Telling a different story: Five years of Reel Palestine

Telling a different story: Five years of Reel Palestine
Dana Al-Sadek, one of the founders of Reel Palestine in Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 10 January 2019

Telling a different story: Five years of Reel Palestine

Telling a different story: Five years of Reel Palestine
  • Dana Al-Sadek, one of the founders of Reel Palestine in Dubai talks about the pop film festival
  • The fifth edition of Reel Palestine takes place in Dubai from January 18-26

DUBAI: Some time in the summer of 2014, having spent days watching news coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict, Dana Al-Sadek made a decision.
“I knew that there was more to be celebrated in terms of Palestinian culture than just seeing war all the time,” she tells Arab News. “At that time, I was already working on film programming in my day job, so I thought why not pool my resources together to try and organize a series of screenings of Palestinian movies.”
Through mutual friends, Al-Sadek was connected to a couple of like-minded women, Noora Husseini and Nadia Rouchdy. The three met, brainstormed some ideas, and came up with a pop-up film festival they called Reel Palestine with the aim, according to the website, “of showing Palestinian culture and tenacity through film, submerging viewers in the beautiful, difficult, emotional, and inspirational moments that occur during occupation.”

The fifth edition of Reel Palestine takes place in Dubai from January 18-26. Al-Sadek seems slightly — and pleasantly — surprised that it’s come this far. The 2019 edition will be the first to be ticketed.
“It’s really grown organically,” she says. “We never really envisaged it being ticketed, but things have been changing as we’ve grown. We need to do in order to cover our costs and be sustainable. Before we used to try and get film fees waived, but that’s very hard right now, and at the same time we really want to be able to support filmmakers and be able to pay them royalty fees. And we also want to show the films in the best quality set up possible, with the best-quality projection.”
The festival’s long-term partner, Cinema Akil, recently opened its permanent premises in Al Serkal Avenue — becoming the region’s first arthouse cinema. So it was an obvious choice for this month’s screenings. The festival will also include a Palestinian arts and crafts market in Al Serkal.
Another sign of Reel Palestine’s growth is that Al-Sadek says they now get hopeful filmmakers emailing submissions to them on a regular basis — in addition to the research the team does themselves to find movies to screen.
While the festival may have grown significantly in stature since its small-scale debut, the mission has remained consistent.




A still from the film 'The Tower.' (Supplied)

“The mission was always to show Palestinian stories — narratives; to show life under occupation,” Al-Sadek says. “But also to show the beauty and rich heritage to give people a view of more than what we see on the news.
“It’s a country rich in history. There’s been cinema there for a very long time. There’s been a lot of Palestinian films made, pre-1942 and 1948. It’s always been there. It’s a country that has so much history. It’s an important region.”
Al-Sadek stresses that the festival has a cultural, rather than political, agenda, but recognizes that a large portion of art — of any kind — created in or about Palestine has a political element.
“The occupation is ongoing, and there’s a need to voice that. Land has been confiscated, our landscape’s changing, demographically everything’s changing, so it’s about not forgetting our history and identity. Not to forget the people there, who can’t even leave — and if they do get a chance to leave, maybe they can’t come back,” she says. “Of course, there’s a huge diaspora as well, and they can relate to the films. A lot of the topics are, unfortunately, not just related to Palestinians right now. They’re related to refugees from all over the world.
“Obviously there’s a need,” she continues. “There’s a need to speak out about oppression, the occupation, injustice, and people feel solidarity with that. That’s why there’s support for these sort of festivals.”
That support — for festivals and for the Palestinian cause in general — has been increasing internationally over the past decade or so, and this year, Al-Sadek notes (although she says it’s a coincidence rather than a conscious decision on her team’s part), many of the documentaries included in the festival’s bill are directed by non-Arabs. “It’s interesting. They’re fascinated by what’s happening and think it’s a story that needs to be told.”




An image from the film ' Naila and the Uprising.' (Supplied)

As they do every year, Al-Sadek and her co-organizers have tried to make sure there’s a wide range of stories included, covering different aspects of Palestinian life.
“We try to make sure there’s variety and we also try to add conceptual art films as well. For example, we have a documentary called ‘White Oil,’ which was done by a photography professor based in the UK. It’s beautiful imagery, and it’s more conceptual than narrative. It doesn’t have much voiceover. It’s more about the imagery giving you a sense of the story.
“We’re covering topics such as female empowerment,” she continues. “We have ‘What Walaa Wants,’ which is a documentary about a woman who wants to join the Palestinian Security Forces. We have ‘Naila and the Uprising,’ which is a story about a very strong lady who tried to stand up for (the right to self-determination).”
There are films, too, about joy, celebration and release under occupation. “In one of the documentary’s we’re screening, called ‘WALL,’ they cover the nightlife scene and how it was a place where people would forget the chaos and just be together, regardless of which side they were on or which area they were coming from,” Al-Sadek says. “And it shows you how one terrorist attack in a club kind of triggered the formation of the wall.




