Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

‘Poisonous Roses.’ (Supplied)
Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.


US media in court showdown over White House access

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta (L) leaves US District Court after a hearing in Washington, DC, on November 14, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US media in court showdown over White House access

  • CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president
  • Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s effort to revoke a CNN reporter’s credentials went to court Wednesday, in what media groups said was a matter of press freedom — while the White House argued it had a broad right to restrict access to the US president.
Lawyers for CNN and the White House argued before US District Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed last year by Trump, on the cable news channel’s request for an order reinstating correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House pass.
In an emergency hearing, CNN’s lawyer Ted Boutrous asked the judge for a temporary order allowing Acosta to get his pass back ahead of a full hearing on the matter.
Boutros argued banning Acosta violated the constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of a free press because it was “based on the viewpoint of Mr. Acosta” and not his behavior.
“They don’t like the reporting” of the CNN White House reporter, the lawyer said.
US Justice Department lawyer James Burnham echoed comments filed in a legal brief earlier in the day for the administration, saying that “there is no First Amendment right to access the White House” and that the rationale behind the decision was that Acosta “disrupted” a news conference last week.
Judge Kelly said he would issue his decision at 3:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) Thursday.
CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president.
Fox said earlier Wednesday the banning of Acosta raises concerns over press freedom.
“Fox News supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter’s press credential,” the news channel’s president Jay Wallace said in a statement, indicating it would join an amicus brief on supporting CNN.
“Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” he said.
“While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people.”

Others backing the CNN arguments in court included the Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media Works, Gannett, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, Press Freedom Defense Fund, EW Scripps Company, USA Today and The Washington Post.
“Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions,” the media groups said in a joint statement ahead of the hearing.
“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the president and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons.”
The White House said in its legal filing it has “broad discretion” to restrict media access to the president, disputing the argument that its actions violate the constitution.
“The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences,” said the brief.
The filing by US Justice Department lawyers argued that “the president could choose never to hold another press briefing again and cancel all press passes, without implicating due process protections.”

The White House brief argued there is no imminent harm to CNN or Acosta because he “remains able to practice his profession and report on the White House” and that CNN “has roughly 50 other employees who retain hard passes and who are more than capable of covering the White House complex on CNN’s behalf.”
Acosta, CNN’s chief White House reporter, had his press pass lifted November 7 after a testy exchange with Trump at a White House news conference.
CNN — part of the WarnerMedia division of AT&T — filed suit on Tuesday.
Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone. The White House cited a video which analysts said had been sped up, giving the appearance that Acosta struck the intern’s arm.
Trump later said other journalists might be barred as well if they were not “respectful.”
Free speech activists have warned the case has important implications, and that public officials should not be able to bar access to journalists if they dislike news coverage.
The White House has dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.