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Pakistani films leave a mark at Red Sea International Film Festival 2023

Pakistani films took center stage at the Red Sea International Film Festival with features like In Flames directed by Zarrar Kahn, Wakhri – One of a Kind by Iram Parveen Bilal and two shorts namely Solitia and Eid Mubarak directed by Hira Yousafzai and Mahnoor Euceph respectively

With limited avenues for independent filmmakers in Pakistan to screen their films, Pakistani filmmakers are finding their space on international forums. Red Sea International Film Festival 2023 in its third year at Jeddah screened two Pakistani features and two shorts in their competition category and were received very well by the jury as well as the audience.

Pakistani films took center stage at the Red Sea International Film Festival with features like In Flames directed by Zarrar Kahn, Wakhri – One of a Kind by Iram Parveen Bilal and two shorts namely Solitia and Eid Mubarak directed by Hira Yousafzai and Mahnoor Euceph respectively.

South Asian mainly Pakistani diaspora living in Jeddah was seen in long queues waiting to watch the films from their country and meet the stars. The sight that is usually seen in the film festivals of the west.

While talking with In Flames star Ramesha Nawal after the award ceremony, she said that we were not expecting to win the best feature film award, the highest honour at Red Sea. “Our film had the potential but we were competing against such good films so it was a tough competition, we all jumped up from our seats and started screaming when our names were announced,” she said.

She added that screening of the film at Red Sea was one of the best experiences and she was a little scared about how the audience of Saudi Arabia will receive the film but was glad to see people coming in large numbers. “Even after the screening, we felt the warmth of the audience. They kept coming to us and called us Mariam and Asad, which are our character names”.

“Having In Flames just be at the Red Sea Festival was an honour. So when it won, the feelings were just so surreal. I am very happy that our film is showing the world the power of Pakistani artists and films,” said Omar Jawaid, who plays the role of love interest of the protagonist in the film. “Because we are just at the beginning and hopefully the world puts their eyes on Pakistan and the art we create”.

Gulshan Majeed, who amazed the audience with his exceptional performance in Wakhri said that “being at the festival has been an incredible experience. First, because it’s my debut feature as an actor and second, because our film had such a warm reception”. He further added that “I was at Cannes in 2022 as part of Joyland and that was my first ever international film festival; a time I can never forget. This time around, it was more personal and special because I was experiencing everything as an actor, not as a crew member.”

How was the response of the audience and jury, I asked him. “Getting Baz Luhrmann’s eyes on my work and learning that my performance resonated with people who’d walk up to me and say that it doesn’t look like my debut made it all worth the while.” He added, “Being in the same space with A-list creatives from all around the world was very humbling and I flew back with a lot of wholesome moments and memories that will stay with me for long, maybe forever.”


Talking to Hira Yousafzai, director of Solitia, about her experience of getting her first short premiering at this prestigious festival. She shared, “screening at the Red Sea Festival was an incredible experience for me. The film was showcased alongside other outstanding international works, and the audience’s response was genuinely heartening”. She further added “witnessing the audience connect with the film is always a beautiful experience for a director. It reaffirms the universal appeal of storytelling and the emotional resonance it carries.”

Upon asking about the reception of Solatia by the audience, especially considering it was sold out and many could not get the tickets. Yousafzai responded by saying that the overwhelming response to ‘Solatia’ at RSIFF was beyond gratifying. She is deeply moved by the reception and grateful for the opportunity to share her work with a diverse audience.

She added, “these moments inspire and motivate filmmakers to continue telling stories that not only touch hearts but also spark meaningful conversations. Additionally, the acclaimed filmmaker Baz Luhrmann’s recognition of the progress of Pakistani films was an encouraging moment. He also gave us a little shoutout which was really kind. I am touched by his support and eagerly look forward to continuing my journey in the world of filmmaking.”

Mahnoor Euceph’s Eid Mubarak has been making rounds of several film festivals, when asked about her time at Red Sea. She said “The Red Sea team went out of their way to make our experience specifically tailored for each of us. As a filmmaker, I felt really taken care of by the festival. The best part of the festival for me was getting to meet so many wonderful people, especially international filmmakers, many of whom were from very different Muslim countries.”

She further added that it was a really tender and warm experience getting to know each other. There was also a big Pakistani presence at the festival, and it was great for all of them to meet each other.

Baz Luhrman, jury head of the festival, in conversation with Riya Abirached, a Lebanese journalist said that some amazing movies are coming out of Pakistan, there’s something going on down there in an answer to the query asked by Hira Farooqi, Producer of Solitia.

2023 has been a great year for Pakistani films. Previously, In Flames premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight section of Festival De Cannes 2023 after 43 years since a Pakistani film (The Blood of Hussain by Jamil Dehlavi) played in this section. In Flames was also the official entry from Pakistan for the 96th Academy Awards.

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