Poignant picture of Lebanese tailor wins prestigious photography award

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Zeinab Khalifeh’s award-winning ‘Am Hasan’ photograph. (Supplied)
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Zeinab Khalifeh, a nurse by profession, was declared winner of ‘Moments’ with her Am Hasan photo, above. (Supplied)
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Wafa Abdulmajeed, a student from Oman, won in the children’s category of the competition. (Supplied)
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Wafa Abdulmajeed from Oman poses with her winning photo of a shopkeeper in Muscat’s Mutrah Souq. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Poignant picture of Lebanese tailor wins prestigious photography award

  • Zeinab Khalifeh, a nurse by profession, declared winner of ‘Moments’ at a ceremony in Dubai
  • Organized by National Geographic Abu Dhabi, the competition attracted over 50,000 entries

DUBAI: People often say a picture is worth a thousand words. For Zeinab Khalifeh, a 26-year-old nurse in Lebanon, a photo she took of a tailor and his sewing machine in an old souq in Sidon has proved to be worth a lot more than a thousand words.
At a ceremony on Tuesday at the Youth Hub in Emirates Towers in Dubai, Khalifeh was named one of the two winners of the ninth edition of “Moments,” the Arab world’s prestigious annual photography competition.
Organized by National Geographic Abu Dhabi (NGAD) and Almarai, the competition, which seeks to nurture the talents of aspiring regional photographers, received over 50,000 entries. The winning ones were selected from a shortlist of 90 photos.
Khalifeh, who won in the adult category of the competition, said she saw photography as a way to put the many “forgotten people and places” in her community in focus.
She described the elderly man in the photo as “Am Hasan,” or “Uncle Hasan,” a tailor who plied his trade in the Sidon souq for over 40 years before passing away a few months ago.
Am Hassan, whose age could not be confirmed, was unable to recognize his family members in his final months, but would repeatedly talk about his sewing machine, according to Khalifeh.
“My picture portrays one moment in his 40 years in the souq. Forty years of hope and sadness that he shared with his sewing machine,” Khalifeh told Arab News.
Khalifeh, a self-taught photographer, shot the tailor’s portrait during one of her many trips to the souq, where she often went to practice photography and mingle with the local people.
Recalling how photography became a hobby, Khalifeh said she bought her first camera using her first paycheck. She began to dabble in photography at the age of 21, snapping away on the streets she grew up in.
She read books, watched videos and attended workshops on photography to improve her technical skills and to better understand the art.
“To me, photography is about building a pure connection with people and trying to portray it in one moment,” Khalifeh said.
“I feel like my nursing skills have helped me build this connection with people. Even though I am talking about two different fields, medicine and art, somehow they are connected.”
Also at Tuesday’s ceremony in Dubai, Wafa Abdulmajeed, a 17-year-old-high-school student in Oman, was declared the winner in the children’s category of the “Moments” competition.
Her winning photograph showed a shopkeeper in Muscat’s Mutrah Souq, surrounded by precious stones, rosary beads and traditional daggers.
While visiting the souq with her mother earlier this year, Abdulmajeed snapped the photo of the shopkeeper in a moment of quiet reflection.
Speaking to Arab News, Abdulmajeed said her passion for photography began at a young age and developed after meeting her role model, photographer Steve McCurry, best known for his portrait of the “Afghan Girl.”
“I had only dreamt of meeting him. And when I did, his advice was ‘Go for it’,” she said.
“After that day, I have been taking photos not only during family gatherings but of streets and different aspects of society.”
Abdulmajeed said she hoped to study medicine in university, but intended to keep improving her photography skills.
While the winning entries will be printed in the National Geographic magazine’s Arabic edition, the winners will receive $5,000 worth of photography equipment. They will also be invited to join a 10-day expedition trip worth $10,000, where they will be mentored by National Geographic’s expert photographers.

