Regional directors win big as Sundance wraps up

Saudi film ‘Dunya’s Day’ won an award at the festival. Image supplied
Updated 04 February 2019
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Regional directors win big as Sundance wraps up

DUBAI: The 2019 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday, but not before a handful of filmmakers from the Middle East were honored with prizes.

Announced on Sunda, the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Danish filmmaker May El-Toukhy for her movie “Queen of Hearts,” which tells the uncomfortable story of a woman whojeopardizes both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences.

Meanwhile, two short films from the Middle East were recognized at the event on Jan. 29 at a ceremony in Park City, Utah, where the annual festival takes place.

The Short Film Grand Jury Prize was awarded to “Aziza,” a film listed as being from Syria and Lebanon. The 14-minute dynamic take on the life of Syrian refugees is a black comedy that tells the story of a husband who begins to teach his wife how to drive, all the while worrying about the lax laws of the road.

The film was directed by Soudade Kaadan, whose first feature fiction film “The Day I Lost My Shadow” was awarded The Lion of the Future award for best debut film at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction prize was awarded to a Saudi film, “Dunya's Day.”

Directed by Raed Alsemari, the 13-minute short film follows Dunya, who struggles to throw the perfect graduation soirée after her domestic help walk out in protest of her difficult attitude.

In January, “Dunya’s Day” made headlines for becoming the first Saudi film to premiere in Kingdom since cinemas re-opened last year.

By making a film with an all-female cast, Alsemari and the actors were keen to highlight the fact that Saudi women have stories that deserve to be told, and that films need not be driven by male characters. Inspired by classic Hollywood movies such as “Mean Girls” and “Heathers,” Alsemari wanted to put his own, Saudi twist on those stories.

“I wanted to tell a story about an Arab woman who was neither a victim nor a saint,” he said. “She’s in a position of power in the narrative. That was important for us,” Alsemari said at the screening in the Vox Cinema at Riyadh Park on Jan. 10.


What We Are Reading Today: Red Meat Republic by Joshua Specht

Updated 23 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Red Meat Republic by Joshua Specht

  • Joshua Specht puts people at the heart of his story — the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion

By the late 19th century, Americans rich and poor had come to expect high-quality fresh beef with almost every meal. 

Beef production in the US had gone from small-scale, localized operations to a highly centralized industry spanning the country, with cattle bred on ranches in the rural West, slaughtered in Chicago, and consumed in the nation’s rapidly growing cities. 

Red Meat Republic tells the remarkable story of the violent conflict over who would reap the benefits of this new industry and who would bear its heavy costs, says a review on the University Press website.

Joshua Specht puts people at the heart of his story — the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion, the meatpackers who created a radically new kind of industrialized slaughterhouse, and the stockyard workers who were subjected to the shocking and unsanitary conditions described by Upton Sinclair in his novel The Jungle. 

Specht brings to life a turbulent era marked by Indian wars, Chicago labor unrest, and food riots in the streets of New York.