Three Arab female directors make Cannes 2020 official selection

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Updated 27 June 2020

Three Arab female directors make Cannes 2020 official selection

  • Danielle Arbid, Ayten Amin and Maïwenn among record number of female filmmakers honored by the film festival

PARIS: The physical version of this year’s Cannes Film Festival may have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but on June 3, Thierry Frémaux, the Festival’s General Delegate, released its Official Selection of 56 shortlisted movies, each of which will receive a Cannes 2020 endorsement label to encourage their promotion on release.

“No one knows what the second half of the year may bring and whether it will be possible to organize major film events again in 2020, including the Festival de Cannes,” said Frémaux. “Cannes has therefore decided to adapt its format for this peculiar year.”

Of the record 2,067 Cannes Film Festival submissions, 532 of the movies were made by female directors, and of the 56 selected movies, 16 are by women. While this is a long way from the goal of Collectif 50/50 — the association for gender equality and diversity in cinema launched in 2018 — it’s a good start.

Three of those 16 shortlisted female directors have Arabic heritage; Danielle Arbid from Lebanon, Ayten Amin from Egypt, and French-Algerian director Maïwenn. All three explore facets of female identity, sexuality, and adolescence and family respectively.

‘Passion Simple’ by Danielle Arbid

Danielle Arbid is a Lebanese filmmaker. (Supplied)

Lebanese filmmaker Danielle Arbid’s fourth feature is based on a 1992 novel by Annie Ernaux. It stars French actress Laetitia Dosch and Russian-Ukrainian former ballet dancer Sergei Polunin in the leading roles. Dosch plays a reclusive academic who has a highly-charged affair with a Russian diplomat (Polunin), with a narrative that follows her journal entries as her whole existence focuses on their next erotic rendez-vous. After “Parisienne, Peur de Rien” (2016), “Beirut Hotel” (2011) and “Un Homme Perdu” (2007), this is the first of Arbid’s films without an obvious link to Lebanon.

“Maybe this is because I’ve been living in Paris for 30 years and I finally consider myself as French as Lebanese,” Arbid told Arab News. “I’ve been making films long before the whole #metoo movement. I don’t believe there is a feminine or a masculine cinema, but I am really happy that women are finally being taken into consideration. No one helped me professionally because of my Lebanese origins or because I am a woman — certainly not in Lebanon, where most of my work is censored, or in the Arab world. Being a woman hasn’t proved a hindrance in filmmaking. The female representation at Cannes is still not entirely satisfactory, but at last we’re moving in the right direction.”

‘Souad’ directed by Ayten Amin

‘Souad’ is directed by Ayten Amin. (Supplied)

Ayten Amin’s second feature — co-written by Mahmoud Ezzat — focuses on Souad and Rabab, teenager sisters of an ultra-conservative family. Nineteen-year-old Souad leads a secret life on social media. When Souad commits suicide, 12-year-old Rabab travels to Alexandria to find Ahmed, the key figure in Souad’s online life, seeking answers to her death.

“Cinema is difficult for both men and women in Egypt, but I have to admit that it’s a lot more difficult for women,” Amin told Arab News. “I have to prove myself every time, as though every project is my first. I’ve had more successes than several of my male colleagues, but they’ve had more opportunities than me and — despite my track record — they’re much better paid. So, I guess being a woman in cinema is definitely a hindrance. Cinema is male-dominated everywhere. However, I’m always on the side of a good film regardless of gender. In making ‘Souad,’ I was supported by my friend, Sameh Awad, who became its producer because he was enthusiastic about it, even though he isn’t involved in cinema.”

What does she need to redress the balance?

“I need public funding to support cinema in Egypt, as well as European funding. We need to start assessing projects in the Middle East according to the talent and artistic values of the films, and not just as hot topics to serve the European point of view of Arab societies.”

‘DNA’ by Maïwenn

Maïwenn has now made six feature films. (AFP)

Franco-Algerian filmmaker and actor Maïwenn is no stranger to moviemaking. Her actress mother, Catherine Belkhodja, brought her to castings from the age of three. “My mother only loved me on the silver screen,” Maïwenn told Arab News.

When she was 15, Maïwenn met director Luc Besson, 31, at the César Awards ceremony. A year later, they married and moved to LA. They split in 1998 after Besson began a relationship with Milla Jovovich, who was playing the lead in his film “The Fifth Element,” in which Maïwenn also had a role.

In a manifesto she publicized as the #metoo movement gained traction, Maïwenn wrote.

“I reclaim the right to have power in my work without frightening men.” Her statement ended with, “We’ll get there.”

