Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival has postponed its inaugural edition due to coronavirus concerns.

Organizers announced the “difficult” decision on Tuesday “given the current global health emergency,” they said in an email to prospective guests which noted that their “primary consideration” is “the safety and wellbeing of our guests, staff and audiences.”

“We are confident that, in due course, the festival will be rescheduled and that we will be able
to achieve all that we have planned and worked towards over the past 12-months,” they added.

The ambitious event, which had recruited Oliver Stone to preside over the jury and Spike Lee to present a special screening of “Malcolm X,” is Saudi’s first full-fledged film festival and market, with international ambitions after the country in late 2017 removed its religion-related ban on cinemas. It was scheduled to run March 12-21 in the historic district of Jeddah, a Unesco World Heritage site.

The event headed by Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh who made a splash with groundbreaking romcom “Barakah Meets Barakah” and black comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage” had announced a lineup featuring a fresh mix of international films launching in the region as well as a robust representation of Arab titles.

Somewhat like Sundance, the Red Sea fest is positioning itself as a year-round film lab/incubator that will operate under the banner of Red Sea Lodge, run in partnership with Italy’s Torino Film Lab.

The Red Sea festival aspires to becomes a driver for Saudi filmmaking and a major Middle East film industry hub.

“We remain optimistic, passionate, and committed to what this event means for Saudi Arabia, the Arab world, and the global film community and hope you can share in this outlook – despite the trying short-term situation,” organizers underlined.