JEDDAH: Empire Cinemas, the Middle East’s first home-grown cinema brand, has opened its third venue in Saudi Arabia. The launch of the 18-screen multiplex, at Al-Andalus Mall in Jeddah, was marked by a special screening of the superhero sequel “Wonder Woman 1984.”
Arabic calligraphy: Ancient craft, modern art
For the Saudi Ministry of Culture's Year of Arabic Calligraphy in 2020/21, we take an in-depth look at how the craft has developed from ancient to modern times.
The venue includes a number of innovations, including the region’s first example of CinemaNext’s Sphera premium-cinema concept. The 142-seat auditorium is fitted with state-of-the-art audiovisual technology, including Flexound Augmented Audio.
Other screens offer offers Dolby Atmos technology, and two of Empire Cinemas’ signature concepts: Minis, which includes a private play area and special concessions and entertainment for little ones; and Empire Premiere, which offers discerning movie lovers a more luxurious cinema experience, including a private lounge in which customers can enjoy serviced dining before watching the film while relaxing in lavish, reclining seats.
“We have a high standard for comfort, design and innovation,” said Gino Haddad, the chain’s CEO. “Empire Cinemas is proud to be the first cinema operator in the region to have installed CinemaNext’s Sphera, with its innovative ambient LED wall system, as well as augmented audio technology seats through its association with Flexound Augmented Audio.”
Empire Cinemas opened its first Saudi venue in Jazan in December 2019, followed by a second in Abha last month.
“We plan to expand up to 15 locations (in the Kingdom) within the next three to four years,” said Haddad.
The history of Empire Cinemas can be traced back more than 100 years to the opening of a cinema in Beirut in 1919.
Saudi Arabia lifts the curtain on the future of film
Saudi festival-goers are donning VR headsets for a cinema experience like no other
Updated 07 December 2021
JEDDAH: Ever wondered what the future of storytelling looks like?
Saudi audiences are about to find out, thanks to Red Sea: Immersive, a program of virtual reality experiences organized as part of the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival, which is running until Dec. 15 at Jeddah’s newly opened creative complex Hayy Jameel.
Audiences will don virtual reality headsets and step into the shoes of a character as they journey through a 360-degree story world that draws on the skills of theater directors, filmmakers and architects — and even gamers.
Red Sea: Immersive features a selection from award-winning international artists and directors that will appeal to all types of audiences, with documentaries, animations and interactive narratives, as well as games, art and virtual world explorations.
Hayy Jameel, which includes galleries, art and design studios and the Kingdom’s first arthouse cinema, is an ideal venue for the VR program.
In collaboration with Art Jameel, Red Sea: Immersive will showcase 21 programs, including ground-breaking VR works produced in 2021 by directors and artists from the UK, France, Taiwan, the US, Germany and Denmark.
A competition for the Golden Yusr Immersive Award, including a cash prize of $10,000, will be judged by an all-female jury led by US multimedia artist Laurie Anderson.
Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive, told Arab News that the program aims to show Saudi directors, artists, illustrators and audiences that virtual reality is a unique new platform to create stories, produce art and build story worlds.
“The program will be inspiring because it’s really about using new tools to tell stories. So, I’m really hoping the selection that we show is going to be an inspiration to artists,” Rosenthal, who also curated Venice VR at the Venice International Film Festival, said.
While people in Saudi Arabia are familiar with flat-screen media, such as film, television and social media, “the 360 VR experience will give them a chance to visit new worlds,” she said.
“I’m really excited about showing them emotions, stories and how you can enter into a story world in a 360-degree spatial way. It’s powerful,” Rosenthal said.
The VR experiences include “Anandala,” “End of Night,” “Genesis,” “Glimpse,” “Goliath: Playing with Reality,” “Kusunda,” “Laika,” “Lavrynthos,” “Le Bal De Paris De Blanca Li,” “Marco and Polo Go Round,” “Reeducated,” “Samsara (Lun Hui),” and “The Sick Rose.”
VR projects are very different to filmmaking, Rosenthal said.
“Filmmaking is about the flat screen. It’s about a director and an editor, deciding where you cut each scene, whether there’s a long shot or a wide shot, or a close-up. But in VR there’s agency for the viewer because you’re in a 360-degree environment, and can interact with characters and the story. It is a very different medium to filmmaking.”
She added: “It involves many different disciplines, and so filmmaking is a very important part of it, but it’s going to be exciting how filmmakers work with other people from other disciplines to create these experiences.”
Each experience features an artificial world and various formats such as animation, documentaries, love stories, abstract art, and journeys through place, time and emotions.
Viewers in some experiences can become involved in real-time performance, using game engine controllers to play an interactive role in helping a character.
Rosenthal said: “Red Sea: Immersive has selected the best virtual reality projects of the past two years. I’ve done a competition section with 13 projects, but I also wanted to show that there are many different genres and subject matters that can be covered with virtual reality tools. So, it’s really a wide selection.”
