietnam’s New Festival & Projects Market

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This edition of Streamlined is taking another look at film funds and project markets in Asia and the Middle East before going on a break until after Lunar New Year.

Red Sea Fund Impact On Saudi & Regional Cinema

As promised, I’m returning to the subject of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Fund, which as the December 23 edition of Streamlined explained, has awarded grants to around 242 Arab and African projects since launching in 2021.

The fund doesn’t exist in isolation but is part of the industry programmes of Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF), which also includes Red Sea Labs and the Red Sea Souk projects market, which handed out cash and in-kind awards totalling more than $880,000 at its last edition in December 2023.

Managed by the Red Sea Film Foundation, which describes itself as “an independent, non-profit organisation”, the fund is open to co-productions so long as the director is of Arab or African nationality or origin. Speaking on a panel at last year’s RSIFF, fund head Emad Z. Eskander (who may need to start attending film festivals incognito such is his current popularity) explained that co-productions currently do not need to have a Saudi producer on board, “although I hope that soon we will have our own producers”.

Separately from the fund, Red Sea Film Foundation invests in international projects such as Maiwenn’s Cannes opener Jeanne du Barry, Michael Mann’s Ferrari, Johnnie Depp’s upcoming directorial effort Modi (about the Italian sculptor, not India’s Prime Minister) and Guy Ritchie’s spy film The Ministry Of Ungentlemanly Warfare. These investments are designed to give Saudi filmmakers on-set experience with big international productions, although visibility and relationships are likely also a factor in these funding decisions.

Within a short space of time, the fund has had significant impact in both Middle East and African cinema, where very few countries have film support programmes, and in building a Saudi film industry from the ground up. As Streamlined has highlighted before, several films supported by Red Sea Fund played at Cannes last year, and two films have been shortlisted for the Oscars’ Best International Feature category – Tunisia’s Four Daughters and Morocco’s The Mother Of All Lies.

Four Daughters has also been shortlisted in the Oscar’s Documentary Feature category, and RSIFF is now throwing its weight behind the campaigns for these two films. Asian filmmakers, who usually have limited funds to take advantage of Oscars submissions and shortlists, can only look on in envy.

As for Saudi cinema, Red Sea Fund supported Saudi filmmaker Ali Kalthami’s Mandoob (Night Courier) [PICTURED ABOVE] which premiered at Toronto, and Tawfik Alzaidi’s Norah, one of the buzziest titles at this year’s RSIFF. Other Saudi features playing at RSIFF included Meshal Aljaser’s satirical thriller Naga; Yasir Alyasiri’s fantasy romance HWJN; and Hajjan, directed by Egypt’s Abu Bakr Shawky.

Mandoob, about a night courier who gets involved in an illegal alcohol ring, also recently had a stellar run at the Saudi box office, outgrossing Aquaman and Dunki with a take of $3.4m in its first 12 days. The film is produced by Riyadh-based company Telfaz11, which also had a major hit last year with wrestling comedy Sattar. Five years ago, Saudi didn’t have any cinemas or a film industry and Telfaz was making YouTube videos.

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