Arabian apocalypse: Inside a live-streamed Saudi horror film

Arabian apocalypse: Inside a live-streamed Saudi horror film
“Yajuj: The Curse of Iram” is a Saudi horror film. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 December 2020

Arabian apocalypse: Inside a live-streamed Saudi horror film

Arabian apocalypse: Inside a live-streamed Saudi horror film
  • The director of ‘Yajuj: The Curse of Iram’ on creating a Middle Eastern movie genre

BENGALURU: If a pandemic that has infected 71 million people worldwide isn’t scary enough, a Saudi horror film “Yajuj: The Curse of Iram,” is asking audiences to imagine an alternate reality where a deadly virus turns its victims into violent, flesh-eating monsters.

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The feature film follows a group of tourists as they head to Iram of the Pillars, a recently-discovered buried city in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. On their way, they encounter a mysterious, fast-spreading virus that causes people to go insane and become severely violent.




The feature film follows a group of tourists as they head to Iram of the Pillars, a recently-discovered buried city in the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

For some tourists, it signals the end time — a prophecy coming true with the arrival of Yajuj and Majuj (malevolent forces also known as Gog and Magog in Christianity). Others claim there is a scientific cause behind the virus, while some deem it a bioterrorist attack. Based on their theories, members either pray, take precautions or prepare for an apocalypse. In what follows, they have to protect themselves not only from a virus, but warring factions too, and any bad decision could lead to their deaths.

The horror genre has always fascinated the film’s producer and director, Fahmi Farahat, but he was also looking for an idea that was relevant to Saudi culture. “In 2012, I wrote several scripts about zombies and vampires in Saudi,” Farahat tells Arab News. “But these characters come from African and European cultures. I wanted to create a genre or a brand that is inherently Middle Eastern.”




Fahmi Farahat is the film’s producer and director. (Supplied)

Inspiration struck in 2016, when Farahat was hired by the Ministry of Health to create public service videos during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) outbreak. “As I was learning about MERS-CoV — which originated from the dromedary in Saudi Arabia — the idea of a virus appealed to me. I thought, ‘If an apocalypse happened in Saudi today, how would people react?’”

Farahat and his co-producer and writer Murad Alden Amayreh started working on “Yajuj: The Curse of Iram” earlier this year. In what its creators claim was a first-of-its-kind release, the film was live-streamed on Instagram late last month. Inspired by Orson Welles’ “The War of the World’s” live broadcast over the CBS radio network in 1938, the filmmakers used social media to reach a predominately young audience in Saudi Arabia.




Murad Alden Amayreh is the co-producer and writer. (Supplied) 

“Viewers tuned in to the film’s Instagram account and from there, they were directed to other accounts where they could see the story from a particular character’s perspective,” explains Amayreh.

Viewers could watch events unfold through different perspectives simultaneously and interact with the actors. The filmmakers liken the experience to mediums such as virtual reality and gaming. “As characters argued over the cause of the virus, some turned to their Instagram following to ask the audience what they thought was the likely cause,” Amayreh continues.

Writing a screenplay for an unconventional medium presented some unique challenges, Amayreh says. While actors were not required to memorize dialogue, they had to embody their characters. “We gave them the situation and context, but it was up to the actors to pull off these performances ad-lib.”




Fahmi Farahat and Husaain Abbas. (Supplied)

The film was live-streamed from the green oasis of Al-Hasa, but preparations for the event began with intensive character development sessions and small group rehearsals. Coming from a theatrical background, actor Faez Choudary, who plays Dr. Imran Anjum, says the format is very similar to that of stage plays. However, having to film in several different locations added a level of complexity. Following the live event, the filmmakers observed that this type of performance required a varied skillset: acting, engaging with the audience, and being immersed in the environment.

The film’s cast includes a diverse mix coming from a theater, film or social-media background. However, one thing all cast and crew members had in common was the hunger to try new and challenging genres.

“Everyone wanted to be a part of something different; something that moves away from the stereotype of what Saudi was, a decade ago,” Farahat says. “Now, instead of complaining about how difficult it is do art in this country, people are hungry for challenging projects.”




The film’s cast includes a diverse mix coming from a theater, film or social-media background. (Supplied)

The stream of two-way, real-time communication did not determine the trajectory of the film, but offered viewers an option to sit back and watch or play along and even learn a lesson or two about preparing for an apocalypse.

“Up until the day of the event, we were all nervous,” Farahat says. While the team anticipated social-media trolls, the risk paid off and the filmmakers are pleased with the level of interest and engagement the live-stream generated.

