Saudi director’s latest film to debut in London

Mahmoud Sabbagh
Updated 21 September 2018
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Saudi director’s latest film to debut in London

  • In all my work, I take a humorous stab at the contradictory, unequal setups of our society

JEDDAH: Tickets for “Amra and the Second Marriage,” Saudi Director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest feature film, will go on sale in London on Sept. 13.
The film is scheduled to debut on Oct. 13 at the Vue cinema in Leicester Square, and the following day at the Curzon cinema in Soho.
“Amra and the Second Marriage” tells the story of how a middle-aged housewife handles her husband’s decision to pursue a second wife.
“It’s a dark comedy about an average housewife who discovers that her retiring husband is planning to marry a younger second wife,” Sabbagh told Arab News.
“In her attempts to comprehend this new reality, her life begins to unravel as she’s pushed toward a hefty compromise,” he said.
“Unlike my debut feature ‘Barakah Meets Barakah,’ which voiced millennials’ concerns about cosmopolitan Jeddah, this one touches on a heartland mainstream milieu. There’s a hyper-real element to it that serves not to estrange.” Both films were shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.
Born in Jeddah in 1983, Sabbagh grew up heavily influenced by Egyptian films from the 1980s.
In 2011, he attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied documentary filmmaking and production.
After earning his master’s degree, Sabbagh returned to Jeddah, where he released the highly acclaimed 2016 film “Barakah Meets Barakah.”
Shot entirely in Jeddah, the film is a comedic love story that plays on strict Saudi social conventions in a dramatically candid way.
It premiered at the 66th annual Berlin International Film Festival — the first Saudi feature film to do so — and was later selected as the Saudi entry for best foreign-language film at the 89th Academy Awards.
The following year, Sabbagh was appointed to the jury for the best first feature award at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.
“In all my work, I take a humorous stab at the contradictory, unequal setups of our society. There’s a cinematic moral responsibility to every filmmaker,” he said.
“My quest has been to modernize intersubjective realities and distort those unequal power dynamics so change can occur from within. This happens by being able to tell more and more local stories,” he said.
“These stories get their universal appeal because emotional conflicts are universal. You can’t deny that.”
Regarding his inspiration to pursue a career in filmmaking, Sabbagh credits his fellow Saudis.
“The everyday life of a Saudi inspires me. We have rich stories and fascinating milieus. In my latest film, I strived to give its dark comedy a Coen Brothers tone,” he said.
Along with directing and screenwriting, Sabbagh also produces films, and in 2015 he founded Elhoush Productions, the first independent feature film production company based in Jeddah.
Prior to filmmaking he worked as a journalist, which he attributes with shaping his perceptions on sensitive social taboos.
As for what is next, “I’d like to progress my style more. I have bigger desires for more cinematic fulfilment,” Sabbagh said.
“I’m interested as a director in the idea of being able to go further, to do something that hasn’t been done before, to work harder with everyone else to bring the filmmaking experience to a more pleasant and accessible standard.”


Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

Updated 22 September 2018
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Book review: ‘Where the Bird Disappeared’ is a tale as old as time

CHICAGO: Taking a leaf from the real-life stories of Prophet Zakariyya and his son Yahya, Palestinian poet and writer Ghassan Zaqtan’s “Where the Bird Disappeared” is a beautiful yet haunting novel set in the village of Zakariyya, in modern-day Palestine.
Inspired by Qur’anic stories and political history, the novel talks about the relationship between Zakariyya and his best friend Yahya who not only share their names with the two prophets but bear a distant resemblance to their personalities and fates as well.
Zaqtan’s narrative is lyrical, heartbreaking and profound. Rooted in Palestine — a land that stood the test of time and would go on to become the hub of early and modern civilizations — the story is captivating enough to transport us to the hideaway monastery in Nuba Karam or the vineyards of Beit Jalla, the new homes for several villagers forced into exile.
Recalling the devastation and violence faced by those migrating from their homes and country, Zaqtan’s ability to take his readers through the same mountain paths and into the soul of his characters is a cause for applause. As Zaqtan writes of his central character, Zakariyya, “he felt he was walking inside a book, stumbling inside stories that had circulated in these hills since his birth. Journeys and names repeating themselves in succession without end.” And while the novel succeeds in digging deep into the annals of history, it also makes the reader realize how much impact the land of Palestine has had on the two characters and the various stories generating from the region.
Zaqtan’s tale is gentle enough to etch out images of each village, street or ancient structure that make the story and yet devastating enough that these get lost in the bigger picture. His brilliance lies in how conscious he is about the words used, while never losing sight of the historical context of his narrative or the love of the central characters for their beloved land.
Ghassan Zaqtan is an award-winning Palestinian poet, novelist, and playwright. He first published “Where the Bird Disappeared” in Arabic in 2015. It was then translated into English by Samuel Wilder and published by Seagull Books in 2018.