While it is widely disputed whether certain businesses slow down during the month of December, there can be no debate on the subject when it comes to the cinema industry, especially as 2022 draws to a close. After two pandemic-dampened years, the business is spending the last four weeks of this one in a frenzy of activity with two simultaneous industry events on the run up to the release of one of the most anticipated sequels in some time.
Of course, we all know the film being referenced here is “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the follow-up to Jim Cameron’s “Avatar,” the highest grossing film of all time (in case you had forgotten). There is little to say about the movie other than it is definitely finished and currently being shown to select journalists from around the world in advance of a global publicity campaign to rival all others. In fact, some of the journalists attending “Avatar” related junkets in Europe had to show up a little late for the Red Sea International Film Festival, currently taking place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
This is the second year RSIFF is taking place, an event being backed heavily by the nascent Saudi film community and the country’s government. It is the first year that RSIFF is hosting a market, appropriately named The Souk. Housed at the Ritz Carlton and the VOX Cinemas located at the Red Sea Mall, the festival is screening 130 films from 61 countries in 41 different languages. The subtitles on all the films being shown are in Arabic and English, the two official languages of the festival.
Some of the films selected for RSIFF have appeared at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto, to name but a few, and are making their Middle East North African (MENA) debut. Such is the way with a festival held at the end of the year. Others titles, especially those from the Middle East, are making their world premieres such as “Within Sand,” a Saudi film from director Mohammed Alatawi, screening in-competition.
Most noteworthy is that two of the regions’ cinema operators are present not as exhibitors, but as film producers and distributors. VOX Cinemas announced some of the 25 Arabic films they plan to make over the next five years during a press conference and Muvi Studios, the production arm of Muvi Cinemas is in Jeddah to meet with producers and screen its own films. That Saudi Arabia and the Middle East has been a growth market for exhibition is not breaking news, but being here and seeing the very beginnings of a local film industry and the opportunities that affords is quite unique. It feels like learning about and being able to invest in crypto currency in 2009, though that might be a bad analogy these days (see FTX).
Meanwhile, in Thailand, the first CineAsia conference in four years is being held in Bangkok. The Film Expo Group was forced to cancel the 2019 edition due to the political unrest in the host city of Hong Kong and then COVID thwarted the event over the past two years. Our very own Patrick von Sychowski is in attendance and will be filling us all in with reports from the show. Surely, if I were not at RSIFF, I would definitely be at CineAsia myself.
It’s hard to believe that after the past two years, when movie theatres were fighting to remain open and relevant, we have two “competing” events serving the industry in markets with robust or growing local productions. At the same time we’re hearing from distributors big and small like Warner Bros., Disney and Amazon the need to premiere movies in cinemas to increase their value in ancillary markets such as their own streaming platforms.
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Celluloid Junkie is the leading online resource dedicated to the global film and cinema business. The Marquee is our newsletter focused on motion picture exhibition; keeping industry professionals informed of important news, the latest trends and insightful analysis