Maïwenn has now made six feature films, winning the Prix du Jury at Cannes for 2011’s “Polisse,” which she also starred in and wrote. In her latest, “DNA,” Maïwenn plays the lead role of Neige, a woman deeply attached to her Algerian grandfather, who provided a buffer against her toxic parents. When Emir dies, tensions escalate between Neige’s extended family members, triggering a dramatic identity crisis.

How to travel post-COVID-19

Updated 07 July 2020

How to travel post-COVID-19

  • As borders begin to re-open in the Middle East and around the world, here is how to deal with traveling in a post-pandemic world

DUBAI: When it comes to the Middle East, July seems to be a marker. From Bahrain to Egypt, Morocco to Dubai, borders are tentatively opening, with plans to jumpstart tourism a sign of better days to come. But still, a question hangs heavy. Even if we are now allowed to travel, will the experience ever really be the same again?

From where you can go to how much it will cost, what you can do there to a fear of going in the first place, the very essence of travel stands on the precipice, and we are all at risk of a lesser life experience because of it.

For Dubai-based, Euronews Travel TV presenter Sarah Hedley-Hymers, the biggest repercussion is the resulting knowledge hit. “Traveling makes me hyper-attentive,” she said. “The newness of places stimulates all the senses. I’m like Bradley Cooper in the movie ‘Limitless,’ absorbing different destinations like a sponge, expanding with the knowledge of it all, energized by the novelty. Not traveling feels like a protracted comedown.”

But while COVID-19 may have grounded the first half of 2020, the green shoots of recovery are slowly creeping through the cracks. Tentatively, travel is once more an option, but if you are planning post-pandemic travel, preparation is paramount.

Where can I travel to?
June saw much of Europe slowly re-open its doors, albeit with entry generally restricted to EU nationals or returning residents. In the Middle East, July 1 saw airports open in Egypt and Lebanon, along with tourism facilities in Turkey. Dubai will welcome visitors from July 7, Morocco from July 11, and Bahrain hopes to re-open the King Fahd Causeway — and its border with Saudi Arabia — by the end of the month.

Tourists from around the world stepped foot in the UAE for the first time in nearly four months on July 7. Shutterstock

The re-openings are fluid, with plans changing daily. Best advice? Check carefully ahead of any trip. There is a good chance that restrictions will still apply, both with the country you are heading to and the one you are departing from.

Will air travel be more expensive post-COVID-19?
As fleets have lay grounded for months, the big fear was that airlines would have to charge extortionate fares in order to recoup losses. Thankfully, the opposite might be true.

“With regards to the cost of travel, views currently vary and it’s difficult to accurately predict airline strategies,” said Ciarán Kelly, managing director of the Middle East & Africa Network at FCM Travel Solutions. “But some people expect fares to stay low as airlines struggle to get customers back on board.

“Whether it’s a free checked bag on your flight, discount vouchers — as we’ve seen already from Etihad — free wifi or other incentives, airlines are going to have to do everything they can to get people back into the skies.

“Of course on the flip side, faced with huge losses to make up and potentially emptier planes, they could go the other way and raise ticket prices. But even if that happens, it’s also likely they’ll adopt more lenient change and cancelation policies, as has been seen over the last few weeks.”

What if I am scared to travel?
A perhaps unexpected repercussion of COVID-19 on travel is a fear of staying safe. A recent poll by Mower, an independent marketing, advertising and public relations agency in the US, found that only 16 percent of Americans would be comfortable flying again once restrictions were eased. For Reem Shaheen, counseling psychologist at Dubai’s Be Psychology Center, the key to allaying fear is preparation.
“Apart from concerns over the virus, the overwhelming worry at the moment is access. Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency,” she said.

Most people are struggling to not only figure out a travel destination with open borders, but also if they’re able to return to their country of residency. Shutterstock

“I believe that the fuel of this fear lies in the feeling of helplessness. The best way to manage that is by gathering as much information as possible. This could be by knowing where the hospitals are, preparing for a safe return to your country of residence, or simply learning the protocols on social distancing of the country that you’re heading to. Working to gain control over situations within your power will help reduce the fear and anxiety triggered by traveling during the pandemic.”

When should I travel again?
While open borders might signify an invitation to travel, the reality is that things might take a little longer before the world is comfortable in transit once more. But while your travel experience might now be a little different, you would hope that the opportunity to embrace new experiences will once again prove too good to resist.

Travel equates to more than the sum of its parts, not just the act of being there but the attributes it brings. Patience, acceptance, kindness and curiosity — those are the traits that you pick up on the road, and without the ability to move freely, we are all missing out. Plus, as Hedley-Hymers said: “If nothing else, it’s always nice to find a corner of the world that doesn’t have a McDonald’s on it.”