A still from the film 'White Oil.' (Supplied)

“Last year we screened a film called ‘Beneath the Earth,’ which is going to be made into a full-length feature about the music scenes within Palestine, and once we screened a film about mystical folklore across Palestine and it showed the different religions that had formed there and their music. There are so many different communities there and they have their different traditions as well.”
This year, there’s also a ‘family friendly’ movie showing, she adds. “The Tower,” by Norwegian filmmaker Mats Grorud, is an animated feature about one of the largest refugee camps in Lebanon. Screenings will be held during the daytime so that children can attend.
For all its admirable ambitions of spreading awareness of Palestinian heritage and of life under occupation, Reel Palestine still has a very personal benefit for Al-Sadek — one that will probably resonate with many visitors to the festival.
“I’ve never been to Palestine, and neither has my dad,” she explains. “I’m the second-generation to be born outside of Palestine, and I felt like I didn’t really know much about my heritage — whether that be food, accents, (colloquial) language and sayings, different dialects… I wasn’t aware of a lot of these things. And I’ve been able to learn about them through films.”
Five years on, she continues to learn.


Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi to explore new theme amid COVID-19 setbacks

The virtual event will take place from Marcg 8-10. Supplied

DUBAI: “The Cultural Economy and the Economy of Culture” is the theme of the upcoming digital-only Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, set to take place from March 8-10. 

The fourth edition of the virtual forum, which will be open to the public, will bring together cultural leaders, practitioners and experts from the fields of art, heritage, museums, media and technology to generate new strategies and thinking, and identify ways in which culture can transform societies and communities worldwide.

There will also be a curated selection of artist talks, film screenings and performances all taking place during the summit.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the culture and creative industries were one of the fastest growing sectors in the world economy. But the sector was one of the hardest struck by COVID-19.

Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, chairman of DCT Abu Dhabi, in a statement” “The global challenges of the past year have truly demonstrated the vital power of culture to improve our personal and collective wellbeing. Yet, cultural institutions worldwide continue to struggle to achieve funding structures to continue operating. It is now more important than ever to shed light on the critical role that the culture sector plays as an essential driver of sustainable economic and social development.

“We are proud to collaborate with top global cultural partners to convene renowned professionals from a variety of fields, ensuring the level and breadth of expertise needed for fruitful discussions and effective, goal-oriented outcomes.”


TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied
Updated 24 February 2021

TV wildlife star Robert Irwin on keeping dad’s legacy alive as show set to launch in Middle East

Robert Irwin pictured with a tiger cub at the Australia Zoo. Supplied

DUBAI: The family of the late Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin, known as The Crocodile Hunter, has been keeping the television personality’s legacy alive.

His wife Terri and their children Robert and Bindi run the Australia Zoo and their work there is featured in the popular reality TV series, “Crikey! It’s the Irwins.”

Irwin died in 2006 after receiving a stingray injury in a freak accident, but his family has followed in his footsteps by taking care of animals from around the world.

And now season one of their hit TV show has launched on discovery+ via Starzplay in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Irwin family is passionate about nature and Terri, Robert, and Bindi have dedicated their lives to promoting wildlife conservation and inspiring the next generation of young people to take an active part in protecting and preserving the natural world.

“Dad’s passion and enthusiasm and love for wildlife was just absolutely contagious,” Robert, 17, told Arab News.

“That’s why I am so passionate about wildlife conservation. It’s hard not to be passionate about wildlife when you had a dad like mine. So, I definitely think it is a really big honor to get to continue that legacy.”

Robert Irwin photographed with his mother Terri Irwin and his sister Bindi Irwin. Supplied

Growing up at the Australia Zoo, Irwin’s son has been surrounded by animals for as long as he can remember. “When I was young, my parents nicknamed me The Moth Hunter. I was just super transfixed with chasing and catching moths,” he said.

Now in his late teens, the wildlife activist and award-winning photographer is responsible for a string of diverse and equally important tasks that include traveling around the globe to advocate for conservation, feed saltwater crocodiles, and check up on the zoo’s injured koalas at the family’s wildlife hospital.

“Life in the Australia Zoo is absolutely 100 miles an hour every single day,” he added.

When the Irwin family originally opened the Australia Zoo, it was a small reptile park, but it has since grown into a vast conservation area.

“We’ve really broadened our conservation reach, helping to support wildlife protection programs all over the world. We’ve secured over half-a-million acres of natural habitat and it’s become a really big, big program and a big hub for conservation,” Robert said.

When the family was forced to shut down the zoo for 78 days due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a change in focus was required.

Supplied.

“The pandemic had a really big effect on what we do here in Australia. We had to close our doors for the first time in 50 years. It was a really challenging and very stressful time for all of us, my whole family and for our whole routine.

“We had about an $80,000 a week food bill just to feed our animals alone. And, of course, no money coming in with no patrons. And so, it was really tough for a while there,” he added.

With the green light from the Australian government, the family was able to re-open the zoo’s gates with COVID-19 health and safety restrictions in place.

