Meet Sameh Alaa, the unknown celebrity turning heads at the Cairo Film Festival

Sameh Alaa attends the Best Short Film Palme D'Or Award Ceremony at Cannes 2020. Getty Images
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Updated 05 December 2020

Meet Sameh Alaa, the unknown celebrity turning heads at the Cairo Film Festival

Meet Sameh Alaa, the unknown celebrity turning heads at the Cairo Film Festival

DUBAI: Sometime next week, film director Sameh Alaa will walk into a public presentation at the Cairo International Film Festival and pitch his debut feature to the Cairo Film Connection jury. Whether he is successful or not, he will arrive having made Egyptian cinematic history. 

In late October, Alaa became the first Egyptian filmmaker to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes. In doing so, he was catapulted from the fringes of Arab cinema into the glare of the international spotlight. 

And yet very little is known about him. Only a limited number of festivalgoers have seen any of his films, he’s a hard man to track down, and even the opportunities to watch his winning short, “I Am Afraid To Forget Your Face,” have so far been few and far between. Yet here he is, the recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in global cinema.




“I Am Afraid To Forget Your Face” won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Supplied

“I was happy just to be nominated,” admits Alaa on the phone from Brussels. “I said to myself, ‘I’m happy to be here, it’s fine for me if nothing else happens.’ But to win was very big and it’s hard for me to put into words. I guess it’s like having a baby. I always think it’s hard to imagine that I will have my own child, but you can easily imagine other people having one. Then once you have one you don’t think the same way. Your perspective changes. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have more hopes and dreams to make more movies.”

“I Am Afraid To Forget Your Face” tells the story of Adam (played by Seif Hemeda), a young man who attempts to return to his girlfriend after an 82-day separation. Shot in 4:3 format and characterized by a sparse, utilitarian use of dialogue, the 15-minute short premiered at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in September and, aside from the Short Film Palme d’Or, has already won awards at both the Moscow and El Gouna film festivals. 

“I always have this feeling of fear, this feeling of being afraid to forget people,” he says. “To forget what they looked like. I have had this experience with a lot of people who passed away, and when I suddenly think of them after 10 or 15 years the only picture that comes to my mind is a photo that I took of them. The face somehow begins to fade away. This is where the title comes from, although the film is based on a personal story that happened to me in 2017. It took me three years to bring the film to life. We changed producers, we struggled, we found investors, but we’re all really happy now.”




“I Am Afraid To Forget Your Face” tells the story of a young man who attempts to return to his girlfriend after an 82-day separation. Supplied

Alaa, who lives between Brussels and Cairo, is no stranger to the breaking of new ground. His 2017 short, “Fifteen,” was the first Egyptian film to feature in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Short Cuts Program, while his directorial style favors improvisation. But he is also a stickler for preparation.  

“The best time for me is when I’m on set. I’m always very calm. It takes me a lot of time to prepare and it’s like studying for an exam. You study a lot and when you go to the exam all of your friends are scared but you’re relaxed. Because I studied the film, I studied what I’m going to work with, I know my locations, I know my angles pretty well, so the hard time was before the shoot. Three years of preparation to shoot for one-and-a-half or two days.”

Not that there weren’t any problems in the run-up to shooting “I Am Afraid To Forget Your Face.” Four days before filming was due to commence, Alaa found himself without a male lead after the actor he’d lined up suddenly quit.  

“It was pretty tough,” he admits. “How can you imagine a film when you don’t have an actor? So to find Seif was a great piece of luck. I must’ve looked at 500 or 600 photos looking for guys in the right age group, and then I saw Seif. I was asked to choose two or three other actors as a safety, but I was like, ‘No. I met him, we spent 10 minutes talking, and he was perfect.’ I believe luck plays a very big role in filmmaking.”




His 2017 short, “Fifteen,” was the first Egyptian film to feature in the Toronto International Film Festival’s Short Cuts Program. Supplied

Throughout his career, Alaa has sought to move away from any form of artistic mimicry, favoring the personal and the meditative over the universal or the brash. Hence the use of long, languid shots, the intrusion of external sound, and a cinematic style that borders on the melancholy. The end result is an artistic vision that places great emphasis on observation, rhythm and experimentation. 

