Jumana Zahid, the Saudi producer who is also the manager of Red Sea Lodge, the Red Sea Film Festival’s project lab, believes she can see the growth of the country’s burgeoning film industry before her eyes.
âYou can see the maturity in the submissions,â says Zahid. âThe idea of ââapplying for a lab, writing a treatment, the idea of ââcompiling the requirements for applying for a lab, how to write projects, your financial plan and budget. These things have matured in just a year.
The Red Sea Lodge is a 10-month incubator that nurtures 12 feature film projects – six Saudi, six from across the MENA region. Each team of directors-producers participates in a series of five workshops while developing their respective projects. Along the way, all receive feedback from tutors from a range of areas of the industry.
âWe are very grateful for our partnership with TorinoFilmLab. They helped us build this, âsays Zahid. âWe have a good range of tutors. Our script manager is Lebanese writer-director Michel Kammoun. Titus Kreyenberg is our production manager and our beloved Jane Williams is the research manager. These three supervise and supervise the projects as the five workshops progress.
The Lodge also welcomes filmmakers, mainly from the Arab world, to organize masterclasses, talking about their films or their filmmaking experiences. Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania and her Tunisian producer Habib Attia hosted an online masterclass to talk about Ben Hania’s award-winning feature in 2020 The man who sold his skin.
âIt was special for us, because it was one of the first films we supported,â says Zahid. âHaving the opportunity to learn from someone who swims in the water is at the heart of our program. “
Along with 11 selected projects at the Red Sea Souk – the festival’s side-festival Arab Film Market – the Lodge’s 12 projects are eligible to win cash and in-kind prizes worth over $ 700,000, which will be presented on the last day of the Lodge (December 8). The teams behind the 23 projects in total will present their projects to an industrial audience in Jeddah.
There are six Saudi projects in the Lodge this year.
âIt’s a diverse selection,â says Zahid. “” We have a contemporary love story, titled Aziz de Hala. We have a story set in the 1940s, about the first Saudi female photographer, The photographer of Medina, and a story about the Afghan diaspora in Arabia, titled Zeba.
âWe even have an animated film project, which takes place during the siege of Baghdad by the Mongols in the 12th century, called Raoya – The Accountant. Another [more recent historical] story, called In the sand, set in the desert has a cool interaction between a lost Bedouin and a wild animal. A project, called eyes of fire, is at the very beginning of oil exploration.
eyes of fire sees Saudi screenwriter and director Abduljalil Al-Nasser participate in the Lodge with what will be his first feature film project. It is a historical drama that takes place in the Saudi desert in the 1940s. It follows the story of a woman who finds herself in conflict with the men of her tribe after the disappearance of her husband.
âI’m in the fourth version and I feel like I should do more, with the dialogues, especially when we turn the dialogues into Arabic, as we plan to shoot the film in Bedouin dialect,â Al explains. -Nasser. ” It is not easy. I speak Arabic but not Bedouin, so I need people who are experts in this dialect.
Al-Nasser and producer Ayman Jamal started at the Lodge with just a premise and a treatment.
“I had an idea of ââwhat the world [of the film] looks like but I didn’t know what the characters were, how deep they were, how developed they were. I have not developed all the conflicts. The beauty of the Lodge is that they chase you down to finish. They have deadlines, they have people harassing you, âAl-Nasser explains.
He says the fact that the Lodge is going virtual this year due to the pandemic actually made it easier for him to participate as he lives in the Saudi Arabian town of Khubar.
“I wouldn’t have registered at the Lodge if it hadn’t been virtual,” he admits. âI can’t spend that much time going back and forth to Jeddah. Ten months is a serious commitment.
Al-Nasser praises the mentors. âThey are ready to walk with you. Along the way, you meet a lot of professionals in the industry, people you usually wouldn’t have access to, people who are good at what they do. They are ready to sit down with you and discuss your project individually. They talk about your project and tell you what’s wrong, how you can develop it, how you can move it. It’s beneficial.
âAlong with that, they have a number of deadlines. Script tutors give you their perspective. A cinematographer looks at your script and says, okay, how are you going to deal with those challenges. One editor says this will pose an interesting challenge in editing. They open your eyes to things you hadn’t thought of and give you multiple perspectives.
“The best thing for me was that I knew what advice to take and what to give up.”
“The mentors really helped us”
There are six projects by filmmakers from the MENA region in the Lodge.
The zarqa girl, directed by Jordanian Zaid Abu Hamdan, based on the true story of an abandoned girl who grows up to be the city’s most feared thug; Finding a Refuge for Mr. Rambo, directed by the Egyptian Khaled Mansour, tells the story of Hassan, 30, who lives in a poor neighborhood of Cairo with his mother and his dog and only friend, Rambo; and that of Haya Alghanim Route 250 tells the story of Dima, the daughter of a diplomat who has to adjust to life in Kuwait after years abroad.
by Lebanese filmmaker Cyril Aris It’s a sad and beautiful world tells the love story of Nino and Soraya, a Lebanese couple whose relationship thrives despite the harshness of the world around them but is damaged by pregnancy, and that of Mohamed El-Hosseiny The sea needs to rise, tells the story of a mother’s bond with her eldest son Basil, a 17-year-old genius, and her refusal to see her boy’s growing mental health problem.
Lebanese producer Jinane Dagher participates with Rania Rafei’s second feature film Day of Wrath: Tales of Tripoli. She describes it as a docu-fiction that recreates five uprisings from different periods in the history of the Lebanese city.
The development of the project has been a challenge in the face of Lebanon’s economic crisis, the ongoing pandemic and the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut last year. âIt started as the personal story of a character in Tripoli. Rania gradually moved on to something like [her genre-bending debut feature from 2012] 74, “ Dagher explains.
âThen we started with the Lodge. It was an intensive writing process, having to deliver something. We are now in a late development phase. It was interesting. It’s always tricky with workshops and development platforms. Sometimes you can get stuck and it doesn’t help you and can even cause uncertainty. Other times you can make the most of it and expand your project. One of the consultants who was pushing and overseeing our project was very helpful. It was also interesting that they provided us with milestones to move the project further with feedback.
Dagher says the Lodge is good at helping filmmakers retain what’s special in a project while still being open to advice.
âThere were new faces among the consultants, different from the ‘usual’ – who have an advisory technique that can be quite rigid,â she suggests. âHere you have new people who were pretty fresh and really gave everything they had, who really applied themselves to the project. It was cool and it helped us. Rania has a very special project. It’s not traditional.
Dagher and Rafei are now looking for co-producers who can unlock European funding.
For Lodge manager Zahid, she hopes the 2021 projects will progress with as much momentum as the two projects being filmed since the Lodge’s first iteration last year.
“Charshaf by Hind Alfahhad and the Egyptian film Balls and bread by Mohammad Hammad both won our production award last year. Both are in production and we hope they will have their world premieres. [at next yearâs festival].
âThese projects come to us as treatments and very few others. They come out of the Lodge with production plans, ready to conquer the marketâ¦ One day I might even be producing one of these projects.