CHENNAI: English author Anna Sewell wrote her only novel “Black Beauty” between 1871 and 1877, at a time when she was quite ill and could hardly get out of bed.
Often considered a children’s classic, it has sold a whopping 50 million copies and was actually directed at adults — Ashley Avis’s reimagining of “Black Beauty” for Disney+ underscores this in an enormously poignant way, although this sixth incarnation (the last being Caroline Thomson’s rather disappointing 1994 version) may have lost some appeal.
An autobiography of a wild horse captured in the American West and tamed, Avis’s film begins with the sorrowful story of how Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet) is taken away from her family and brought to Birtwick Stables, run by John Manly (Ian Glen). Despite his experience as a horse whisperer, he is unable to tame Beauty. It takes his teenage niece Jo Green (Mckenzie Foy) to calm the magnificent creature.
Green, who comes to live with her uncle after the death of her parents in a car accident, succeeds largely because of her ability to treat Beauty not as an animal but as another soul capable of feelings. She says early on in a teary moment that like herself, the horse has lost its family. This understanding and the bond that follows are beautifully captured by Avis, also the writer.
What may serve as an important point of novelty is the gender switch. Beauty is now a female mustang, not a male as in the tome or adaptations. This may have been an intelligent ploy to establish a still warmer camaraderie between Green and Beauty. Only Green can soothe Beauty, who can help the girl get over her terrible loss.
But then the horse has to live through several masters after Manly finds he can no longer afford her. Beauty experiences as much care as cruelty, but as Winslet observes at the beginning: “A wise horse once told me that a mustang’s spirit can never be broken.”
While Winslet’s voiceover seems useful, there are moments when it is distracting. Also, Avis’s inclusion of a fair amount of modernism in her narrative — with swanky cars rubbing shoulders with horse-drawn carriages on the streets of New York, where Beauty is taken — may seem confusingly improbable. “Black Beauty” is charming, but what could have added a zing to it is greater drama. Most of the time, the storytelling is flat.
For almost 500 days, the club was left empty because of government regulations to fight COVID-19
Updated 25 September 2021
JEDDAH: After a prolonged interruption due to the ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic, The Comedy Club in Jeddah is back in business, and fans are flocking to it for some comic relief.
For almost 500 days, the club was left empty because of the pandemic and government regulations to fight COVID-19, preventing all live shows and mass gatherings that could put people at risk. But with restrictions easing, more people are aware of the rules and regulations and the decline in daily cases, and the club is back in full swing.
“The General Entertainment Authority reached out to us to return comedy shows, and we are one of the activities of the summer season festival in Jeddah,” Majed Al-Amoudi, comedian and content manager at The Comedy Club, told Arab News. “We perform live shows four days a week now: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.”
Al-Amoudi explained that because the shows are primarily theatrical, the pandemic significantly affected the ability to operate, and everything was put on indefinite hold. However, as with everything going digital nowadays, he said the club managed to provide entertaining content on its YouTube channel.
“The Comedy Club channel (has) a lot of programs like ‘Althalothiyat’ where we host famous people or influencers, but now, we are back to theater and going live.”
He said the club is planning for future events after the summer season is finished on Sept. 25. “We will return to our regular programing and we have major projects in the works with different parties, both in the government and private sectors, but can’t reveal at the moment.”
Mohammed Saleh, a 40-year-old private sector worker, said: “It feels good to be back in the theater. The comedians are brilliant and every month I would look forward to attending a show.
“Watching shows on YouTube can only provide some relief; the live atmosphere is something else. The night is filled with laughter to almost tears, and that’s what you want in a comedy show, belly laughs and tears,” he added.
With plans for bigger and better shows in the works, Al-Amoudi highlighted that the club was sponsored by the GEA and received special attention from its governor, Turki Al-Sheikh, for three years, with the GEA the primary sponsor of the club during the Jeddah and Sharqiya seasons in 2019.
Founded in 2012, it was initially called the Jeddah Comedy Club. Located in Al-Shallal Theme Park, it hosts theatrical shows, stand-up comedy, improvisation, and musical nights. “We also perform theatricals and sketches, we write, edit, act it, and perform it all,” Al-Amoudi said.
He revealed that he is also on the hunt for female comics as part of the club’s future expansion. “We are always looking for female comedians, or even girls who want to be professional stand-up comedians, so that we can give them courses and prepare them for the entertainment world. We are talent hunting throughout the Kingdom for sure.
“Vision 2030 supports all arts in various fields and supports the development of the youth of the country. Of course, all our goals are in line with Vision 2030, and it is great supporter for us,” he added.
Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats
Global ‘Catwalk’ scheduled for November will ‘form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles’
Updated 24 September 2021
Rebecca Anne Proctor
DUBAI: In an effort to raise awareness of endangered big cats and their ecosystems, the US-based independent non-profit foundation Catmosphere is hosting a worldwide ‘Catwalk’ on November 6 in a bid to get people moving and simultaneously benefit the world’s big cats.
Catmosphere was launched in July by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, who is on a mission to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of big cats. Catmosphere aims to magnify the efforts of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted to the conservation of 40 species of wild cats.
“Catmosphere is a catalyst for change. Its campaigns and activations are (intended) to build momentum globally around big cat conservation,” Princess Reema told Arab News. “I first understood the threat to the future of big cats when I learned about Panthera’s work in Saudi Arabia with the Royal Commission of AlUla, where they are researching the status of the Arabian leopard in the Kingdom with a view to forging a path for its recovery in the region.”
Many species of big cats are now facing extinction. Catmosphere focuses on Panthera’s conservation efforts covering seven big cat species: Tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, pumas, leopards, and snow leopards.
“The future of big cats is under threat, primarily due to diminishing habitats,” Princess Reema said. “Accordingly, Catwalk is striving for a healthy habitat for big cats, and healthy habitats start at home. A healthy and active lifestyle helps us respect our own bodies, and engaging with our environment gives us an appreciation for the fundamental role it plays in all of life. Catwalk invites us all to ignite physical movement locally, and in doing so trigger the big cat conservation movement globally.”
Princess Reema, who sits on the boards of both the Catmosphere foundation and Panthera’s Conservation Council, is actively involved in Catwalk as part of the leadership team.
It hopes to rally supporters around the world to take part in the global, mass-participation seven-kilometer walk on Nov. 6.
The event is open to everyone and can be completed in whatever way works best for the participant, wherever they are in the world. What is unique about the event is its link between building awareness about big cats, the environment and the importance of one’s own health, wellbeing and physical fitness.
“The global mass-participation activity aims to form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles, and brings together my own past experiences in campaign curation,” Princess Reema said. “I’m excited to work with different stakeholders all around the globe to map a path for scalable, inclusive campaign delivery that demonstrates how igniting a movement locally can result in meaningful change, ensuring the wellbeing and continuation of big cat populations globally.”
Princess Reema stressed that the pandemic has impacted the world’s experience of both wildlife and community.
According to the World Health Organization, 24 percent of all human deaths are attributable to environmental factors. A quarter of the world’s population is at risk due to insufficient exercise in increasingly sedentary societies. Big cats are even more dependent on their environments than humans.
Panthera has warned that important species are threatened by habitat loss, and that the tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah have lost between 65 percent and 96 percent of their historical numbers.
“The reality of the pandemic and the experience that the whole world has just had of separation and isolation from human communities due to COVID-19 is very much what was done to the big cats when we cut off their territorial corridors and isolated them from their natural habitats in nature,” Princess Reema said.
“Just as we have seen that impact on us, imagine what that impact has been on them. Catwalk is hoping to highlight a very simple fact: That our collective wellbeing is interconnected, and so it is incumbent on all of us to operate through empathy and provide spaces that we as humans would want to live and thrive in, and ensure the same for big cats,” she added.
As Princess Reema underlines, given the challenges presented by the pandemic over the past 18 months, now is the time to reassess our relationship with nature and as well as that “between a healthy person and a healthy environment, to showcase the potential that each of us has to ensure a healthy future for big cats, too.”
Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition
‘We have other stories to tell besides chaos,’ says Shahnaz Dulaimy
Updated 24 September 2021
DUBAI: When Iraqi film editor Shahnaz Dulaimy was a university student, an academic counsellor advised her to pursue heavyweight majors such as economics and business management — the kind of thing a typical family would approve of — and not her desired option, film.
Instead, Dulaimy, who was raised in Jordan, did the complete opposite. She moved to Rome, where classic movies including “La Dolce Vita” and “Roman Holiday” were shot, and studied film history and production.
“There’s such a stigma around (working in creative sectors),” she tells Arab News. “When you hear people talking about actors and actresses, for example, they make it sound like such a demeaning job. But, at the same time, everyone sits in front of the TV, watching the latest TV series or films. There’s still this (disparaging attitude) towards the film industry. Luckily, there are more people pushing it, but I don’t think it’s 100 percent where it needs to be.”
