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.”


Opulence goes low: China opens luxury hotel in quarry

Updated 15 November 2018
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Opulence goes low: China opens luxury hotel in quarry

  • The subterranean 17-floor hotel is about an hour’s drive from the center of Shanghai,
  • ‘It’s a project that’s completely new, a project we have never encountered before’

SHANGHAI: A hotel development sunk into a disused quarry in China opened its doors Thursday to deep-pocketed clientele.
Preventing the 88-meter-deep (290 feet) pit from flooding was among the chief challenges for engineers working on the swanky 336-room InterContinental Shanghai Wonderland — part of a $288 million development that also includes a theme park.
The hotel, which is one of a growing number of bold architectural designs springing up in China, hugs one side of the pit wall, with a waterfall cascading down the opposite face.
The subterranean 17-floor hotel is about an hour’s drive from the center of Shanghai, with room charges starting at 3,394 yuan ($490) a night.
There is a floor of suites below the water level, but don’t expect to gaze directly into the depths of Shenkeng Quarry — the windows are instead buffered by large fish tanks.
“Why do we say there is nothing in the world that compares to the quarry hotel project?” Chen Xiaoxiang, chief engineer with the real estate giant, Shimao Property, said.
“It’s a project that’s completely new, a project we have never encountered before.
“There were no references, cases or experience we could learn from to solve all the difficulties,” he said.
That meant engineers were met with unexpected problems.
Before construction started in 2013, for example, heavy rainfall caused a nearby river to overflow into the quarry, filling half of it.
“If something like that had happened after construction was complete, it would have been a devastating blow,” Chen said.
Designers built an embankment around the edge of the pit to prevent that happening in future, when hundreds of well-heeled guests are sipping cocktails on the deck far below.
A pump house is used to help regulate water levels.
The waterfall is one of the development’s most eye-catching features. Adventurous guests can also indulge in rock climbing.
The project’s masterminds talk up its environmental bona fides, saying abandoned quarries often become landfills.
“This was a totally unique idea, to really do something special with a site that was forgotten and nobody knew what to do with, and to give it new life,” said Martin Jochman, a British architect with the project since it started 12 years ago.
“I never lost my belief that it would be done one day, but it is here now, and I am really excited and amazed by the whole thing,” he said.
China’s rapid economic growth has been accompanied by a construction boom that often throws up outlandish designs.
The Beijing headquarters of state broadcaster China Central Television has been nicknamed “The Big Underpants” because it resembles a giant pelvis.
A skyscraper built this year in southwestern China features a 108-meter waterfall tumbling down one side.