The Saudi Red Sea Film Festival promised “zero censorship” after the participation of an Arab film that discusses an issue specific to the LGBT community, despite its residence in a country that criminalizes homosexuality.
The Moroccan film “The Blue Caftan” is participating in the Saudi Film Festival, which kicked off on Thursday for the second year in a row.
The film revolves around the story of a gay Moroccan tailor who hides his sexuality for 25 years before he is forced to confront his sexuality when a male apprentice joins his shop to train in the profession.
The Red Sea Film Festival website credits director Maryam Touzani for covering “a complex subject with sensitivity and courage,” indicating “the way to a society in which tradition and tolerance flourish together.”
The festival’s chief executive, Mohammed al-Turki, said there was “a bit of Western hypocrisy” when it came to criticizing the holding of a film festival in Saudi Arabia, adding that he was excited to host an event in his home country that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
In response to a question from the Film Industry News website,DeadlineOn LGBTQ rights, Al Turki said that “the festival has a zero censorship policy… I don’t think you can have an international film festival if you’re going to be subject to censorship.”
One of the biggest challenges was convincing film and media professionals from outside the Middle East and North Africa region to attend amid accusations that Saudi Arabia uses culture to distance itself from its human rights abuses.
Among the participants is Luca Guadagnino, who directed the Oscar-winning “Call Me By Your Name,” a film about the love story of two gay men that is certain not to pass Saudi censors.
The festival’s director of international programming, Clem Aftab, said there are no government restrictions placed on which films can be selected.
Speaking to Screen International, Aftab said: “To look at Saudi Arabia as a whole is a huge mistake – it would be like me to say that everyone in England is white British.”
He continued, “Look at America today, where Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Things can go back and forward. Every society has flaws.”
Just five years after the Gulf monarchy lifted a decades-old ban on cinemas, the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival began, Thursday, as it continues for ten days of screenings.
Other guests included Lebanese actress and director Nadine Labaki, as well as fellow directors Guy Ritchie and Academy Award winner Spike Lee. But the kingdom is again facing accusations of using such international festivals as a reputation-washing tool.
Michael Begg, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch, accused the Saudi authorities of using “festivals as a tool for reputation washing in the same way they used sporting events and celebrities to try to whitewash their terrible image,” according to the “Guardian”.
Sharon Stone was among the charismatic stars – amidst a slew of big names – on the festival’s opening night.
The next day, the famous American actress participated in a discussion during which she described the reason for her coming to Saudi Arabia, despite acknowledging the fears of those around her in the United States.
“What I’ve learned is that what everyone says isn’t always what it really is,” she said.The Hollywood Reporter“.
Speaking from a country where the issue of women’s rights has been a major source of criticism, but which has undergone rapid transformation in recent years, Stone also gave an impassioned speech on women’s empowerment.
“Women are not here just to serve men. Men are also here to serve women. If we are not equal, then we are not respecting the Creator,” she said.
“We are here to serve good and humanity,” she added, to applause from the audience – mostly Saudis.