It garnered around 600 viewers on the main account and an average 1,500 views on videos saved from the live-stream. Anyone who missed the live feed can watch saved videos on the movie’s Instagram page (@yajujfilm). The team hopes to edit this two-hour long footage and release it for film festivals and streaming platforms shortly.




The film was live-streamed on Instagram late last month. (Supplied)

And the production team hope that the buzz generated by “Yajuj: The Curse of Iram” means it will not be a one-off event. It is intended to be the first installment in a series set in the same apocalyptic world. The team is currently planning “The Tower of Babel,” a film featuring a series of catastrophic events that coincide with the happenings of Yajuj. However, the impact will be larger as the second installment is set to take place in a semi-metropolitan suburb where thousands of people live and work.

“We envision a series like ‘Saw’ or ‘Lord of the Rings’ that will be a recognizable brand for Saudi,” says Farahat.


Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah
The film will close out the festival’s inaugural edition on Dec. 15 ahead of its theatrical release on the 24th. Supplied
Updated 29 November 2021

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

DUBAI: “’83,” a film directed by Indian filmmaker Kabir Khan will have its world premiere at the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival, set to take place from Dec. 16-15 in Jeddah.

The film will close out the festival’s inaugural edition on Dec. 15 ahead of its theatrical release on the 24th.

The premiere will be attended by cast and crew, including the director and Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, the captain of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, Kapil Dev, alongside Mohinder Amarnath, vice captain of the team and legendary cricketeer Kris Srikkanth.

“83” tells the true story of Indian athlete Kapil Dev (Singh) who led the country’s cricket team to its first-ever World Cup victory in 1983. Supplied

“I’m beyond excited to unveil “’83” at the Red Sea International Film Festival, the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is a fantastic opportunity for filmmakers in India and across the world,” Khan said in a statement. “To go on this journey, and to bring the story to screen with legends, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and cricket icon Kapil Dev was like winning the world cup for me.”

Starring Ranveer Singh, “83” tells the true story of Indian athlete Kapil Dev (Singh) who led the country’s cricket team to its first-ever World Cup victory in 1983 at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London against the West Indies.  

According to a release, actors trained for months with the real cricketeers they were portraying in order to understand the nuances of the bat-and-ball game that originated in east England.

Edouard Waintrop, Artistic Director of the film festival said: “‘83 is such a monumental film that will capture the public imagination, in Jeddah and across the world. A true celebration of one of the greatest underdog stories in international sporting history, it continues to inspire generations of young people, and the incredible Hindi-language film is sure to do the same. We are thrilled to host the cast and crew, as well sporting icon Kapil Dev at the Red Sea International Film Festival for one of the most anticipated films of the year.”

 


Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh
Gigi Hadid was among the many people who paid tribute to the late designer on Instagram. File/Instagram
Updated 29 November 2021

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

DUBAI: Tributes from the Arab world, as well as part-Arab models, have poured in after it was announced on Sunday that Virgil Abloh, the US-Ghanaian founder of Off-White and the Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, has died at 41.

He was privately battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma.

Despite his private battle with the illness, Abloh continued his creative pursuits. Earlier this month, he attended the opening of his retrospective exhibition “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech,” in Doha. He was also due to present a runway show of his Spring 2022 collection in Miami for Art Basel.

Undeniably one of the most influential fashion designers of his era, the multi-hyphenate will also be remembered well beyond fashion, leaving a considerable impact on many people who had the opportunity to work with him or get to know him on a personal level.

Following the news of his death, a huge number of celebrities, fans and industry insiders took to social media to pay tribute to the designer.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Bella Hadid wrote on Instagram: “I’m at a loss .. He was someone to everyone. That was the magic power he held. He made every person he came across feel special in whatever way he possibly could. Even when the world felt sad, he brought laughter and color and beauty. The way he made a positive impact on anything he touched, and always pushed for his culture/the world is the reason why he was an angel on earth and one to so many. The most beautiful warrior soul. I can’t believe this.”

She added: “You broke boundaries and made everything your own. You shared your love infinitely. The way your brain worked was beyond anything, and the way you did every single thing in life for your family, friends and for the better… We’re going to miss you a lot V. You really saw me and supported me on every level. As you did to so many of us. An ethereal light. You always inspired to keep pushing, work hard and be kind. No matter what. I’m thinking about, sending love and prayers to his beautiful Shannon, their kids, and the rest of the Abloh family. I’m devastated. You will be so missed and cherished V. FOR INFINITY… Fly high my Libra brother. I know you’re watching over the world now. I love you for life.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

Her older sister Gigi also took to the photo-sharing platform to pay homage to the designer, writing that she is “heartbroken by the loss of my dear friend and a friend to the world.”