She added: “I selected around eight other experiences that were produced in 2020. And there are some of my favorite experiences that have been shown and won awards at different festivals. But the competition section is all about the projects that have been produced in 2021. So, we have, for example, three projects that were the main award winners at the Venice Film Festival.”
According to Rosenthal, using a technology such as VR requires skills in a range of areas, such as games design, architecture and spatial design.
The real-time interaction experience “Glimpse” is a collaboration between a game designer and a film director.
“Benjamin Cleary, the director of ‘Glimpse,’ has previously won an Oscar for a short film, while his co-director, Michael O’Connor, is more involved in the games world and used to work at Sega, the video-game company. So, you need a knowledge of game engines, and you need to be able to direct and tell the story like a filmmaker,” Rosenthal said.
“We hope that this is going to be an inspiration to different creators, storytellers and filmmakers. But what’s really new about virtual reality is that it really brings together different artistic mediums,” she added.
The Hayy Jameel venue has 14 booths where the audience can book a one-hour slot to watch any of the 21 projects. Longer bookings to cover most of the projects are also available.
The inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival will support emerging talents and bring the best in Arab and world cinema to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jeddah Old Town until Dec. 15, 2021.
Stars shine on the Red Sea International Film Festival
Inaugural event features home-grown talent and features alongside international icons and blockbusters
Updated 16 min 19 sec ago
Rawan Radwan Nada Hameed
JEDDAH: Cinematic masterpieces and their creators flocked to Jeddah for the long-awaited Red Sea International Film Festival.
After nearly two years on hold, the star-studded event finally rolled out the red carpet in the Kingdom’s beating cultural heart: Jeddah’s historic downtown area known as Al-Balad. With homes dating back at least three centuries in the backdrop, the scene was shining with international, Arab, and Saudi film stars, filmmakers, directors, and producers; a beautiful mix of the old and new as history was being made.
The event, set to run until Dec. 15, will feature world premieres of selected films made by the Kingdom’s up-and-coming talent, with 138 films from over 60 countries in total. The historical event, dubbed “a landmark moment,” by RSIFF Chairman Mohammed Al-Turki, will “serve (as) a launchpad for young Saudi and Arab talent and support the development of our flourishing industry.”
Less than 24 hours ago, residents of the city watched the closing ceremony of the first Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix, another historic moment for the Kingdom and the city of Jeddah as it bore witness to one of the biggest sports events in the world.
The celebrations continue at RSIFF as it aims to bring the global film industry “to network, share knowledge and forge partnerships” and will gather local film lovers, filmmakers, and international industry leaders at one event.
The red carpet witnessed some of the Kingdom’s most prominent names in film and television. Speaking to Arab News, Saudi actress Sumaya Rida, who starred in the Saudi film “Rupture,” said how much of an honor it was to represent the Kingdom in the film industry, with “Rupture” the only Saudi feature competing on an international scale as part of the festival.
“I had the opportunity to be part of two films for the festival. ‘Rupture’ is directed by Hamzah Jamjoom and produced by Aymen Khoja. I starred with the American actor Billy Zane. I also had the pleasure to co-star in the short film ‘Junoon,’ a horror short appealing to the new wave of Saudi cinema. There are many other great Saudi films and I am honestly very excited to watch these works,” said Rida.
One of the most significant cinematic figures in the Kingdom, Haifaa Al-Mansour, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, will be honored at the RSIFF and told Arab News that the support filmmakers have received in the past few years had produced great talents with fresh ideas, especially female members of the film industry, who have received unprecedented support.
“This is a beautiful beginning and I’m proud to be at such an event in Saudi Arabia celebrating cinema and celebrating women in cinema. As a Saudi director, this is a big deal and I’m proud to see a film directed and produced by Saudi female directors. This is a major leap for women in the Kingdom,” she told Arab News.
“I’m so happy to be here in Jeddah. I’m so proud to see all of this happening and I’m so happy to see a festival at this scale in the Arab world, and (am) hoping for many more festivals,” Lebanese fashion entrepreneur and digital influencer Karen Wazen told Arab News.
The festival’s movies are divided into 11 sections: Competition, Short Film Competition, International Spectacular, Arab Spectacular, Festival Favorites, New Saudi/ New Cinema (Feature), New Saudi/ New Cinema (Shorts), Treasures, Next Generation, Immersive and Episodic.
“It’s a great honor because this is the first movie festival here and it’s a symbol, it’s a sign of developing, and I really love this because cinema and all kinds of art open the mind. It’s beautiful,” Italian actor Michele Morrone told Arab News.
The Saudi films that will screen include: “Junoon” by directors Maan B. and Yaser B. Khalid, “Route 10” by Omar Naim, “Quareer” by Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi, and Noor Alameer, “Fay’s Palette” by Anas Ba-Tahaf, “Becoming” by Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Alfahhad, and Fatima Al-Banawi, “Kayan” by Hakeem Jomaah and “Cinema Al-Hara” by Faizah Ambah.
