Oliver Stone Red Sea
<i>Snowden</i> director Oliver Stone received a tribute at Los Cabos International Film Festival 2016. Courtesy of Los Cabos International Film Festival

Oliver Stone will lead the jury of the first Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which will also include masterclasses with Spike Lee, William Friedkin, Abel Ferrara, Khairy Beshara and Yousry Nasrallah, the festival announced Monday.

The festival will “push diversity, particularly in women’s position in public spaces, and for a more open society,” said festival director Mahmoud Sabbagh in a statement.

The festival will include a special screening of Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X, which includes scenes shot in Mecca, which is located in Saudi Arabia.

It will also offer cash prizes totaling $250,000, including a $100,000 prize with the Golden Yusr Trophy for Best Feature. The festival will take place March 12-21 in Al-Balad Historic Jeddah, Bait Qabil, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many entertainment and media companies came under criticism for any association with Saudi Arabia after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post. He disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators later said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “complicit” in Khashoggi’s killing. Khashoggi had been a vocal critic of Mohammed.

Ari Emanuel’s Endeavor, a holding company for talent and media agencies, backed out of a deal in which the Saudi government would have invested $400 million in the company.

Sabbagh said the Red Sea International Film Festival would both “showcase Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry” and “encourage a more open cultural exchange.”

“We worked hard to ensure that the films being presented showcase Saudi Arabia’s emerging film industry, and encourage a more open cultural exchange. This isn’t just about exporting our stories; we are bringing different perspectives, new conversations into Saudi Arabia too,” Sabbagh said.

He also praised Stone.

“Oliver Stone is behind some of the all-time great pieces of cinema,” Sabbagh said. “Penning Scarface and Midnight Express, directing Platoon and Natural Born Killers, to name a few, he cherishes originality, craft and creativity, values at the heart of the Red Sea FF. For a new breed of filmmakers competing for the Yusr awards, his watchful eye and sense of authorship will be inspirational.”

The Red Sea Film Festival may fill a regional vacuum left by the absence of the Dubai Film Festibal, which announced in 2018 that it would take a break and return in 2019. But it has not yet returned.