“We’ve now got social distancing signs everywhere and we have had to change our wildlife experiences to make sure everything is completely COVID-19 safe. But still, when people come into the Australia Zoo, they can still have a really fun and exciting day. You can still cuddle with koalas and rhinos – you just can’t cuddle with each other,” he said.

In addition to re-opening the wildlife sanctuary, the family is looking forward to welcoming the arrival of Bindi and her pro wakeboarder husband Chandler Powell’s first child, a baby girl.

Bindi, 22, announced her pregnancy to the world in January by recreating a maternity throwback photo her parents posed for while they were expecting Robert. Her family discovered she was expecting in an equally special way.

Supplied.

“After she called my mom and I and told us she was pregnant, Bindi wanted to share the news with the rest of the family and team. We were actually on our annual crocodile research expedition in remote bushland in northern Queensland, which is a three-day drive from the zoo and many kilometers away from any sort of civilization,” her brother said.

“We were sitting around a fire and Bindi just got up and told everyone about this exciting news. It felt very poignant because where we were is actually where dad used to catch crocodiles. It was his favorite place in the world, so it was very special.

“I just want this little girl to have the most fun, awesome, exciting life. Growing up in a zoo, it’s going to be pretty hectic. And I don’t know if she is ready for what’s about to come, but I want to get her in there, wrestling crocodiles and wrangling snakes and doing all the awesome things that we get to do. I might have to wait until she’s a little bit older, maybe until she can walk,” he added.


Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris
Updated 24 February 2021

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

Egyptian film ‘One Night Stand’ to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris

DUBAI: Egyptian short film “One Night Stand” is set to screen at the Louvre Museum in Paris on Wednesday.

The screening will be part of the “Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” event, which started on Feb 23, that explores contemporary art and new movies.

“One Night Stand” is directed by Palestinian filmmaker Nour Abed and Egyptian director and producer Mark Lotfy.

The film is based on the directors’ real-life encounter in Beirut with a European man who was about to join the Kurdish militia to fight Daesh in Syria. 

The conversation was secretly recorded on a mobile phone and serves as the script for animated modeled situations and performative reconstructions of that night. 

“Les Rencontres Internationales Paris” will be streamed online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Visitors can watch the livestream, that will also feature films, hosts discussions and performances, here


Hillary Clinton, Louise Penny to publish political thriller

Hillary Clinton, Louise Penny to publish political thriller
Updated 24 February 2021

Hillary Clinton, Louise Penny to publish political thriller

Hillary Clinton, Louise Penny to publish political thriller

DUBAI: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to publish a suspense thriller with Canadian author Louise Penny in October, publishers Simon & Schuster and St. Martin’s Press said Tuesday.

“State of Terror” will hit bookshelves on Oct. 12, the publishers said, and will tell the story of a novice secretary of state serving in the administration of her political rival as a “series of terrorist attacks throws the global order into disarray.”

Although the book’s blurb makes no explicit mention of former US President Donald Trump, whose “America First” policy reined in the United States’ global leadership role, the book is set “after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage.”

Clinton has recently been digging deeper into the entertainment industry. Just last month, her new production company, HiddenLight Productions, acquired the adaptation rights of the Kurdish drama series “The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice.”


Tahar Rahim recounts ‘beautiful’ of Golden Globe-nominated role

Tahar Rahim stars in ‘The Mauritanian.’ AFP
Updated 23 February 2021

Tahar Rahim recounts ‘beautiful’ of Golden Globe-nominated role

Tahar Rahim stars in ‘The Mauritanian.’ AFP

LOS ANGELES: French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim is paving the way for Arab talent with his Golden Globe nominated performance in “The Mauritanian.” Even alongside legendary actor and fellow nominee Jody Foster, Rahim’s portrayal of former Guantánamo Bay detainee Mohamedou Salahi is the centerpiece of the film and has landed him in the running for the best actor award. 

“It was such a beautiful part,” Rahim told Arab News. “It was like I was blown away and when I met him I was like yeah I got a big responsibility to put him on screen. Because it's more than a movie to him. It's his story.”

Tahar Rahim in 'The Mauritanian.' Supplied

“The Mauritanian” is based on Salahi’s memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” which chronicles his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba due to his suspected ties to Al-Qaeda. The film follows the story of his defense attorney, her associate and a military prosecutor who uncover a far-reaching conspiracy while investigating his case. 

“Here’s a guy who was abducted from his home… was taken away by a foreign government, subjected to torture — physical, psychological, sexual torture — and was kept from his family from anyone he knew for 15 years. And yet he managed to get through all of that. He was not broken,” Foster, who plays defense attorney Nancy Hollander, told Arab News. 

There are high hopes that Rahim’s nomination marks another step in the right direction for Hollywood’s changing relationship with Arab roles and performers. To him this film was not only a great role, but a responsibility to tell Mohamedou’s story. 

“If we talk about the way (Arab) actors are portrayed usually, it’s kind of a new way to show them like very, very human,” Rahim said. “It's beyond the fact that he is innocent or guilty whether — even if I think he’s innocent in his case, whatever. It’s beyond that. It’s to show a different face (of) these people.”

Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the film also stars actors Shailene Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch.