Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji discusses ‘Mosul’

Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji discusses ‘Mosul’
Mohamed Al-Daradji is perhaps the most acclaimed living Iraqi filmmaker. (Getty)
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Updated 10 December 2020

Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji discusses ‘Mosul’

Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji discusses ‘Mosul’
  • The acclaimed filmmaker takes us behind the scenes of Netflix’s Arabic-language Hollywood blockbuster

DUBAI: On a cold winter’s night in Utah in 2010, Mohamed Al-Daradji, perhaps the most acclaimed living Iraqi filmmaker, was approached by a group of middle-aged women. His film “Son of Babylon” had just premiered, a story about an Iraqi mother searching for her son, a soldier who never returned from battle. The women were all mothers themselves, and each of them had dealt with the same heartbreak as the woman in his film.

“One of the women came and hugged me, like from nowhere,” Al-Daradji tells Arab News. “I was just standing still, not knowing what to do. Should I hug her, should I not? And then the woman told me, ‘We are mothers of American soldiers lost in the war in Iraq. I'm crying and hugging you not just because I'm remembering my son, but because you make me feel the character of the mother is like me. We never thought about the Iraqi mothers. Thanks to your film, we can see them, we can feel them. we can understand them. They have the same emotions as we do.’”  

While Al-Daradji’s films always been personal meditations on the state of his country as it reconciles with its past, struggles with its present and charts a course for its future, he often thinks back to that moment in Utah. That moment, in which two cultures looked at each other and saw the same face looking back at them, proves to Al-Daradji that it’s possible to achieve another key goal—to make the world understand Iraq as well. 




“Mosul” is on Netflix across the world. (Supplied)

There are signs that his efforts are beginning to pay off. A few years ago, Al-Daradji was reading a script about Iraqi soldiers resisting the Daesh siege on the Iraqi city of Mosul, when he noticed something curious. Even though it was written by an American, Matthew Michael Carnahan, and he kept waiting for an American character to show up and save the day — just like in every other American feature about Iraq — that moment never came. He realized it was an American film told in good faith from an entirely Iraqi point of view. Al-Daradji began to cry. 

“I called Matthew and I spoke with him. I said, ‘Listen, I will help you, because I feel this is a duty for me, and it's a great story. We need to shape it, make it more authentic, make it feel that it has come from Iraqi people.’ I knew I would fight to help them, because I can see the intention of these people, and that’s what they wanted it to be,” says Al-Daradji.

The film became “Mosul,” which was just released on Netflix across the world. Al-Daradji’s contributions as an executive producer proved invaluable to the film, turning it into an American blockbuster like none before it. Not only does it feature exclusively Iraqi characters played by Arabs, the entirety of the film’s dialogue is spoken in Arabic, despite being aimed at a global audience.




Mohamed Al-Daradji and the Russo Brothers at TIFF 2019. (Getty)

Al-Daradji and Carnahan were together every day on set for months, filming in the hot Moroccan sun during Ramadan, with a number of cast members fasting. Even through the struggles of the climate, the two continued a spirited and open collaboration to ensure the film would be true to both the real-life stories on which it was based and to the culture which it was bringing to life. 

“He was always listening and asking what I thought. We talked about the script, the characters, the cast, the location, and I was there with him the whole time. If I saw anything, I would come to him and say to him, ‘This can be better. This would be good.’ He was really open minded,” says Al-Daradji. “It was part of my voice, but in a different way. In ‘Son of Babylon,’ I was in full control of everything. With ‘Mosul,’ there was a vision and I needed to respect it and help this vision, and there was very great cooperation with Matthew.” 

The film is also produced by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who have directed films including “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the latter of which is the highest-grossing film of all time, and produced Netflix’s film “Extraction,” which is the most popular Netflix film of all time with over 100 million views, according to the streaming giant. For two Hollywood titans to take on an Arabic-language film is hugely important to Al-Daradji.




Al-Daradji’s contributions as an executive producer proved invaluable to the film, turning it into an American blockbuster like none before it. (Supplied)

“This is honestly is a very, very big risk for them to take. What’s the market for it? If you think about it, back before the shooting, before the production happened, when they decide to make it, there is no big market for foreign-language (Hollywood) films. I think Anthony and Joe are brave, as are the companies involved, to take this decision,” says Al-Daradji.

Al-Daradji has always been a risk-taker himself. In 1995, aged 17, he fled Iraq to make the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life.