“I only make films about personal experiences or about personal feelings,” he says. “When I was at film school I was like any other young filmmaker who doesn’t have their own voice. I was trying to create a cinematic language — a cinematic world — that was similar to the masters that we love. And then little by little you start to feel that you’re not doing anything. You’re making small projects to satisfy the fan inside of you but you don’t really express yourself. That’s why, slowly, I began to write my own stories. 

“This started with ‘Fifteen’ and it felt much stronger in terms of the emotions and in terms of my connection to the movie. It might not be as cool as the movies of the masters, but it is truer to myself — and that makes me feel better towards my work. And audiences feel it more, too, because it’s a story that only I can tell, or I’m the best person to tell the story in a particular way because it’s something I experienced.”

This connection with personal experience will continue with his debut feature, “I Can Hear Your Voice… Still,” which is in the early stages of creation. A coming-of-age story featuring Alaa’s first female lead, it will face its first funding test during Cairo Film Connection. “The first draft is there but there’s still a lot of work to do. It will change and change and change, but I’m at home because of the lockdowns so it’s a great time for writing and for taking your time,” he says.




Throughout his career, Alaa has sought to move away from any form of artistic mimicry, favoring the personal and the meditative. Supplied

“At the same time, I’m also working on another short. A different type of short. I want to try something really new with virtual reality and so on because I want to experiment and to try new things. Short films were always the place for experimentation, that’s why I will continue to make them. There are stories that only fit into this format and you don’t have the pressure and expectations of an audience. You can do whatever you want in 10 minutes.”

Both projects will take time to finalize given the challenges of making independent films in the Arab world, but for now Alaa is focused on finishing his feature-film script. He’s also waiting patiently for the production industry to return to some semblance of normality. 

“You know, you have to be very patient and to believe in yourself. It took me more than 10 years of thinking, watching, and really being in love with films,” he says. “There was a lot of disappointment in the middle, but there was a bigger love that kept me going. People might think, ‘Ah, he made a film in 12 minutes and he’s doing well,’ but it’s 12 years of hard work, not 12 minutes. Twelve years of working on myself as a person. And I still want to try new things all the time because I love storytelling and I love the language of film.


’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television

’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television
Updated 45 min 36 sec ago

’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television

’The Crown’ sweeps Golden Globes for television

LOS ANGELES: British royal drama “The Crown” and comedy “Schitt’s Creek” won top television honors at the Golden Globes on Sunday in a mostly virtual bicoastal ceremony that took place under pandemic conditions and a furor over diversity.
Newcomer Emma Corrin, 25, who played a young Princess Diana in “The Crown,” was named best TV drama actress, beating veterans Olivia Colman and Laura Linney. Josh O’Connor, who played Prince Charles in the Netflix series, won best TV drama actor.
“I’m just sorry I am sitting here in my tragic little office and not surrounded by the people who make this show so lovely, ” said Peter Morgan, creator of “The Crown,” who appeared on a webcam.
A surprised Corrin said, “Thank you so much to Diana. You taught me compassion and empathy.”
Dan Levy, the co-creator of “Schitt’s Creek,” called the best comedy series win a “lovely acknowledgement” of the show’s message of inclusion.
Jason Sudeikis, wearing a hoodie, was equally taken aback by his best comedy actor win for TV series “Ted Lasso,” about an American football coach who gets a soccer job in London. “That’s nuts,” he said. “That’s crazy. Wow!“
The Korean-American movie “Minari,” about an immigrant family starting a farm in rural America in the 1980s, won best foreign language movie.

