Syrian documentary ‘For Sama’ sweeps British Independent Film Awards

"For Sama" won the top prize at the 2019 British Independent Film Awards. Supplied
Updated 03 December 2019

Syrian documentary ‘For Sama’ sweeps British Independent Film Awards

  • The Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts directed documentary took home four prizes at the annual awards ceremony
  • It beat out the acclaimed Charles Dickens-inspired movie, “The Personal History of David Copperfield" for the top prize

DUBAI: Congratulations are in order for Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad Al-Khateab and Edward Watts, who took home the top prize — Best Film — at the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA) on Sunday for their profoundly moving documentary “For Sama.”

The film beat out a lineup of acclaimed features, including Armando Ianucci's Charles Dickens-inspired movie, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” starring Dev Patel, Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvenir,” the 2018 musical drama “Wild Rose” and Mark Jenkin’s feature “Bait.”

“So happy and honored to receive a great recognition of three awards,” wrote Al-Khateab on her official Twitter account.

The moving documentary, which tells the story of a young mother's experience of the Syrian civil war, swept the evening, also winning the Best Director, Best Documentary and Best Editing awards.

Sama, for whom the film is named, is the name of Al-Khateab and her husband Hamza’s young daughter, who was born during Aleppo’s siege and lived through it for the first year of her life before the three of them were forced to flee. 

Al-Khateab first began to publish footage to show the world what was happening in Aleppo, before starting work with Channel 4 News in the UK in 2015.

“When I left (Syria), (Channel 4) asked me, ‘Do you have more footage of what you did for the news?’ I told them I had 12 hard drives worth of footage. They asked me to edit, and so I sat with (co-director) Edward Watts, and we watched everything, and thought about how we could do this. It was a very long process with multiple parties,” Al-Khateab previously shared with Arab News.

Unflinching in its footage, the documentary, which was two years in the making, features often-horrifying visuals of the people of Aleppo mortally wounded, in distress, dead and dying.

Al-Khateab and her collaborators constantly grappled with the ethics of screening such disturbing images. Ultimately, they felt it was too important not to show.

“What you see in the film is really a fraction of what Al-Khateab filmed and what happened in Aleppo,” Watts said to Arab News.

The BIFA’s aren’t the only awards ceremony to recognize the unignorable impact of the Syrian war portrait. Memorably, it took home the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival 2019. 


Newly opened concept boutique shines spotlight on Arab brands

Updated 15 July 2020

Newly opened concept boutique shines spotlight on Arab brands

  • Fashion talent from across the Arab world congregates under one roof at Gigi in Dubai’s new Galleria Mall Al-Barsha

DUBAI: Customers stepping inside Gigi, an expansive new concept store in Dubai’s Galleria Mall Al-Barsha, will be hard-pressed not to be instantly mesmerized.

A series of interlocking spaces with elegant golden mesh separating screens showcase some of the Middle East’s most prominent up-and-coming fashion, jewelry, and design brands.

The boutique also hosts a Home Bakery coffee bar, an art exhibition area, workshops, fashion presentations, and a current display of artworks by the city’s Ayyam Gallery.

The boutique also hosts a current display of artworks by the city’s Ayyam Gallery. Supplied

Gigi had originally planned to launch in March, but due to the introduction of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) precautionary measures in the UAE, the store’s official opening had to wait until the end of May. Even then, it took place under strict health and safety protocols with an option for at-home personal shopping, although it is now open at regular operating hours.

“I really believe in the talent behind the designers and brands from our region and with the launch of Gigi, wanted to offer them a stage where their collections will always be the stars,” founder, Zeina Ladki, told Arab News.

“It’s a place where they can express their creativity and garner a stronger voice beyond the Middle East.”

Ladki, who has extensive knowledge of the region’s fashion scene having previously worked at Al-Tayer as a buyer, believes that supporting Middle Eastern fashion brands is a way to further grow the market.

Shoppers can also find Culti's aromatic oils at the boutique. Supplied

Featured brands in fashion, jewelry, beauty, art, and interior design include ready-to-wear labels such as Mrs. Keepa, Jessica K, Rania’s Corner, Zayan the Label, Free Being, Cocobum, Simply Sue, Kaftish Kaftans, Posearazzi, Collage by Fashion Exclusive that includes Iam Mai, Beige, and Twisted Roots.

Iconic jewelry brands include Bil Arabi, Dina J., Gendr, Atelier Nawbar, Lina Rai, and Ghada El-Sokkari.

“I was contracted by (H&H Investment and Development) to curate a concept store that is focused on local talents in the region. We wanted it to go beyond fashion and include a space for events and an espresso bar,” Ladki said.

Everything was set for the opening party in March until the COVID-19 outbreak. “We decided that we would launch no matter what even if the situation is as is, and we did it, of course with precautions,” she added.

Ladki hopes to open the store’s activation space, an area set to host a wide variety of fashion, art, and design events, next week.

Gigi is planning a full calendar of events comprising workshops and tutorials spanning a diverse range of topics on fashion, beauty, art, and design. There is also a photography wall by Dubai-based photographer, Ali Bin Thalith, who is well-known for his underwater photography.

Beyond a retail outlet, Gigi offers a space for creative collaboration and community development. “Our concept allows brands to operate individually under their own unique identity but be supported by one collaborative creative effort, Gigi,” said Miltos Bossinis, CEO of H&H Investment and Development.

Gigi, the concept’s name, is an easy, fun, and trendy name to remember, said Ladki, who added: “Gigi is a persona that can be anything and go anywhere; it’s a free-spirited woman.”

Sarah’s Bag is among the brands sold at the new boutique. Supplied

A quick walk around Gigi, and visitors will also notice a variety of objects and furniture pieces by regional designers, including Khalid Shafar, Talata, and multi-brand lifestyle concept Cities. There is also a collection of unconventional handbag brands and accessories, including PHOXX, Sarah’s Bag, SOA bags, and Chato Accessories.

Gigi even had Lebanese fashion designer, Lama Jouni, design outfits for the store’s staff.

During the difficult economic times created by the COVID-19 pandemic, regional designers need more support than ever. Ladki plans to establish a “formula for young designers needing exposure to come and show their collections at Gigi from two to three weeks or even on a monthly basis.”

Atelier Nawbar jewelry. Supplied

Nadine Kanso, an artist and founder of Bil Arabi jewelry, said: “It’s beautiful to be here. It’s also a great exercise for us to get to know our clients in a shared space and also see if in the future we want to have our own standalone boutique.”

Egyptian-French designer, Mariam Yehia, who is also the founder of ready-to-wear brand Mrs. Keepa that has standalone stores in Nakheel Mall and Dubai Design District, said: “Every one of our stores has its own story and clientele but Gigi allows us to better access local clientele.

“I have Saudi and Kuwaiti customers and clients from all of the MENA region and also e-commerce from the European and American market, but I’ve never had many clients from the Emirati market and Gigi is the perfect platform for this.”