Five Arab films that have won international acclaim

Updated 06 December 2019

Five Arab films that have won international acclaim

  • Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s 'The Perfect Candidate' is in the shortlist for an Oscar
  • A number of Arab productions are in the race for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

CAIRO: The Oscars are just around the corner, and in January the shortlist for the coveted Best Foreign Language Film award will be confirmed.

Several titles from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been submitted for consideration, including Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “The Perfect Candidate.”

The entry, which tells the story of a Saudi doctor who takes on her country’s patriarchal system by running in municipal elections, is particularly significant as it is the Kingdom’s first Academy Award submission following the ban on theaters being lifted in 2017.

It is also the first to be supported by the Saudi Film Council, an organization launched at Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

Here is a look at other recent Arab titles that have achieved international acclaim, and why they are worth watching.


1. WADJDA — Saudi Arabia

“The Perfect Candidate” is not the first of Al-Mansour’s films to be submitted to the Oscars. Her critically acclaimed drama “Wadjda” became the first title to be submitted by the Kingdom in 2013 for the 86th Academy Awards. It marked the debut of a Saudi female filmmaker, with the film shot entirely in the Kingdom.

The story of a 10-year-old Wadjda, and her desire to buy a bicycle to race against a male friend, sheds light on traditions and women’s rights.

In an article for The Guardian newspaper, film critic Henry Barnes described “Wadjda” as a message that Al-Mansour wrapped “inside a love letter to her people.”


2. ESHTEBAK — Egypt

The Egyptian film industry has a good track record when it comes to titles receiving global acclaim, one of the most recent being “Eshtebak” (“Clash”), by director Mohamed Diab.

Set in a police van during a period of street protests and unrest in 2013, the film chronicles a time of political and social instability in the country, where a clash of ideologies and personalities unfolds between communities.

 Egyptian director Mohamed Diab's “Eshtebak” (“Clash”). (Supplied)

The resulting tensions and dilemmas are acted out by the people trapped in the van.

“Eshtebak” was selected as the opening film for the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and screened internationally across Europe, and in Brazil and China.

The film was publicly endorsed by actor Tom Hanks in a letter to the director: “Your film will go to great lengths to enlighten many. Audiences will see that humanity is a fragile community, but we are all in ‘this’ together.”


3. AL-JANNA AL-AAN — Palestine

A Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film — and nominated in the same category at the 78th Academy Awards — “Paradise Now” was described by its Palestinian director, Hany Abu-Assad, as “an artistic point of view of the political issue.”

The film digs deep into the human aspects of the Palestinian conflict, following the fictional story of two friends recruited by a terrorist group to become suicide bombers in Tel Aviv.

Palestinan director Hany Abu-Assad's “Al-Janna Al-Aan" (Supplied)

Armed with explosives, they attempt to cross into Israel, but are pursued by border guards and separated.

When they are reunited, one character decides against carrying out the bombing, and tries to convince his friend to quit as well.

“Paradise Now” was not Abu-Assad’s only Academy Award nomination. His film “Omar,” which won the Muhr awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival, was also shortlisted for the same category at the 2014 Oscars.



4. CAFARNAUM — Lebanon

Directed by celebrated Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, “Capernaum” depicts the complicated life of undocumented migrants, refugees and workers in Lebanon through the story of 12-year old Zain, who lives in the slums of Beirut.

The film generated $68 million at the box office worldwide, more than 17 times its production budget, becoming the highest-grossing Middle Eastern and Arabic movie of all time.

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki's “Cafarnaum" (Supplied)

“Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival — it received a solid 15-minute standing ovation after its screening there — and was shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards.

Labaki’s other productions include “Caramel” and “Where Do We Go Now?”


5. THEEB — Jordan

This drama by Naji Abu Nowar starred non-professional Bedouin actors and focuses on events unfolding in the Wadi Rum desert in southern Jordan during World War I.

Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar's “Theeb" (Supplied)

In 2016, “Theeb” won internationally recognition by becoming the first Jordanian nomination to make it to the shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.

It was also nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 69th British Academy Film Awards, and won the Best Director award at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.


• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.