The cast of  "Minari," the film won the award for best foreign language motion picture at the Golden Globe Awards. (Josh Ethan Johnson/A24 via AP)

Elsewhere, British actors Daniel Kaluuya and John Boyega, and animated movie “Soul” were among diverse winners chosen by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which has been lambasted for having no Black people among its 87 members.
Kaluuya won the movie supporting actor Golden Globe for his role as Black Panther activist Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
Boyega won TV supporting actor the “Small Axe” series about life as a Black person in 1970s London. “Soul,” the first Pixar movie to have a Black character in the lead, was named best animated movie and won best score.
Members of the HFPA appeared on Sunday’s show and pledged to do better. Ali Sar, the current president, who is from Turkey, said the group would create an environment where “a diverse membership is the norm, not the exception. We look forward to a more inclusive future.”

Webcams and gowns
The usual chummy gathering of A-listers at a gala dinner in Beverly Hills was replaced by webcams in the homes of glammed-up celebrities, small physical audiences made up of masked frontline workers, and a skit about self-involved celebrities consulting doctors with their coronavirus concerns.
Comedians Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hosting from New York and Los Angeles respectively, opened the show with a series of jokes at the expense of the HFPA.
“We all know awards shows are stupid,” said Fey. “Even in stupid things, inclusivity is important and there are no Black members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. I realize HFPA maybe you guys didn’t get the memo ... but you’ve got to change that.”
In the movie category, Netflix period drama “Mank,” about the screenwriter of “Citizen Kane,” went into Sunday’s show with a leading six nods, including for best drama movie, for actors Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried, and for director David Fincher.
Netflix has yet to win a major movie awards prize.
The biggest competition comes from Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland,” a moving documentary-style drama about van dwellers in recession-hit America, and star-laden 1960s hippie courtroom drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” also from Netflix. The #MeToo revenge black comedy “Promising Young Woman” and the unsettling aging tale “The Father” round out the film drama nominations.
Aaron Sorkin won the Golden Globe for best screenplay for “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” while British actress Rosamund Pike was awarded best comedy actress for the movie “I Care a Lot.”
The Disney+ TV film of hit Broadway musical “Hamilton” and Amazon Studios’ “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” a satire on the America of former President Donald Trump, are seen as front-runners in the best comedy or musical movie category.
“Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, whose death at 43 of an undisclosed battle with cancer stunned fans and the industry, is considered the favorite for a best actor Golden Globe. His last performance, as a brash trumpet player in drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was released after his death.


Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
Updated 28 February 2021

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes

Dubai cat cafe hopes rescues will find purr-fect new homes
  • The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years
  • Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions

DUBAI: A haven for humans craving furry feline company, a cat cafe in Dubai also doubles as an adoption center for some of the United Arab Emirates’ many strays.
The Ailuromania Cat Cafe, which was the Middle East’s first cat cafe when it opened in 2015, hopes the relaxing properties of its 25 rescue and shelter cats will help find them their forever homes.
“Anyone who is stressed just has to find a cat. All your stress will go away,” said Omnia Fareed, whose two cat-loving sisters Allaa and Iman started the cafe after university, taking inspiration from similar establishments in Korea and London.
The cafe’s original residents were strays taken in by the family over the years. Now Ailuromania hosts cats from a government-run animal shelter in the neighboring emirate of Ras al Khaimah, hoping to increase adoptions.
The cafe’s name Ailuromania is a play on the Greek-derived English word for a lover of cats: ailurophile.
The cafe has regular customers who come seeking relaxation from the stresses of life, or because they cannot keep a cat at home.
“They are so cute, they love playing,” said visitor Shaasthra. She said she appreciates how the cafe looks after the cats’ welfare by advising people not to hold them or wake them up.
Another regular visitor, a street cat who would stare in through the window, was also invited and eventually adopted.
Since Dubai began lifting coronavirus lockdown measures last summer, the cafe re-opened with capacity and sanitization restrictions.
Dubai has a large number of stray cats, with many abandoned on the streets by their owners. In 2018 UAE authorities made it illegal to abandon animals, but animal welfare activists in Dubai have for years called for a large-scale trap-neuter-release scheme and feeding programs to bring numbers down humanely.
In August, Dubai municipality issued a circular restating a policy of fining anyone caught feeding strays, saying it increases the spread of diseases.


Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Sneaker giant New Balance releases latest line with French-Moroccan label

New Balance x Casablanca Drop III. Supplied

DUBAI: The latest collaboration between Casablanca x New Balance dropped yesterday on casablancaparis.com and, naturally, it sold-out within minutes – Footwear designer Amina Muaddi took to Instagram to show off her pair – But, if you didn’t manage to click “add to cart,” then we have some good news for you: You can still get your hands on a pair of the highly covetable footwear when they drop in the region next week.

Drop III comes in two silhouettes. The 327 boasts an octopus-like outsole that extends up the shoe and an interlocking Moroccan tile print that stays true to the French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer’s North African roots.

New Balance x Casablanca 327 silhouette. Supplied

Meanwhile, featuring a wedge heel, suede, mesh and nylon upper, as well as Casablanca’s signature monogram design, the 237 is an entirely new silhouette. Unlike the 327 style, the lugs on the outsole are less bold and don’t extend up the back of the shoe. 

Both trainers feature a clean white, pink and green colorway and an oversized “N” logo on the upper.

It’s not the first time the Paris-based apres-sports fashion house and the footwear company have joined forces. In fact, this recent drop marks their third footwear collaboration together.

New Balance x Casablanca 237 silhouette. Supplied

Casablanca’s first collaboration with New Balance debuted last year, when the 327 dropped in zesty orange and green colorways, inspired by Moroccan sweet oranges and tennis uniforms, respectively. 

The Casablanca x New Balance 327 and 273 sneakers will be available to purchase on March 5 at 9am (KSA time) on newbalance.co.ae and will be retailing for $163 for the 327 and $150 for the 237. Given how quickly the shoes sold out online on Feb. 27, we suggest setting an alarm.


Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied
Updated 28 February 2021

Oscar-nominated ‘White Eye’ asks the hard questions

“White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. Supplied

LONDON: “White Eye” — a short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan — serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. After all, the pivotal moment at the heart of Shushan’s semi-autobiographical (and recently Oscar-nominated) short involves little more than a dispute over a stolen bicycle, with no lavish set pieces or special effects required to create an enthralling atmosphere. Furthermore, “White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike.

The short film from writer-director Tomer Shushan serves as a masterclass in concise storytelling. Supplied

The camera buzzes around Omer, sometimes looking over his shoulder, then backing up to show events unfolding in front of him, or circling to show the audience what he can’t see. It makes for an intense 20 minutes of cinema, and it’s no surprise that “White Eye” has made it to the 10-movie shortlist for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.

“White Eye” is shot in a single, continuous take that follows Omer (Daniel Gad) as he tries to retrieve his stolen bike. Supplied

Shushan keeps the scale of the film small. “White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. As Omer’s attempts to get his bike back escalate into a far more high-stakes situation, there’s a palpable sense of rising tension and, without giving away too much of the story (which would undo the strength of the narrative), Shushan begins to ask a number of uncomfortable questions — about assumption, about prejudice, about empathy and retribution.

“White Eye” takes place in a single building and on the street outside. Supplied

The 20-minute runtime flashes past in a heartbeat as the tiny world the film inhabits becomes both more familiar through repetition, and more uncomfortable as the severity of the situation dawns on Omer — and, by extension, the audience. Thanks to an understated performance from Gad, we see Omer begin to ask himself the hard questions about the strength of his own character. And by that point, we’re so taken in by Shushan’s carefully crafted microcosm that we can’t help but ask ourselves the same of our own humanity.


Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram
Updated 28 February 2021

Bella Hadid shares insight on her autoimmune disorders

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012. Instagram

DUBAI: US-Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid offered fans a glimpse into how she treats her autoimmune disorders in an Instagram post this weekend.

On Friday, the 24-year-old posted a series of photos showing her hooked up to an intravenous drip. “Living with a few chronic autoimmune disease = always finding time for my IVs,” she captioned the post.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Hadid was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2012 alongside with younger brother Anwar, 21, and their mother, Yolanda, 57.

In 2016, Bella opened up to People magazine about dealing with Lyme disease while being in the spotlight.

“Life isn’t always what it looks like on the outside, and the hardest part of this journey is to be judged by the way you look instead of the way you feel,” she said at the time.