The lineup is interspersed with high-profile international films such as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elena Ferrante adaptation “The Lost Daughter,” “Memory Box” by Beirut-born director duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, “Huda’s Salon” by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, and India’s “Paka” directed by Nithin Lukose.
The festival will host several initiatives aimed at improving the Saudi film industry and enriching the Kingdom’s cinematic scene and talent development, and host a plethora of screenings, talks, workshops, and a masterclass by no other than famous Egyptian actress Yousra, tribute talks with Laila Eloui, and many more activities.
Syrian comedian Amr Maskoun to be honored at E! People’s Choice Awards 2021
Updated 06 December 2021
DUBAI: E! Entertainment Television announced on Monday that Syrian comedian Amr Maskoun has been voted by the public as the Middle Eastern Social Media Star of 2021 at this year’s People’s Choice Awards.
This is the first time the awards show has dedicated a category to the Arab world.
Maskoun is recognized by the People’s Choice Awards alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names including the entrepreneur, fashion and beauty mogul Kim Kardashian, who will receive “The Fashion Icon” award; entertainment powerhouse Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who will be honored with “The People’s Champion” award, and Academy Award-winning actress, director and producer Halle Berry who will take home “The People’s Icon” award.
On receiving his award, the social media star said in a released statement: “Throughout my life, all external factors, especially during my period of asylum, made me feel that I didn’t have much worth and that I was inferior to others. I think that this award is proof that with passion and dedication, there is nothing that can stop you from dreaming.”
The 23-year-old social media star and architecture graduate was born in Aleppo, Syria, and rose to fame when his comedic videos and sketches began to go viral on the internet.
He is best known for playing the character of “Umm Suzan,” a persona that he created.
From being a Syrian refugee in Turkey and France, to now becoming one of the most famous social media influencers in the Arab world, Maskoun has reached over three and half million followers on Instagram and almost four million subscribers on YouTube in just seven years.
The other nominees in the Middle Eastern Social Media Star of 2021 category included Kuwaiti style icon and fashion influencer Ascia, Saudi Arabian fashion and style influencer Fozaza, Lebanese fashion guru and lifestyle influencer Karen Wazen; Emirati storyteller Khalid Al-Ameri, Egyptian Instagram sensation and beauty influencer Logina Salah, Iraqi YouTube sensation Noor Stars and Bahraini filmmaker Omar Farooq.
The 2021 People’s Choice Awards will be broadcast on Dec. 8, starting with 2021 People’s Choice Awards: Live From E! at 3:00 a.m. and the ceremony at 5:00 a.m. (Saudi time).
The red carpet and ceremony will air again later that same day at 3:30 p.m. and 7:10 p.m.
Mexican film ‘The Hole in the Fence’ wins Golden Pyramid Award at Cairo Film Festival
Updated 06 December 2021
DUBAI: Mexican director Joaquin del Paso’s film “The Hole in the Fence” won The Golden Pyramid Award for Best Film at the 43rd edition of the Cairo Film Festival on Sunday.
The movie, which premiered in at the Venice Film Festival, takes place at a secluded exclusive summer camp in the Mexican countryside. It tells the story of some boys from a prestigious private school who receive physical, moral and religious training to turn them into tomorrow’s elite.
The Best Actress Award went to a German-born actress Swamy Rotolo for her performance in the Italian-language drama “A Chiara,” directed by Jonas Carpignano.
The event, which took place at the Cairo Opera House, also honored Egyptian star Mohamed Mamdouh with the Best Actor Award for his role in the Nadine Khan- directed film “Abu Saddam” that premiered at the festival.
Sotheby’s Dubai to exhibit $40 million artwork by Italian artist Botticelli
Updated 06 December 2021
DUBAI: Sotheby’s Dubai is set to exhibit the renowned Italian renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli’s artwork “The Man of Sorrows” from Dec. 12-14.
It will be on view to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. before it returns to New York for Sotheby’s annual Masters Week sales series in January 2022, where it will be offered with an estimate in excess of $40 million.
Executed in the late 15th/early 16th century, the painting is one of the last masterpieces remaining in private hands by Botticelli.
The artwork puts a spotlight on the artist’s spirituality, which greatly influenced his later period of work and life.
“The Man of Sorrows” was first recorded in the collection of Adelaide Kemble Sartoris (1814-1879), a famed English opera singer, and descended in the family to her great granddaughter, who sold it at auction in 1963 for $28,000.
Since then, it has remained in the same private collection, unseen until its inclusion in the major exhibition devoted to the Florentine master at the Städel Museum in Frankfurt in 2009 to 2010.
The work came to auction following Sotheby’s sale of Botticelli’s “Young Man Holding a Roundel” in January 2021, which was also exhibited in Dubai.
The painting sold for $92.2 million – making it one of the most valuable portraits of any era ever sold and one of the most valuable old master paintings ever sold at auction.
Despite the landmark sale earlier this year, works by Botticelli – from any period – remain exceedingly rare at auction. His late works in particular very seldom appear on the market, with only three other works from this period (post 1492) known to be in private hands.