Dubai film festival downsized to once every two years

Dubai film festival downsized to once every two years
DIFF chairman Abdul Hamid Juma, left, and the actress Q’Orianka Kilcher at the opening ceremony of the 14th International Film Festival in Dubai on December 6, 2017. (DIFF/AFP-Services)
Updated 19 April 2018

Dubai film festival downsized to once every two years

Dubai film festival downsized to once every two years

While Saudi Arabia heralded the return of public cinemas on Wednesday night, the Dubai International Film Festival announced a “new approach” to supporting the region’s film industry while scaling back the festival to once every two years.

“With the vast changes taking place both in the regional and global movie-making and content industry, we are seeking to redefine the Dubai International Film Festival’s approach towards nurturing growth, creativity and talent,” said Jamal Al Sharif, chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission.

The 15th film festival will take place in 2019. More details are to be announced at a later date, DIFF organizers said in a statement.


Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news
Updated 04 March 2021

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

Winston Churchill, Angelina Jolie and an $11.5 million painting of Morocco: Exploring the fascinating story behind this week’s biggest art news

DUBAI: “Happy are the painters, for they are never alone.”

While many of us could mistake this famous quote for a comment by countless artists, you may be surprised to learn it was said by none other than  Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, whose passion for painting recently made headlines around the world.

Earlier this week, a painting of Marrakesh by the famed World War Two politician, who died in 1965 at the age of 90, smashed expectations and sold for a staggering $11.5 million at auction in London.

“The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque,” which was owned by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, was painted by Churchill during a wartime visit in 1943.

“The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” was painted by Churchill during a World War II visit in 1943. (AFP)

And while securing the allies victory against Nazi Germany may have been all-consuming, Churchill found snippets of time to pursue his passion for art after realizing his love for painting at 40 years old.

He was first introduced to painting during a family holiday in 1915 after his sudden fall from grace over his role in the disastrous Dardanelles naval campaign against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Churchill, who served as the First Lord of the Admiralty during the campaign, hoped that this new skill would distract him from the ongoing strife engulfing Europe. 

For the artist-cum-politician, who completed an impressive 500 artworks, painting was a hobby; he did to unwind and gifted most of his works to friends. 

And while Churchill painted a varied array of landscapes, from quaint English country scenes to the immense cliffs near Marseilles in France, his depictions of Morocco feature among his most exotic paintings.

A museum employee poses next to a painting by Winston Churchill entitled “Gate at Marrakech, man on donkey” at Leighton House Museum in west London. (AFP)

His passion for the translucent light of Marrakesh, far from the political storms and drab skies of London, dates back to the 1930s when most of Morocco was a French protectorate.

Churchill’s first painting of Morocco was completed in 1935. Titled “Scene in Marrakesh,” it is set to be auctioned by Christie’s later this year.

The work was painted while on a stay at Mamounia, where he marveled at the “truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives,” in a letter to his wife Clementine.

He went on to make six visits to the North African country over the course of 23 years.

Christies auction house staff pose with a painting by Winston Churchill entitled “A view of Marrakesh” in London. (AFP)

“Here in these spacious palm groves rising from the desert the traveler can be sure of perennial sunshine... and can contemplate with ceaseless satisfaction the stately and snow-clad panorama of the Atlas Mountains,” he wrote in 1936 in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper.

He would set up his easel on the balconies of the grandiose La Mamounia hotel or the city’s Villa Taylor, beloved by the European jet setters of the 1970s.

It was from the villa, after a historic January 1943 conference in Casablanca with wartime leader US president Franklin Roosevelt and France’s Charles de Gaulle, that he painted what came to be regarded as his finest work, of the minaret behind the ramparts of the Old City, with mountains behind and tiny colorful figures in the forefront.

A Sotheby’s auction house employee poses with a rare painting entitled “Churchill’s Marrakech” by Winston Churchill, at the auction house in London. (AFP)

“You cannot come all this way to North Africa without seeing Marrakesh,” he is reputed to have told Roosevelt. “I must be with you when you see the sun set on the Atlas Mountains.”

After the US delegation had left, Churchill stayed on an extra day and painted the view of the Koutoubia Mosque framed by mountains — he then sent it to Roosevelt for his birthday.

What makes “The Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque” so special is the fact that it was the only artwork he completed during World War II. 

However, it should be noted that Morocco was not the only Arab country Churchill painted. In 1921, he painted the Pyramids at Giza when he visited Egypt as Secretary of State for the Colonies for the Cairo Conference.