“I spent one year in Europe lost, trying to find a place as a refugee, from Romania to Holland. If I had been captured by the Romanians or the Hungarians when I crossed the border, I would have been given to the Iraqi embassy, handed into (former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein’s authority and I then would have been hanged,” says Al-Daradji. 




Al-Daradji has always been a risk-taker himself. In 1995, aged 17, he fled Iraq to make the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life. (Supplied)

Al-Daradji returned to Iraq in 2003, making some of the most acclaimed films in Iraq’s history, including “Ahlaam” (2005), “In the Sands of Babylon” (2013) and “The Journey” (2017). He continued to take risks, even being captured by Al-Qaeda while making “Ahlaam,” and narrowly escaping death. His efforts have been widely recognized, with three of his films chosen as Iraq’s official selection for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film) — the most of any Iraqi filmmaker. 

“I’m not the same person I was in 2004 before the kidnapping. I wasn't at peace; I was full of dilemmas and searching for answers. I’m lucky now, because I’m still searching, but on a different level,” he says. 

The next part of Al-Daradji’s journey will be a step into the past, as he looks to explore some of Iraq’s history to make sense of its uncertain present. 

“I want this generation to see that it used to be a good country,” he says. “You just need to work differently. You just need to not give up. You just need to have hope. Without hope, I could not be the filmmaker I am today. I have always had the hope to keep going, and this is what we need to have today. Hope for the new generation to see a different Iraq, not escape from Iraq, nor to see it from another place.”


From Riyadh to Dubai, why is good coffee in the region so expensive?

A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/Instagram@nightjar.coffee
A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/[email protected]
Updated 19 April 2021

From Riyadh to Dubai, why is good coffee in the region so expensive?

A cup of coffee from Dubai-based Nightjar costs $5. File/Instagram@nightjar.coffee

DUBAI: Buying a cup of coffee in the Gulf can be quite expensive.

Coffee lovers often bemoan the fact that their latte costs double in Dubai or Riyadh what it does in other countries.

What we might not realize, however, is that we are paying for a lot more than milk and beans in that cup of coffee.

Last week, social media was set alight by a complaint over the price of a $7 flat white in Dubai. Coffee lovers from Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar chimed in on whether the cost was justified. It begs the question: Why is coffee so expensive in this region?

We spoke to cafe operators to find out.

Leon Surynt, owner of Nightjar Coffee, one of Dubai’s most popular coffee brands and cafes, said that it is “really hard” to keep his coffee affordable.

Nightjar imports its own beans directly from farms around the world, roasts them at its Alserkal Avenue roastery and sells to hotels and cafes across the country. 

“You need to have multiple avenues, which is a bit of online, a bit of wholesale and a bit of cafe, to make money here,” Surynt says. 

“We live in a society that has a low tax rate, but we also have many compliance costs.”

If we were to break down the cost of a latte at Nightjar ($5), Surynt says, the ingredients — milk and coffee — and the cup only account for about $1 or 20 percent. He estimates that staff wages and expenses, on the other hand, make up a whopping 30 percent, while rent is another 15 percent. Other overheads, such as government fees, marketing, admin and logistics mean his profit from that one latte is about AED 4 (or $1). And that’s not accounting for the cost of delivery aggregators, his salary and kitchen operations.

“There are a lot of hidden costs here,” Surynt said. 

The story is the same for many others.

Samer Harkous, business development manager for Cypher Coffee, supplies hundreds of cafes in the UAE and overseas with green and roasted beans. 

Cypher does not operate a cafe but offers samples at its roastery.

When pricing Cypher’s products, Harkous said rent and municipality fees must be built into the price of beans, and a profit needs to be made on top of that. The cafe selling those beans must then add on its own costs.

And roasting beans is a costly — and difficult — process.

Equipment is imported from overseas. Each bean requires a different roasting method, which is meticulously recorded on charts by staff, from monitoring the necessary temperature and gas levels to listening for the “first crack.” 

Beans themselves command a range of prices. Cypher’s most expensive roast is from Yemen (up to $136 per kilogram) and its cheapest, and most popular, is from Brazil (between $16 to $82 per kilogram). 

Brazilian beans are therefore used by cafes wanting to keep costs down. More expensive beans, usually used by specialty coffee houses, will command a higher price.

Ali Al-Fahad, founder of Earth Roastery, which was established in Kuwait in 2014 and has spread across the region since, adjusts his coffee prices depending on the country he operates in. 

He said that Kuwait is the most expensive and logistically difficult location for a cafe business, while Dubai is the easiest and cheapest. That is why it took them until 2019 to open a café. Before that, he was solely selling wholesale coffee beans.

