Alumni Selected for Red Sea International Film Festival’s Red Sea Lodge Program

BY Felix van Kann, April 6, 2021

Two Columbia filmmakers and their scripts were selected to participate in the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival’s Red Sea Lodge program in Saudi Arabia. It's A Sad and Beautiful World, written and directed by Cyril Aris '17 and Road 250, written and directed by Haya AlGhanim '20, were among the six Arab projects to participate in the year-long mentorship program that is being held in collaboration with the TorinoFilmLab.


Aris and AlGhanim will now go through an intensive creative and professional training program. Following the workshops, the program will award two projects with the annual Red Sea Lodge production prizes of $100,000 each. These two films will also premiere at the next Red Sea International Film Festival.


It’s a Sad and Beautiful World tells the improbable love story between Nino, a warmhearted idealist, and Soraya, a wounded cynic, that is challenged by Lebanon's tumultuous history from the past 40 years until presently, and in which an impeding cosmic event would upend all that came before.


Cyril Aris is a Lebanese director and screenwriter and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His feature documentary, The Swing, 2018, premiered in Karlovy Vary and won awards in El-Gouna, Rome, London, Budapest and Tunisia. His fiction short, The President’s Visit, 2017, premiered in Toronto at TIFF and won awards in Dubai, Nashville, and the National Board of Review. He is in development for It’s a Sad and Beautiful World, recipient of a development grant from the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung in Germany, selected at the TIFF Filmmaker Lab, the Nantucket Screenwriter Colony, the CineGouna platform in Egypt, a residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris, and winner of the ART award at the Beirut Cinema Platform.


Road 250 tells the story of Dima Hassan, a sheltered yet clever teenager, who has lived most of her life abroad. In an effort to prepare Dima for the future, Dima’s overbearing mother moves them back to Kuwait. She warns Dima that the rules are different in their homeland, the first being that she’s going to start at an all-girls school. Dima is equally as intrigued by the dynamics among the girls as the girls are with her. The ruthless leader of a wild group, Aisha, invites Dima to spend the weekend with them at a beach house. Learning about the tight-knit society she supposedly belongs to over the weekend, Dima struggles to figure out where she stands between what she’s taught to value and what she truly values and that when relationships are built off secrets, information can be ammunition, and reputations can be worth more than lives. AlGhanim has previously participated in the 2020 Rawi Screenwriters Lab with the same script. 


Haya B. AlGhanim is a screenwriter, director, and producer based between New York City and Kuwait City. Through her artistic and professional practice, AlGhanim aims to preserve and represent modern Arab art and culture. Her short films have screened at various international film festivals and other exhibition venues. Her short narrative, Same, Old. premiered at HBO’s Urbanworld Film Festival in New York and is currently traveling to other cities. Her short documentary, By the Medina, For the Medina won in the Best Documentary Short category at the first Kuwait Film Festival and was nominated for the Arab Film Awards presented by the Arab Film Institute. 


An Evening with Laila, another short film directed and produced by Alghanim '20 and edited by alumnus Waleed Alqahtani '20, will also screen at the Malmo Arab Film Festival in April. The short documentary shows the  life and true story of Laila Abdulaziz, a pioneer of music in the Arabian Gulf and staple of Kuwaiti history who had a vision for the future that no one was ready for, not even herself.


Waleed Alqahtani is a Saudi Arabian screenwriter, director and producer. His work has screened at festivals across the United States, such as Palm Springs, Hamptons, New Orleans, and Seattle, among others. Alqahtani has been supported by the Indian Paintbrush Grant, the Maine Media Workshops, and twice by the Berklee School of Music’s Film Scoring Practicum.


The Red Sea Film Festival Foundation is the first Saudi, independent, nonprofit organization with an official mandate to promote film culture. The Foundation champions the Kingdom’s growing cinema and cultural scene by nurturing audience engagement, supporting filmmakers, and strengthening the film industry.