Mohammed Al Turki, CEO of the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation, is confident that Saudi Arabia is on its way to claiming a "unique" position on the world cinema map.
Asharq Al-Awsat sat down for an interview with Al Turki after last week's announcement of the establishment of the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation and his appointment as its CEO. The festival will hold its second edition in Jeddah from December 1-10.
"As a film producer, I look at cinema with eyes that are filled with passion and love," Al Turki told Asharq Al-Awsat. "My role as CEO lies in encouraging art and creativity and providing full support to filmmakers, both inside the Kingdom and beyond, with the hope of pushing the industry forward and ensuring that its thrives."
A thriving cinema industry reflects thriving civilization, culture and arts and it also connects different peoples with each other, he remarked.
He pledged to provide greater support to filmmakers, vowing to help remove obstacles in the industry and to provide the necessary fertile conditions to make films. He also pledged to provide programs, activities and events that encourage the industry.
"I also vow to build on the success of the first edition of the festival that will be the top and constant platform for their ambitions, innovations and cinematic projects," added Al Turki.
Many have wondered how the second edition of the Red Sea Film Festival will set itself apart from the first. Al Turki said the second edition will bring many surprises that will be announced at the appropriate time.
"As for now, we are working tirelessly in planning and preparing for the event," he continued. "We promise that these surprises will meet the hopes and expectations."
He acknowledged some challenges that were encountered during the inaugural edition. "We can confidently say that we have overcome them, exceeding all expectations. This motivates us to build on the success we have achieved."
"Based on this, the new edition will have many surprises, activities and programs. It will feature more guests and stars on our red carpet. More local, regional and international films will be screened and more talents will share the spotlight," he pledged.
Asked whether Saudi films are ready to compete for festival awards, Al Turki adamantly replied: "Absolutely. Saudi cinema has made admirable strides."
This culminated when "Scales" (Sayidat Al Bahr), by Saudi director Shahad Ameen, won the Verona Film Club Award at the 2019 76th Venice Film Festival. Seven years earlier, at the 69th edition of the festival, Haifaa Al Mansour's film, "Wadjda", won three awards at the event.
"We are aware that the path for Saudi cinema to prosper is still long, but it is still ongoing," Al Turki said, while acknowledging that the industry in the Kingdom was still "relatively new compared to some countries in the region or the world."
"Nevertheless, it is on its way to claiming a special position on the world cinema map given its unique language and cultural and social context," he added. "We can now see that it is glowing under the light of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030."
Al Turki recalled to Asharq Al-Awsat how he first entered the world of cinema.
"I have been passionate about movies from a very young age. I have always loved classical films, Disney movies, westerns, the James Bond franchise and others," he said.
"I admired these movies and they piqued my extreme interest, from the days of videotapes to DVDs," he added. "My father also played a role in feeding this passion as he was an avid moviegoer."
Al Turki said he went on to develop his passion by taking photography and filmmaking classes during high school.
During his university years, he blended business management with the film industry by pursuing a double major. After graduating, he landed a job outside the industry but kept his eye out for the right opportunity that would fulfill his passion and it was a film by director Zeina Durra, called "The Imperialists Are Still Alive" (2010).
"This was my ticket into entering the film industry and I soon forged my way forward as a producer," said Al Turki.
He would eventually make his way to Hollywood and international fame. He joined a major production company and among his first and most successful projects was director Nicholas Jarecki's "Arbitrage", starring Richard Gere, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role.
Al Turki joined the Red Sea Film Festival Foundation in 2020 with the purpose of supporting the growth of the cinema industry in Saudi Arabia. He focused on initiatives and activities that were aimed at supporting a new generation of Saudi and Arab talents and innovators.
As CEO, he is determined to develop the festival even further in wake of the success of the inaugural edition in December 2021 that attracted over 30,000 people and 3,155 professionals from the industry from around the world.