The Red Sea International Film Festival, which is Saudi Arabia’s first international film fest, is ramping up operations with the appointment of French industry veteran Julie Bergeron as head of its nascent market.

Ahead of its first edition, to be held March 12–21, 2020, in Jeddah, they’ve also announced funds providing up to $3 million in support for emerging Arab filmmakers and cash prizes totaling $350,000.

Bergeron has been head of industry programs at the Cannes Marché du Film as well as project manager of its Ventana Sur Latin American offshoot, and she has also worked for the now-defunct Dubai film market, among other roles. 

Bergeron joins a high-caliber team that includes former Sundance fest documentary programmer Hussain Currimbhoy, who is the Red Sea fest’s artistic director; Dubai’s former top exec Shivani Pandya Malhotra, who is managing director; Antoine Khalife, also a Dubai fest veteran who is director of the Saudi fest’s Arab Program; and Saudi filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh (“Barakah Meets Barakah”), who is president.

Former Berlin Festival chief Dieter Kosslick is also believed to be in the process of coming on board as a consultant, but the festival declined to confirm that Kosslick has any official role at present.

The Red Sea fest team, which clearly has big ambitions, is making its festival circuit debut at Venice where the funds and rich prizes were announced and where they held a party.

The first edition of the Red Sea fest will be dishing out a total of $350,000 in prizes for films from all over the world that will screen there.

For Arab movies there will instead be a new post-production fund, the Bait Al Montage Fund, that will support up to six Arab films with grants totaling $100,000. Winners will be revealed during the Festival’s Industry Days, taking place March 13-17.

Another production initiative, worth $400,000, is funding up to six short films made by Saudi women filmmakers that will screen as an omnibus series during the fest.

Somewhat like Sundance, the Red Sea fest is positioning itself as a year-round film lab/incubator, called the Red Sea Lodge, being operated in a partnership with Italy’s Torino Film Lab, which will soon award two $500,000 grants to Arab projects.

Finally, the one-off Tamheed Fund has already provided $500,00 grants to two new Saudi features. The selected projects are: “The Book of Sun” by Faris Godus and “Forty Years and a Night.” Both are expected to premiere at the Red Sea Festival next year.