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Sharon Stone, Guy Ritchie, Shah Rukh Khan and Bruno Mars Among Stars in Saudi Arabia for Red Sea Film Festival Opener



After a year of heavy promotion across all the major festivals, for only its second edition Saudi Arabia’s own Red Sea Film Festival managed to amass the sort of star-studded opening night red carpet that would have made even Cannes proud.

On Thursday at the vast, palatial and exceedingly glitzy Ritz-Carlton hotel in the coastal city of Jeddah, the impressively eclectic assortment of attendees for the curtain raiser What’s Love Got To Do With It? included the likes of Sharon Stone, Guy Ritchie, Shah Rukh Khan, Luca Guadagnino, Priyanka Chopra, Nadine Labaki, Andy Garcia, Oliver Stone, Henry Golding, Michelle Rodriguez, Frieda Pinto, Yousra, Gaspar Noé, Gurinder Chadha, Rossy de Palma, Melanie Laurent, Andrew Dominik, Lucy Hale and Scott Eastwood, plus the film’s director Shekhar Kapur and writer Jemima Khan. If there had been any difficulty luring stars and industry figures to a festival that has been accused of being part of Saudi’s culture-washing to deflect attention from human rights abuses, it wasn’t apparent here.

Inside at the opening ceremony, under a vast chandelier in the hotel’s main auditorium, festival CEO Mohammed Al Turki presented the event’s honorary awards to Ritchie, Khan and Yousra. Meanwhile, Oliver Stone — as head of the jury — came to the stage, explaining that he thought Saudi Arabia was misrepresented by much of the world, adding that he thought “people who judge it too harshly should come to visit and see if for themselves.” .”

Others were equally enthused, with Ritchie saying it felt “great to encourage cultural collaboration” in a country where its fledgling film industry is only just emerging. Ritchie is among those giving special talks over the coming days, alongside Spike Lee, Jackie Chan, Sharon Stone, Labaki, Guadagnino, Garcia and Noé.

“I feel that somewhere the narrative has changed,” said Kapur on introducing What’s Love Got To Do With It?, which first bowed in Toronto. “I see the enterprise and the passion. Somewhere the winds need to change. For too long, they have come from West to East. It needs to rise again from the desert sands.”

Following the screening, adding more star power to a night that really didn’t need much more, Bruno Mars performed a lengthy live set at the festival opening party to hundreds of ecstatic revelers.

The Red Sea Film Festival runs through Dec. 10

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