She said: “He was 1 of 1. His kindness and energetic generosity left a lasting impression on every life he touched— he made everyone feel seen and special. He will be deeply missed, cherished and celebrated by me and all the people and industries that have been lucky enough to work around and know the true supernova behind this man. I picture him now like our Mickey Mouse... forever with us, forever adored, forever magical, forever guiding us with that special Virgil FUN; I’m sure that’s how he wanted to be remembered, but still it will never be the same without him in the room. You will continue to inspire me every day, V. I feel blessed and honored by every moment. Rest Easy, my friend. You are so loved. You were the difference. As we always said… ‘See you somewhere, soon’.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

Jordanian-Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, who was in Doha with Abloh for the Fashion Trust Arabia only a couple of weeks ago, revealed that she sat in shock for hours following the news.

“I love you Virg. I sat in shock for the past hours because we spoke yesterday. I simply can’t use the past tense to describe you. Extraordinary spirits like yours rarely bless this Earth. A man with a mission who gave hope, dreams and tools to succeed to an entire new generation,” she wrote on Instagram.

“I told someone recently ‘Virgil is great…at everything.’ Because I don’t know how else to describe someone as multi-hyphenate, kind, talented, hard-working, humble, sweet and inspirational as you are. We were working on giving the world a project, we were having fun. Nobody made me want to dance like you. You’re probably redesigning the gates of Heaven right now. I’m praying for your family. Rest in Power King.”

Also honoring the late designer was part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik who reposted the news of Abloh’s passing on her Instagram Stories and captioned it: “My heart. Rest easy Virgil,” alongside the broken-hearted and dove emojis.

“Shocked and heartbroken,” said Lebanese model and humanitarian Jessica Kahawaty. “We just saw you in Qatar. No one knows the battles people fight behind closed doors. May you Rest In Peace.”

Lebanese fashion influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen also took the opportunity to remember Abloh by reposting one of his quotes on her Instagram Stories that read: “Life is so short you can’t even waste a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by @virgilabloh

“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend,” said a statement on his Instagram account posted on Sunday. “He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues.

“He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture,” the statement reads. “Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.”


Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai
Lindsay Lohan and Bader Shammas are engaged. File/Instagram
Updated 28 November 2021

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

DUBAI: Congratulations are in order for Lindsay Lohan. The Dubai-based actress has just announced her engagement to her partner Bader Shammas.

The Hollywood star shared the news with her 9.7 million Instagram followers, posting a series of coupled-up snaps that showed off her diamond engagement ring.

Lohan, 35, wrote: “My love. My life. My family. My future.”

The actress and financier were first spotted together at a music festival in Dubai shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020.

In May 2020 The “Mean Girls” star’s mother Dina Lohan spoke of Shammas, saying: “Lindsay is dating a wonderful guy right now, but that’s neither here nor there. When she’s ready to talk about her personal life, she will.”

Lohan was previously engaged to Russian businessman Egor Tarabasov but the pair split in 2016.

In addition to planning a wedding, the actress has plenty to look forward to.

The “Freaky Friday” star, who made a return to acting, is currently filming a new project for Netflix. The movie is untitled at the moment but is a Christmas romantic comedy, in which Lohan stars as a “spoiled hotel heiress” with amnesia. The upcoming film is expected to release in 2022.

She also recently inked a deal for a new podcast which, she told Deadline, will give listeners “a chance to experience a never-before-seen side” of her and will “share her authentic voice.


What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy
Updated 28 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

Authors: Hal Brands and Charles Edel

Today, after more than seventy years of great‑power peace and a quarter‑century of unrivaled global leadership, Americans have lost their sense of tragedy. They have forgotten that the descent into violence and war has been all too common throughout human history. This amnesia has become most pronounced just as Americans and the global order they created are coming under graver threat than at any time in decades.
In this book, Hal Brands and Charles Edel argue that a tragic sensibility is necessary if America and its allies are to address the dangers that menace the international order today, according to a review on goodreads.com.


Arab World Institute in Paris launches exhibition on Eastern Jews to ‘fix ignorance’

The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
Updated 28 November 2021

Arab World Institute in Paris launches exhibition on Eastern Jews to ‘fix ignorance’

The show exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space. (ANFR Photo/Anne Ilcinkas)
  • The Parisian institution exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world, in an area larger than 1,000 sq. m.
  • ‘This event is a response by reason, by culture, by knowledge, a response by history,’ says Arab World Institute president 

PARIS: After exhibitions titled “Hajj, the pilgrimage in Makkah” in 2014 and the “Christians of the East, 2,000 years of history” in 2017, the Arab World Institute in Paris is continuing its trilogy dedicated to monotheistic religions with “Jews of the East, a multi-millennial history.”