“Business here is very risky. Very few people can be successful,” he said. “When we opened the coffee shop, we understood that.”

Al-Fahad said their highest costs go on salaries and visa costs, followed by rent and logistics.

“Customers travel. They want the same quality and experience as they have in Europe. But to be on that level, you need to invest more.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@crustandcrema)

Cyrus Woo, deputy director at Bahrain’s Crust and Crema, said pricing was a “sensitive” subject when they opened.

“We had to be very careful. We only had other coffee shops to compare to, so we did market research and then did our own costing.”

Of the $4 it costs for an Americano or $5 for a latte, Woo agreed that what the customer is mostly paying for is staff salaries.

“If you factor in how much of the coffee and milk you’re going to use for one drink, those are the minimal costs involved,” Woo said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@crustandcrema)

“You’re paying for the atmosphere, overheads, marketing, utilities, rent, insurance, equipment and labor costs. The market is saturated, and baristas are in high demand, so you have to pay more for them.”

Woo said that while coffee makes more money than food at a cafe, for coffee to be profitable, a cafe has to “sell a lot.”

“We are a for-profit business. We need to be able to survive, but we don’t want to be greedy. 

“I hope that when people come in and have coffee, they appreciate there’s a lot more involved, that they’re paying for the experience.”

So, when you’re handing over $7 for your latte, lamenting the expense, remember: You’re not just buying a coffee. You’re paying for your surroundings and for your barista’s wages. And actually, for $7, that’s pretty reasonable.


Moroccan-Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi stars in new Hugo Eyewear campaign

The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram
The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram
Updated 19 April 2021

Moroccan-Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi stars in new Hugo Eyewear campaign

The model posed for the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign. Instagram

DUBAI: There’s no slowing down Malika El-Maslouhi. This week, the Moroccan-Italian model was selected to star in the new Hugo Eyewear Spring 2021 campaign, which was shot by fashion photographer Matteo Montanari.

Featuring alongside model Parker Van Noord, the catwalker appears in a video and campaign photographs wearing key pieces from the German label’s most recent eyewear collection. For the campaign, the 22-year-old posed on a rooftop wearing the brand’s newest range of optical frames and sunglasses, paired with a mustard yellow double-breasted suit and a black, logo emblazoned Hugo Boss top.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by HUGO (@hugo_official)

The campaigns keep on rolling in for the rising star, who was born in Milan to an Italian mother and a Moroccan father.

In addition to her latest work with Hugo Eyewear, El-Maslouhi also recently appeared in campaigns for Zadig & Voltaire, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein Swim, Jacquemus and Mango alongside fellow Moroccan model Nora Attal.

Memorably, she was the star of designer Peter Dundas’ most recent collection. The Norwegian designer selected the breakout model to  showcase the brand’s glamorous new offering for Fall 2021, which was digitally presented in a look book format.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by MALIKA (@malika.elmaslouhi)

And when she’s not modeling different collections for brands, she’s helping design them.

She recently teamed up with London-based retailer Ishkar on a range of necklaces delicately handcrafted by jewelers in Kabul, Afghanistan. 

According to the online store, founded by former UAE residents Edmund Le Brun and Flore de Taisne in 2016, the Malika x Ishkar collection is set to drop soon.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by I S H K A R (@ishkar.co)

El-Maslouhi, who is signed to VIVA Model Management, made her modelling debut when she was 18 years old at the Alberta Ferretti Fall 2019 show and went on to walk for the Dior Cruise 2020 show held in Marrakech a month later.

She would go on to quit her university studies to pursue modeling full-time, gracing the runways of storied fashion houses such as Hermes and Chanel.

The model, who splits her time between Italy, France and the Netherlands, also has a few editorials under her belt, including Vogue Russia, British Vogue, Dazed Magazine and Elle France, for which she recently served as the cover star.


Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images
Updated 19 April 2021

Beauty mogul Huda Kattan donates one million meals to new UAE campaign

The beauty mogul urged her followers on social media to donate to the campaign. File/Getty Images

DUBAI: Dubai-based beauty mogul Huda Kattan took to Instagram on Saturday to reveal she has taken part in a food drive campaign launched by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The 100 Million Meals mission was launched to provide food parcels to disadvantaged communities across 20 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa in an effort to combat hunger and malnutrition, exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Kattan announced that she has donated one million meals to those less fortunate via her cosmetics company Huda Beauty.

