The baby of the international film festival circuit, the Red Sea International Film Festival (RSIFF), will take a while longer to be born. Saudi Arabia’s first ever film festival, that was to be held in Old Town Jeddah from March 12-20, now stands postponed due to concerns over the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus outbreak. The news came on Tuesday, just a few hours after the cancellation of the Doha Film Institute’s coveted mentoring event, Qumra, in Doha, Qatar. Tuesday was also when the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival announced deferment, just days before the event was to have launched on March 5 to run through March 15.
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In view of a major outbreak in Iran, the postponement of the Fajr International Film Festival, that was initially slated for April 16-24, was announced on Wednesday. Mid-February, one of the oldest Asian festivals, the Hong Kong International Film Festival, previously scheduled for late March-early April, announced its rescheduling to summer.
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Baby Health in Winter Spring, summer fests
The winter events like the Sundance and Rotterdam film festivals may have remained relatively unaffected, but concerns around the coronavirus started gaining ground at the Berlinale in February, where an advisory on precautions was brought out. Now, as with the rest of the world, the high profile spring and summer film festivals appear to have been badly hit by SARS-CoV-2, more so given the fast-moving, unpredictable, day-to-day changes in the situation.
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While Hillary Rodham Clinton still features in the list of major speakers, a number of companies, including Twitter and Facebook, have cancelled plans for the edgy South by South West (SXSW) festival, which is to take place March 13-22 at Austin, Texas. While the festival has issued an attendee safety advisory, one of the residents has launched a petition on change.org, urging cancellation of the SXSW in light of SARS-CoV-2. Whether the event will carry on regardless or not is anyone’s guess for now.
Baby Health in Winter ‘Safety, well-being’
Meanwhile, in an official announcement, the festival director of RSIFF, Mahmoud Sabbagh, said that the difficult decision of postponement was taken while being mindful of the current global health emergency, “our primary consideration being the safety and well-being of our guests, staff and audiences”. “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,” he said.
“Due to the current global alert regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, the decision comes as part of the Institute’s contribution to manage and reduce the risk of further spread of the virus. This was a very difficult decision, and although Qumra is an important event for our community and industry delegates, their safety and well-being remains our first priority. In order to reduce the risks to our guests in light of increasing global concerns over COVID-19, we are taking precautionary measures to proactively manage potential risks,” said the Doha Film Institute’s statement.
Baby Health in Winter Rescheduling
While Thessaloniki is looking at end May/beginning June for possible new dates, most of the postponed 2020 editions of the festivals are yet to work out a feasible alternative. The rescheduling will have to take cognisance of the choc-a-block festival calendar in which getting a suitable window can be a Herculean task. Also the festivals will have to figure whether their current line-up of films will still hold water a few months down the line, and if the celebrity guests would still be available at another date. The RSIFF jury was being headed by filmmaker Oliver Stone and Spike Lee was scheduled to take a masterclass at the festival, while Claire Denis was to be one of the mentors at Qumra.
Meanwhile the coronavirus’ shadow is already looming large over the biggest of them all, the Cannes Film Festival. Hours after news of the first COVID-19 case in Cannes broke out on February 28, a spokesperson told Variety magazine that while it was still premature to express assumptions on an event scheduled in two months and a half, the festival was “monitoring carefully the developments and the latest guidelines provided by the local, national and international authorities” and “is in direct link with the Alpes-Maritimes’ administrative office”.
Baby Health in Winter Eyes on Cannes
“In due course and depending on the occurrences, the Festival de Cannes will naturally take all the necessary measures, aiming at ensuring the protection of all attendees and preserving their health during the event in Cannes, under the responsibility of public authorities, in particular the State and the City of Cannes,” the spokesperson told Variety. The festival had been watchful and vigilant while going on in the face of the SARS epidemic in 2003. The Festival de Cannes is scheduled to be held May 12-23 and the line-up of films is expected to be announced in mid-April.
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