It exhibits 280 works of art that bear witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world in a 1,000-square-meter space.

“This institute would only truly find its vocation if it were open to all the spiritual and intellectual heritages that have marked the history of the Arab world,” IMA President Jack Lang said in a speech to the press a few days before the exhibition’s inauguration. It is set to take place from Nov. 24 to March 13, 2022.

The Parisian institution exhibits “exceptional and unpublished” work, which were made available by 35 lenders — institutions or individuals — bearing witness to 15 centuries of Jewish cohabitation in the Arab world, from the Atlas plateaus to the banks of the Euphrates.

“Was it normal that the Jews, their culture and the Jewish religion did not have their full place here?” IMA’s president asked.

He began to handle the issue two years ago, “shortly before the appearance of these movements, that are in reality very old but reappear regularly in France, of negationism, of hatred, of racism, of denouncing the truth, of confusion.”

He continued: “This event is a response by reason, by culture, by knowledge, a response by history.”

For French President Emmanuel Macron, this is a “great lesson” about “coexistence, mutual enrichment and exchanges between monotheisms.” 

He said: “Identity is always more complex than we think and rubs against other identities to feed on it,” while also denouncing the “obscurantisms” of recent times.

For the first time, Arab News en Francais has partnered up with the IMA for this exhibition. “We are very happy to work with you,” Lang rejoiced in an interview, evoking his “immense admiration for the work accomplished today in the Kingdom by Saudi authorities in general and by Prince Badr in particular.”

“People around the world have absolutely no idea how far a real cultural revolution is taking place in Saudi Arabia, in all fields such as art, cinema, theater, literature, painting, sculpture, music…,” continued the president, who will fly in a few days to Jeddah on the occasion of the Red Sea Film Festival, which promises to be a “huge event.”

He added: “I told Prince Badr, whom I met with 10 days ago: You are not broadcasting enough the magnitude of the cultural changes taking place in the Kingdom today.”

Among these Saudi sites “which one day will be more known” is the Khaybar oasis, represented by three photographs by Humberto da Silveira at the beginning of the exhibition “Jews of the East,” which retraces in a chronological and thematic journey, 15 centuries of Jewish presence in now Arab countries. The Khaybar oasis, located on a major caravan route in the Hejaz, was indeed occupied by Jewish tribes in ancient times, before the Prophet Muhammad made it the “land of Islam.”

“Today, there is a French team of archaeologists undertaking research on the spot to better understand this complex history of the Jews and the Muslims in this historic place, Khaybar, with the consent of Saudi authorities,” added the IMA president.

One of the pieces of the exhibition that most impressed Lang also comes from the Arabian Peninsula. 

He admitted having great difficulty in choosing just one, given the richness of the works exhibited: “Jewish women of Yemeni origin, who have now become Israeli citizens, have created a fabulous music group that travels the world. This relationship is extraordinary, because these Jewish Yemeni women sing in Arabic.” The three Haim sisters (Tair, Liron, and Tagel) with their group A-WA, have enjoyed phenomenal success on YouTube with their song “Habib Galbi,” which mixes traditional Yemeni songs with hip-hop beats.

The public will rediscover the “Hana Mash Hu Al-Yaman” clip at the conclusion of the exhibition, the last stage in a history spanning more than 2,000 years. It shows the history of Jewish communities in the Arab world, of the first links forged between the Jewish tribes of the Kingdom and Prophet Muhammad up to the final exile, the emergence of great scholars, such as Saadia Gaon, Maimonides or Joseph Caro, during the medieval caliphates in Baghdad, Fez, Cairo and Cordoba, and the rise of Jewish urban centers in the Maghreb and the Ottoman Empire.

“Never before has the history of the Jews been told in these countries which have become Arab countries today. It had never been told on a millennial scale, from ancient times until today,” said Lang, adding: “It is a way of repairing ignorance, of showing that the Arab world is rich in successive religions and cultures, which fashioned its originality.”

Asked about the apprehensions that this exhibition could arouse on the Palestinian side, the Lang explained that “the exhibition absolutely does not address the political questions of today.” 

“There are other occasions for the IMA to bring them up,” he said, referring to the upcoming publishing of a book titled “What Palestinians Bring to the World.”

Just like the general curator of the exhibition, historian Benjamin Stora, who said that “we would miss our target if we only spoke of the end, of the ‘why’ did the Jews depart,” Lang insists on showing that: “Above all, we want to show that the presence of Jews goes back a long way in history.”