DUBAI: After years of shuttered cinemas and a languishing local film industry, Sudanese director Amjad Abu Alala’s debut feature film, “You will die at 20,” is shaking things up both at home and across the world.
Mounted with almost ethereal sensitivity with color tones of the Sudanese landscape, the movie explores the dilemma of a family whose child may not live beyond 20, in a land where blind beliefs overwhelm logic and reason.
Abu Alala spoke to Arab News about his $700,000 film, which premiered at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, winning the Lion of the Future Award, and also screened at the El-Gouna Film Festival, where it clinched the Golden Star for best narrative feature.
“We knew while making the film that it was a big project,” Abu Alala said. “We met very important producers and everyone was always excited about the idea and the film, so we kind of expected the success, but it was more than what we expected.”
The director, who was born and raised in Dubai, was in search of a story that not only the Sudanese people would relate to, but the whole world. After screening the movie at four festivals in India, he said: “Indian producers are now asking for the rights to the story to remake it.”
It was “coincidence” that the movie was shot during the revolution in Sudan, and among the challenges the crew faced was “taking permission from the government to shoot and to fly (the crew and the equipment) from France, Egypt, and Lebanon to Sudan.”
The moviemakers flew in four tons of equipment from Cairo. “There was no cinema in Sudan, so we faced (challenges) building the industry from scratch to do one shot,” Abu Alala said.
Under former leader Omar Al-Bashir, many cinemas were closed and the local film industry was severely hampered by a US trade embargo and a general lack of freedom in filmmaking.
The movie, which was first released in Tunisian cinemas, is now showing at Cinema Akil in Dubai until Jan. 17. In February, it will be released in French cinemas and will soon be screened in Serbia, Switzerland, London, and, of course, Sudan.
Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti helps ink new golden age for Arabic calligraphy
In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to Iraqi artist Taha Al-Hiti to get his take on the unique art form
Updated 25 min 29 sec ago
LONDON: Arabic calligraphy has become a very progressive and sought-after form of art, according to renowned artist Taha Al-Hiti.
In celebration of 2020 being the Year of Arabic Calligraphy in Saudi Arabia, Arab News spoke to the Iraqi artist to get his take on the unique art.
He pointed out that Arabic letters and their forms were very distinctive in the way they were shaped.
“I have found a relationship between all the elements of the letter, which I later found out were linked to the human body and the golden section and all these proportions of beauty, which have just enchanted my eyes since a very young age,” he said.
Arabic letters, he added, were designed to emulate the human body, animals and nature in general. The “golden section” (also referred to as the golden ratio or mean) appears in geometry, art, architecture and other fields that are designed to make some of the most beautiful shapes.
Several renowned buildings and artworks apply the golden ratio, such as the Parthenon in Greece, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” and the “Mona Lisa,” Salvador Dali’s “The Sacrament of the Last Supper,” as well as UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia and Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Iran, among others.
Al-Hiti noted that Arabic letters had their own components of the human body and were “based on a very organic way of building.” They are referred to as either “the chin, neck, body, or chest of the letter,” and so on and were also grouped into families.
“For example, the letter Alif (or A in English) in calligraphy is written in a straight, vertical line. But in Arabic calligraphy, it is a straight line leaning slightly forward with a chest that’s protruded forward and the lower part is going backwards, just like the human posture,” he said.
Other examples are the letter Ein (or Aa in English) which takes the form of the eyebrow (or Hajjib in Arabic) and the letter Hha and Kha and Jeem (H, Kh, and J) which are from the same family and are shaped like an ear of a horse.
A graduate of architecture from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, Al-Hiti, was pressured into pursuing a medical degree or one of a scientific nature by his father.
“My dad was a doctor and he suggested I became a doctor, and I said no forget it, I want to be an artist. I thought architecture had got a lot of mathematics and science, as well as arts,” he added. This enabled him to combine his passion for calligraphy and Islamic arts, while also pleasing his family.
Al-Hiti was drawing his name and his parents’ before he learnt to read.
“I used to draw the names, not knowing which one was my name or which was my dad’s or being able to read them. I used to just replicate the shapes that I saw, in enchantment of the beautiful letters and then it was always present with me.”
He compared Arabic calligraphy to any other art form. “I suppose, like all sorts of arts or skills, calligraphy predominantly is a skill mixed with a good or variable bit of talent, but it’s a skill like playing the piano or sketching in pencil, these are all skills that you acquire through practice. Calligraphy requires a lot of practice, mixed with the talent and character of the calligrapher.”
He said each calligrapher’s work was based on the teachings of their “master,” ranging from various countries including Iraq, Iran, Morocco, and Andalusia in Spain, which has deep Islamic artistic roots.
“Calligraphy is an art that is inherited by generations that teach it to each other, so you could tell which master or if it was from a Baghdad, Moroccan or Turkish school. All the different calligraphy forms are developed in different nations of the Islamic world,” he added.
Comparing the different types of calligraphy, Al-Hiti said that Arabic calligraphy was always drawn horizontally, as opposed to, for example, Japanese or Chinese calligraphy, which was drawn vertically, and also used different techniques, inks and pens.
However, he said he aspired “to find a modern form of doing calligraphy or compositions” and “started forming vertical letters for mosques’ minarets,” and had done many successful trials, one of them 90 meters high.
“It’s the versatility in breaking the rules and how good you are in breaking those rules and coming up with something new, not necessarily replicating traditional forms, but no harm in sticking to the original rules of calligraphy as well.
“I think it’s changing for the better, there’s more interest, and the proof is this interview, that you want to convey more about this beautiful art to the public, and that is a beautiful thing.
“And the more you look at it, whether you’re an Arab or non-Arab, whether you can read it or not, you will actually find the rhythm in it, you will find the balance, you will find the harmony, you will find the contrast,” Al-Hiti added.