The Red Sea International Film Festival in Saudi Arabia will open its third edition, from November 30 to December 9, with a presentation of a local film HWJNa fantasy romance combining Arab folklore with contemporary themes, set against the backdrop of Jeddah, the home of the event.
The choice of a Saudi film marks a break with the first two editions of Red Sea – which began with English-language films Cyrano AND What does love have to do with it? in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
HWJN is the most ambitious production to date, a collaboration between major Gulf players – Image Nation Abu Dhabi, VOX Studios and MBC Studios, first announced at Cannes in 2019.
“The opening of the festival with such an anticipated film as HWJN this is a momentous event,” said Antoine Khalife, director of RSIFF Arab Programs & Film Classics, of the honorary opening night, which comes just six years after Saudi Arabia announced the end of its 35-year-old cinema ban.
“WITH HWJNSaudi cinema proves its ability to unite talents from all over the Arab world, both on production and artistic levels. By making this selection, The Red Sea honors not only Saudi cinema, but also all Arab talents, highlighting the extraordinary progress the Kingdom has witnessed in recent times,” he continued
The film will be shown as part of the previously announced Arab Spectacular festival program.
With two weeks to go before opening, Red Sea has announced around 50 titles so far, including confirmed international films, including Anna Kendrick’s directorial debut Woman of the Hours and family drama Mother, couchstarring Ewan McGregor and Ellen Burstyn.
More international titles are expected in the coming days, but a combination of regional tensions arising from the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the end of the SAG-Aftra strikes have slowed work on the final festival program.
Rising Saudi actor Baraa Alem, whose previous films include the 2020 hit The Book of the Sunstars in HWJN as the titular benevolent genie spirit who lives among humans in modern-day Jeddah.
HWJN’s discovery that he has royal lineage sets him on an epic journey to reclaim his birthright while fighting an ancient evil and maintaining a harmonious balance between the spirit world and the world of humanity.
Along the way, he encounters an unexpected romantic bond with Sawsan (Nour Alkhadra), a young medical student.
Deadline exclusively revealed a trailer for the production from earlier this year. Watch here.
HWJN is an adaptation of the best-selling young adult fantasy novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas.
The novel made a splash in Saudi Arabia in 2013, before the country opened up, after its pioneering combination of Western science fiction tropes with Arab culture and folklore proved a hit with young readers.
Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al Yasiri also directs and produces under his Axx Productions banner.
Al Yasiri’s previous credits include his first film Shabab Sheyab (2018), which world premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the survival thriller 122 (2019), and the Starzplay fantasy and folklore series Cabbage.
“HWJN’s story is an epic tale of romance, adventure and culture that has touched millions of people in Saudi Arabia and beyond. Bringing this beloved novel to life as a film has been an extraordinary journey and a landmark achievement for regional cinema,” said Al Yasiri.
“The opening of this year’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah – the city where HWJN’s story was born and which plays a key role in the narrative – is of great importance to us. This premiere is not only a tribute to the film’s journey, but also to the vibrant culture and history of Jeddah, which has been a huge inspiration to us. We are extremely proud of what we have created together and we look forward to the audience’s reaction after seeing it on the big screen.”
The co-authors of Al Yasiri’s script adaptation are Ibraheem Abbas, Sarah Taibah and Hussam Alhulwah.
Filmmakers Majid Al Ansari (Zinzana) and Saad Al Albutaily (Cherry) are executive producers of the production.
The original book was published by Yatakhayaloon, founded by Yasser Bahjatt and Ibraheem Abbas.