Advertisement

Oliver Stone backs ‘zero censorship’ film festival in Saudi Arabia

Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone voiced support for Saudi Arabia at the opening of the country’s Red Sea International Film Festival on Thursday (1 December), saying that the nation is “misunderstood in the present world”.

Stone, who is attending the event’s second ever edition as president of the international jury, said at the ceremony: “You see the changes that are coming here, the reforms. I think people who judge too harshly should come and visit this place and see for themselves.”

The festival, running until 10 December in Jeddah, coincides with the fifth anniversary of Saudi Arabia lifting its 35-year cinema ban.

Festival CEO Mohammed al-Turki and US director Oliver Stone (Red Sea Film Festival/AFP via Ge)
Festival CEO Mohammed al-Turki and US director Oliver Stone (Red Sea Film Festival/AFP via Ge)

The event’s chief executive, Mohammed Al Turki, has promised a “zero-censorship” festival that will feature LGBTQ+ themes, despite being held in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

Mr Al Turki told the film industry news website Deadline Hollywood: “The festival has a zero censorship policy. I don’t think you can have an international film festival if you’re going to have censorship – that doesn’t go hand in hand.”

Shekhar Kapur’s romantic drama What’s Love Got to Do with It? opened the festival. The movie poses questions around religion and arranged marriage, and has been described as a “daring” choice given the predominantly devout Muslim audience.

Another of the films being screened, The Blue Caftan, tells a story about a secretly gay Moroccan tailor who is forced to confront his sexuality when a male apprentice comes to work with him.

Kaleem Aftab, director of international programming at the festival told Screen Daily that he had the freedom to choose the films he wanted, based on their artistic merit.

Asked if it mattered that they were showing a homosexual love story, he replied: “You are saying there is a heterogenic Saudi person. It’s a country of 35 million people - there are a lot of diverse opinions within that.”

Guy Ritchie at the Red Sea Film Festival (Getty Images for The Red Sea Int)
Guy Ritchie at the Red Sea Film Festival (Getty Images for The Red Sea Int)

He added: “Thinking that there is only one audience is a huge mistake. And looking at Saudi Arabia as a monolithic whole is a huge mistake.”

Sharon Stone, Michelle Rodriguez, Freida Pinto and Andy Garcia are among the international stars attending the festival, along with Saudi celebrities Haifaa Al Mansour, Sohayb Godus and Fatima Al-Banawi, to name a few.

The main competition will showcase 15 films by Arab, African and Asian directors, while the red-carpet programme features movies including Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, Park Chan-Wook’s Decision to Leave, Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, and Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness.

Alongside the screenings, many stars will be interviewed in its In-Conversations programme, including Oscar winners Spike Lee and Jackie Chan and Oscar nominee Luca Guadagnino.