What makes this week’s whopping sale even more interesting, however, is the star power lent by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who owned the piece before putting it up for auction.

The artwork had several owners before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt bought it in 2011.

Jolie’s former husband Brad Pitt is known to be an art collector and during their 2014-16 marriage the pair bought some notable works, including pieces by Banksy and Neo Rauch.

The London-based auction house Christie’s told CNN that the Maleficent actress, 45, listed the artwork as property of the “Jolie Family Collection,” while US Weekly reported that it was a gift from Pitt to Jolie prior to their enagement.

The couple separated in 2016 and have spent years enmeshed in divorce proceedings, amid speculation about the division of their extensive art collection. They were declared divorced in 2019 after their lawyers asked for a bifurcated judgment, meaning that two married people can be declared single while other issues, including finances and child custody, remain.

While Churchill’s painting of Marrakesh may no longer adorn Jolie’s walls, the sun-drenched piece will no doubt be appreciated elsewhere — at $11.5 million, we certainly hope so.


Louis Vuitton brings rare diamonds to Dubai

Louis Vuitton brings rare diamonds to Dubai
Updated 04 March 2021

Louis Vuitton brings rare diamonds to Dubai

Louis Vuitton brings rare diamonds to Dubai

DUBAI: French luxury brand Louis Vuitton is bringing two rare diamonds for the first time in the region by showcasing them at the Dubai Mall in the UAE.

The fashion house’s display, which runs until March 8, will display the “Sewelo,” the 1,758-carat rough diamond considered the second-largest ever discovered.

Discovered in April 2019 at the Karowe mine in Botswana, the baseball-sized gem got its name after a competition among Botswana citizens, with “Sewelo” which means “rare find” in Setswana, the winning entry.

“Sewelo” means “rare find” in Setswana. (AFP)

The second stone is the “Sethunya,” which is estimated to be over a billion years old.

The 549-carat gemstone is distinguished by its purity, high color and high luster.

Visitors will also find on show pieces from the Riders of the Knights collection, which is a homage to medieval heroines.


Review: Billie Eillish’s ‘The World’s a Little Blurry’ offers an intimate portrait of a rising star

Review: Billie Eillish’s ‘The World’s a Little Blurry’ offers an intimate portrait of a rising star
Updated 04 March 2021

Review: Billie Eillish’s ‘The World’s a Little Blurry’ offers an intimate portrait of a rising star

Review: Billie Eillish’s ‘The World’s a Little Blurry’ offers an intimate portrait of a rising star

LONDON: Riveting Apple TV+ documentary follows Billie Eilish and her family during the singer’s meteoric rise to fame

It’s hard to remember a time when Billie Eilish wasn’t one of the biggest names in modern music, but Apple TV’s “The World’s a Little Blurry” documentary takes audiences back to 2018, when the teenage singer-songwriter was in the middle of recording her debut album. Still in the throes of the meteoric rise that followed her SoundCloud debut song “Ocean Eyes”, the young musician took the unusual step of allowing documentarian RJ Cutler to follow her around with a camera – from sold out shows and exhausted interviews, to tetchy conversations with her boyfriend and her driving test.

Apple TV’s “The World’s a Little Blurry” documentary takes audiences back to 2018. (Spplied)

Of course, it’s all sanctioned, so Eilish and her family are (presumably) very aware of who and what is being recorded. But in a way, such awareness actually serves to make “The World’s a Little Blurry” feel more authentic. To her credit, Eilish allows Cutler to capture her when she’s at her very best, embracing fans and beaming during her performances – as well as at her very worst, snapping at her family or storming out of a meet-and-greet. As do her family. Billie’s brother Finneas’ role in her Grammy Award-winning, critically acclaimed record is now common knowledge, and he allows the cameras to see every aspect of their creative process, arguments and all. Her parents, Maggie and Patrick, commit to the project too, allowing audiences in on their attempts to counsel their daughter in the face of such stratospheric success.

Perhaps it’s this honesty that makes “The World’s a Little Blurry” so engaging. Aside from showcasing her prodigious talent, the film also succeeds in portraying Eilish as a very human, very vulnerable young woman – one whose world-weary cynicism sometimes belies her relative youth. Not only does the movie lift the lid on a pair of incredibly talented musicians, it offers a glimpse inside the fame machine – past the glitz and the glamour, to the true heart of how isolating celebrity culture can be. When Justin Bieber and Katy Perry appear in the movie, they advise Eilish to enjoy her success – because both lament how fast the time has flown by. This remarkable film suggests that Eilish has the talent to be a fixture of the music industry for years to come, as well as the smarts to ensure she survives it.