In London, where she now lives, she co-founded the Independent Iraqi Film Festival along with like-minded cinema-loving Iraqis. The volunteer-run, online event launched last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and notched up around 5,000 views. Dulaimy calls it a “passion project,” highlighting talent from emerging and established Iraqi filmmakers.
“We wanted to see films that reflect us and our identity. Iraqi cinema is generally underrepresented on the international circuit,” she says. “What we had aimed to do is to provide a platform dedicated to showcasing Iraqi films.”
The organizers of the IIFF were so overwhelmed by support from both viewers and filmmakers that they decided to go for a second run. Between October 1 and 7, the IIFF will present a curated program of 15 feature films and a series of talks featuring three well-known industry figures: American-Iraqi visual artist Michael Rakowitz, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, and Iraqi set designer Mohammed Khalid.
This time around, more than 90 film submissions were received, which made Dulaimy and her colleagues realize more than ever the responsibility they bear. “I think it shifted from being just a passion project to more of a duty towards the Iraqi community in Iraq and the diaspora,” she says.
To make the festival as accessible as possible, all its offerings will be freely available for streaming worldwide and subtitled in English. The filmmakers did not have to pay any submission fee either.
“The moment you ask people to pay, there’s a wall. You’re kind of blocking people, you’re blocking talent,” she says. The selected independent films, created by both men and women who live inside and outside of the country, reflect the diversity of Iraqi society, as well as the struggles people encounter and their hopes and dreams. There is a particular focus on telling the stories of the marginalized — specifically women and minorities.
“Iraq is not a one-layered country,” notes Dulaimy. “It’s a multi-dimensional, multi-textured culture. You’ve got everyone from the Kurds in northern Iraq to the Assyrians and Yazidis. It’s so important that everyone gets an equal voice. Iraqis are not just Arabic-speaking, Baghdad-born-and-raised Arabs.” Among the featured films this year is “Iraqi Women: Voices from Exile,” made in the 1990s by London-based director Maysoon Pachachi, and Ali Raheem’s 2015 documentary “Balanja,” about four Kurdish people overcoming the pains of the past.
Over the past couple of decades, the image the outside world has of Iraq has been one of warfare, terror, and destruction. But, Dulaimy points out, Iraq has much more to offer to the world.
“Iraq is not just a war-torn zone, where people are struggling on a daily basis. We have other stories to tell besides the political disarray and chaos. I think we’re ready to move on from that, we don’t want to keep playing the victims. I feel the time for us to move on is now,” she says. “I hope audiences also take into consideration how difficult it is to shoot a film. You’re not going to see a polished, dazzling film. What you’re going to see is raw, social, realist films. I just want people to go into the festival with open eyes and ears.”
REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’ — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters
Updated 24 September 2021
DUBAI: Growing up in a rural town in Australia, Robin Wiltshire was, in his own words, “the runt of the litter.” His authoritarian grandfather said he would never amount to anything, and Wiltshire — unable to read and write aged 10 — believed him. His grandfather was wrong, though. Wiltshire is now one of the most respected horse trainers in the world, and has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
The new short Netflix documentary “My Heroes Were Cowboys” tells how Wiltshire — inspired by a love of Westerns and a fascination with horses — moved to the US in the Seventies, dreaming of working with animals on movie sets. His timing was not great. “Star Wars” had just come out and Westerns were rapidly going out of fashion. However, Wiltshire found a home in Wyoming (director Tyler Greco shows, through sweeping panoramas of breathtaking landscape, why Wiltshire was so struck by Wyoming’s beauty), and began working with horses. In his understated drawl, Wiltshire explains how his third horse, Juniper, “changed my life completely” and briefly breaks down when describing his friend’s death.
Wiltshire’s big break came with a commercial for Marlboro cigarettes, and he has gone on to work on countless advertising campaigns, TV shows and movies. But “My Heroes Were Cowboys” spends little time celebrating Wiltshire’s showbiz career and connections. Instead, it focuses on Wiltshire’s lifetime spent building an unparalleled understanding of horses. And the horses are its real stars.
Greco captures their majesty, grace and intelligence with the same empathy Wiltshire uses to build his relationships with animals that often arrive at his ranch traumatized and distressed. Wiltshire uses no physical coercion; he simply allows the animals to be themselves and shows them he can be trusted. They repay his trust by allowing themselves to be directed by him.
This beautifully shot doc packs more into its 27-minute runtime than many feature films manage in a couple of hours. It’s a triumph of storytelling and a tribute to the bond of unquestioning love that can exist between humans and animals when the latter are treated with the respect they deserve.