“It’s hard to believe that in today’s world, in 2021, we’re still dealing with issues of malnutrition and that every ten seconds a child dies because of hunger. This initiative is so incredible and it’s just a reminder of how each and every single one of us has the power to make a change,” said Kattan in a video posted to her Instagram account.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Huda Kattan (@huda)

“I’m so proud to live in a country that prioritizes world hunger,” she said, urging her 2.2 million followers to donate to the charitable initiative.

The 100 Million Meals campaign is an expansion of the 10 Million Meals campaign, which was launched in 2020 to help those worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Within a week of its launch, the initiative has raised over $21,200,000 equivalent to providing more than 78 million meals, as massive donations continue to pour in from individuals and companies inside and outside the UAE.

Kattan is an avid humanitarian and often steps up to help those who need it most.

In June, her cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty, donated $500,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a civil and human rights organization that provides legal assistance to low-income African Americans, during the height of the Black Lives Matters protests that swept through the US last year. 

Before that, the US-Iraqi beauty mogul pledged to donate $100,000 — to be split between 100 different freelance makeup artists providing them with $1000 each — in a bid to help people in the industry stay afloat financially during the pandemic.


Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek
Updated 18 April 2021

Middle East Fashion Week announces dates for inaugural edition

The event is set to take place at Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. Instagram/@middleeast.fashionweek

DUBAI: There’s a new fashion week in the region to look forward to. Middle East Fashion Week has announced its inaugural edition in a statement today. The six-day event is scheduled to take place at Dubai’s Atlantis The Palm from May 14-19. 

Unlike the traditional fashion week format we’ve all become accustomed to, Middle East Fashion Week is adopting a unique schedule, with a three-day sustainable fashion forum featuring high-profile international speakers, followed by three days of in-person fashion shows from international and regional designers, a gala dinner and a slew of other VIP events.

CEO of Middle East Fashion Council Simon J Lo Gatto, said in a statement: “Middle Eastern Fashion Week has been created as a platform to allow designers to come together with a unique opportunity to showcase in Dubai and to reach audiences not only across the GCC, but also the larger Indian subcontinent and Europe.”

He added: “Our goal is for the Middle East Fashion Week to become a biannual Fashion Week that acts as a reference point for designers from all corners of the world. Since inception in 2020, MEFC has positioned itself as the world’s first fashion council with sustainability as its core value and long-term objective. The platform was born from an inspiration to tackle climate change and pollution brought on as a direct result of the industry we love.”

The participating designers have yet to be revealed.


Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.
Baked feta pasta.
Updated 18 April 2021

Ramadan recipes: An Arab take on TikTok’s famous baked feta pasta

Baked feta pasta.

DUBAI: If you’re on social media, chances are you’ve drooled over one of countless images of baked feta pasta — a dish that went viral this year for that holy grail combination of anyone-can-do-it easiness and blissful deliciousness.

The dish, which consists of feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and pasta, has been blasted all over the For You pages of millennials and Gen Z’ers on TikTok, and as of April 18,  #bakedfetapasta has more than 111.4 million views on the social media platform.

For those looking to whip up the dish for iftar, we asked Iraqi-Canadian chef Faisal Hasoon to share a simple baked feta pasta recipe with an Arab twist. 

The chef incorporates a fresh Middle Eastern flavor by way of roasted red peppers, sliced kalamata olives, a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkling of zest.  

Baked Feta Pasta

(Serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

Olive oil 3tbsp

6 cloves garlic (minced)

60g kalamata olives (sliced thin)

250g roasted red peppers (diced)

6 fresh basil leaves (chiffonade)

350g pasta (rigatoni) 

200g feta cheese (Greek, sheep or goat)

1 lemon (zest and juice)

Chilli pepper oil 1tbsp

Dried chilli flakes 1tsp

Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions: 

Step 1: In a medium sized pot bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta as per the instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, drain the remainder and set aside.

Step 2: Starting with a cold pan, cook garlic on low heat in olive oil. Allow it to simmer just before turning golden brown. Be sure not to overcook it as it will become bitter.  Add red chilli flakes and roasted red peppers, let it simmer for a few minutes then add sliced olives. Maintaining low heat and turning with a spatula frequently.

Step 3: Place the whole block of feta into the center of the pan and into the oven at 375 Celsius for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts. 

Step 4: Place the pasta into the pan and mix well until all ingredients are well incorporated, adding reserved pasta water as needed.

Step 5: Finish with the zest and juice of one lemon, fresh cracked black pepper and thinly sliced basil. For an extra kick, drizzle over chilli oil and enjoy!