‘It’s a film about the silence’ — Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses discusses ‘Curfew’

‘It’s a film about the silence’ — Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses discusses ‘Curfew’
Updated 04 March 2021

‘It’s a film about the silence’ — Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses discusses ‘Curfew’

‘It’s a film about the silence’ — Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses discusses ‘Curfew’
  • The Egyptian filmmaker has a history of addressing difficult subjects. In his new feature, he tackles one of his most difficult yet

DUBAI: There’s an ethos that many families around the world follow: The family’s reputation is paramount. Even the worst of events — especially the worst — must be kept secret, because the wound of public shame is greater than any wound that a horror such as abuse can inflict.

But who does that culture of secrecy protect? “Curfew,” a new film by Egyptian director Amir Ramses, is an exploration of one such secret, a taboo too difficult for most to even speak about — child abuse. 

Debuting at the Cairo International Film Festival at the end of 2020 and now streaming on OSN, it’s a film about a mother released from prison years after being locked up for killing her husband. Now free, she tries to reconnect with her daughter, the victim of crimes that she has yet to face even in her own mind. 

Ilham Shaheen plays the mother, Fatin, and Amina Khalil, plays her daughter Layla. (Supplied)

“For me, it's a film about the silence. It's a film about how something like this could happen, and everyone would prefer to be silent, to accept it, because it's a big scandal if people know about it. And yet, that’s what lets it happen,” Ramses tells Arab News. 

Ramses had noticed how, even as no one talked about it in polite company, stories of abuse would pop up in the media at a rate of about once a week — stories so disturbing that they haunted him. What fascinated him, too, was that they usually only came to light when something else unspeakable happened in their wake, such as a murder to cover up the crime. The price of silence was painfully clear. 

“It's not treated as a crime on its own, oftentimes. I think the way the film connects the dots on the crime might be irritating for a society that doesn't want to hear about it, or that just wants to pretend that everything's OK, that it doesn't happen that much. They would rather pretend it doesn't exist,” says Ramses.

The film debuted at the Cairo International Film Festival at the end of 2020 and now streaming on OSN. (Getty)

He deliberately set the story during the 2013 curfews of a Cairo in turmoil, making the situation as claustrophobic as possible — there is nowhere to escape from the secrets that a family has kept for the sake of honor and reputation. 

But the film focuses not so much on the crime itself as it does on whether or not the characters, — anchored by committed performances from its leads Ilham Shaheen, who plays the mother, Fatin, and Amina Khalil, who plays her daughter Layla — can find a way to face the truth, and whether good can prevail between characters pulled apart by the horrors of the past. 

“The effect of the crime on the humans living it is the most important part,” Ramses says. “I mean, the film is based on the abuse case. But it's really a film about Layla and Fatin. It's about two people learning to love, tolerate, trust and forgive each other. It's about the ability of a daughter to forgive her mother and love again.”

Ramses has spent much of his career tackling subject matter that others shy away from. In 2012, he directed “Jews of Egypt,” a documentary that reverberated around the world, sparking controversy and debate both in Egypt and far from its borders. 

Ramses has spent much of his career tackling subject matter that others shy away from. (Supplied)

While he might be comfortable being seen as a provocateur, he has long felt uncomfortable being seen as anything close to a moralist. Ramses doesn’t want to make films that are intended to instigate social change. He wants to make art. It’s a balance that was difficult to maintain in a film as loaded as “Curfew.”

“I used to be afraid of that aspect of features, actually. Films becoming a social tool is something that always scared me,” he says. “It diminishes the role of art, in my opinion. I always thought that if your film serves only as a social tool, it's a direct, boring propaganda film, in a way. But when you make a film as you wish, and it still has that aspect, I think it's fulfilling.” 

That is part of the reason that Ramses made “Jews of Egypt” as a documentary, as he believes  they can operate as a message first and foremost. 

“I was too afraid to make ‘Jews of Egypt’ into a narrative film. I thought the film did need to have a social impact, so I couldn’t escape it. The social impact of this film (was in) bringing tolerance back towards Egyptian Jews. I thought, ‘OK. If I make a narrative about it, it will create an impact. But it would be a very silly movie, with a lot of long, direct speeches.’ That's why I decided to make it into a documentary.”

