French film critic Edouard Waintrop, a former Cannes Directors’ Fortnight chief, has joined Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival as artistic director.

Waintrop, who between 2012 and 2018 headed the independently run Cannes section, had previously been an advisor to the ambitious Red Sea fest which, after a delay due to coronavirus, is now on track to hold its first edition Nov. 11-20 in the historic district of  the city of Jeddah, a Unesco World Heritage site.

In a statement the Red Sea fest’s new chief said the event “will celebrate all aspects of cinema, from the creatives telling stories to the technical craftspeople putting imaginative ideas onto the big screen, celebrating filmmaking as force for positive change.”

It will be “the place for the leaders and visionaries of Arab cinema, both established and emerging, to meet, celebrate successes, and look forward to a bright future,” he added.

In another new addition to the Red Sea team, Saudi writer/director Faiza Saleh Ambah, who is a former Washington Post correspondent, has come on board as special program manager.

Waintrop will join a team of previously announced programmers that include film critic Kaleem Aftab (director of international programming); Antoine Khalife (director of Arab programs and film classics), and Mohyee Qari (program manager).

The festival has now also added Marta Balaga, Alice Kharoubi, Leigh Singer, Carmen Thompson, Badih Massaad, and Kim Young-Woo as programming consultants.

French industry veteran Julie Bergeron is back on board as a consultant for the fest’s Red Sea Souk market side, which is headed by Zain Zedan.

The theme of the fest’s first edition will be “Metamorphosis,” intended as a celebration of “cinema as a force for positive change,” according to organizers.

Moviegoing is now booming in Saudi after the country in late 2017 removed its religion-related ban on cinemas, and a major effort is underway to foster a Saudi film industry.

The Red Sea fest’s eleven program sections will showcase contemporary international and Arab cinema, Saudi features, shorts and experimental films, as well as retrospectives, and AR and VR works.