Ramses has long been focused on films as an artform. (Supplied)

Even after its release, Ramses is still grappling with the role “Curfew” should play in Egypt and beyond. He is fascinated to see how people react to the film on a social level while maintaining that, first and foremost, it was not made with that intention.

He is not shouting from the rooftops about it, but an hour into our conversation he admits that the film has already changed at least one life — that of someone who attended an early screening.

“In one of the test screenings, I had someone who had (experienced) a similar incident. After the movie they got into that mood and went home to have a family discussion about it. Again, that's not the role of the film. That's not what films are made for. But that's also intriguing to know that it can do that sometimes,” says Ramses. 

Even after its release, Ramses is still grappling with the role “Curfew” should play in Egypt and beyond. (Supplied)

Ramses has long been focused on films as an artform, first falling in love with the medium at the age of 10 watching the films of legendary Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine, who made a young Ramses aware that films could not only be the blockbuster popcorn fare he’d enjoyed growing up, such as “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars,” but could be something more, a deeper exploration of the human condition.

It’s a journey that led to him not only becoming a filmmaker, but also one of Egypt’s premiere film connoisseurs. Ramses has served as the artistic director of the El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt since its inception in 2017, a continuation of the job he was doing out of his home since he was a teenager, showing people in Egypt movies from Europe and Asia, alongside the under-appreciated greats of Egypt itself (of which there are many he still feels don’t get enough respect). 

With “Curfew,” Ramses has made a film that he hopes Egyptian cinephiles screen for their friends someday the same way that he did for his. His dream, ultimately, is to instill in future generations the same passion that has driven him his entire life. 

“I've always been trying to make films that would survive, that wouldn't be just about the time of the release,” he says. “I hope it continues.”


‘Namaste Wahala’: A cross-cultural effort misfires in this Nigerian-Indian flick on Netflix

‘Namaste Wahala’: A cross-cultural effort misfires in this Nigerian-Indian flick on Netflix
Updated 04 March 2021

‘Namaste Wahala’: A cross-cultural effort misfires in this Nigerian-Indian flick on Netflix

‘Namaste Wahala’: A cross-cultural effort misfires in this Nigerian-Indian flick on Netflix

CHENNAI: It is rare to find an Indian-Nigerian collaboration in cinema, and “Namaste Wahala,” now playing on Netflix, scores points for its novelty factor. But beyond this, the film has little to offer, and it is such a disappointment. The two countries have been in a neck-and-neck race, producing close to 2000 titles each year, and I expected some kind of quality, given their long experience in moviemaking. But director Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, a hotelier-turned-filmmaker living in Lagos, does not go beyond a cliched love story, and her passion for watching television serials (presumably Indian) leaves its mark all over the narrative. Ahuja falls back on lazy writing, and the result is a plot riddled with coincidences — a ploy adopted ever so often by Indian films to push the story forward.

Raj (Ruslaan Mumtaz) is an Indian investment banker. (YouTube)

In an early scene, we see Didi (Ini Dima-Okojie), a Nigerian NGO lawyer, brush past an Indian investment banker, Raj (Ruslaan Mumtaz), while she is out jogging on the beach. It is love at first sight for the two (cue the eyerolls). Didi’s dad (Richard Mofe-Damijo), a lawyer who runs a large firm, wants his daughter to follow in his footsteps and carry forward his legacy, as he never tires of repeating. Didi, however, has other plans: She works for victimized women and thinks this is far nobler than to be part of her father’s empire, in which everything goes. 

Things get complicated with the arrival of Raj’s overly possessive mother (Sujata Sehgal), which is marked by an unbelievably ridiculous confrontation between her and the cabbie who drives her from the airport to her son’s home. She will not hear of her only child marrying a woman whose culture is at odds with Indian ways! Meanwhile, Didi’s old man hates Raj because the banker interrupts the plans he so carefully laid out for his daughter.

“Namaste Wahala” is now playing on Netflix. (YouTube)

Must we say anything more about a collaborative effort that misfires from the word ‘go’? The songs, including a pop number, ‘I Don’t Wanna Let You Go,’ are terribly tacky. “Namaste Wahala” rolls on with scenes featuring the kind of drama that modern cinema has given up on — yes, even in notoriously melodramatic Bollywood. Ahuja weaves in a legal tussle between father and daughter over a rape victim, but this hardly uplifts a story whose characters are cartoonish, and the cultural divide provides more for laughter rather than any serious introspection.