Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar

Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar
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A scene from the film. (Supplied)
Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar
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Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar
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Updated 20 February 2021

Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar

Director Farah Nabulsi’s film on the Palestinian experience in the running for an Oscar
  • I wanted to offer a suggestion that maybe it’s the youth, and maybe it’s female youth, that can offer us a more hopeful future. They are coming out smarter and stronger, after all

DUBAI: Farah Nabulsi never imagined she could direct a film. Even after leaving behind a successful career in investment banking to tell stories of injustices in Palestine, after years of writing and producing short films, a persistent, doubting voice in her head told her, again and again, that there was no way she could become a director.

Stepping behind the camera was, in her mind, a step too far. How wrong she was. She overcame her doubts and last week received an honor few filmmakers achieve — her directorial debut, “The Present,” was shortlisted for an Academy Award.
“I truly believe that everything you ever want is on the other side of fear,” Nabulsi told Arab News. “Most people don’t do the things in life they would like to be doing because of fear. I say OK, fine, feel that fear — but go ahead anyway.”
Nabulsi was born and raised in London to a Palestinian mother and an Egyptian-Palestinian father. “The Present” is her third short film and it is grander in scope and ambition than either of her previous efforts. The 25-minute movie chronicles a day in the life of a man and his daughter as they embark on what should be a simple outing to buy the girl’s mother a gift. However it quickly turns into an odyssey as they pass through checkpoints and security stops, an experience that becomes humiliating at best — and possibly deadly.
Nabulsi’s previous films, which she wrote and produced, were “Today They Took My Son” (2016) and “Oceans of Injustice” (2017). She collaborated on them with directors Pierre Dawalibi and Bruno de Champris respectively. However the stories they were telling were hers and, as much as she respected the work of the directors and benefited from the collaborations, she said that what held her back from directing them herself was was not lack of ability, but self doubt.
“To be a producer, the barriers to entry in my mind were very low,” she said. “You can just decide ‘I’m going to produce a film.’
“Whether you’re a good producer or not, that’s another conversation. But to choose to be a producer, I didn’t think I needed to know anything particularly technical. Whereas to be a director, in my mind, there was a sort of perception or a stigma: I thought no, you have to go to film school or something.”
Others pushed Nabulsi to direct, continually asking her why, when she was so hands-on with every aspect of the production of her films, was she avoiding the director’s chair? Impostor syndrome set an invisible barrier she could not overcome, until the idea for “The Present” began to take form in her mind and she realized she could visualize every shot.
She even had an actor in mind to star: Saleh Bakri, the brooding, near-method actor who starred in global sleeper hit “The Band’s Visit” (2007), written and directed by Eran Kolirin, and the acclaimed Palestinian family drama “Wajib” (2017), written and directed by Annemarie Jacir.
“I had to make sure I had the best actor for the job,” said Nabulsi. “They say you can have a great story and some really bad acting, or you can have some great acting and a really bad story. But if you have a powerful story and some fantastic acting, you might make it to the Oscars.”
Nabulsi needed Bakri not only to hold the production together with his bountiful charisma but also to imbue every frame with humanity, as ultimately this is the aim of the film. One of the characteristics of film in particular as an art form, and the reason Nabulsi chose the medium, is its ability to convey a deep sense of the human condition. A good movie pulls viewers into the struggles the characters endure deep within themselves with every humiliation or indiscretion. As a first-time director, she knew that accomplishing this depth of characterization requires a team effort, so attracting an actor of Bakri’s caliber was a vital step.
“He’s a very seasoned actor,” she said. “He took a risk on me — and that was based on my intentions. He liked the story and he liked the simplicity of the story.
“From a directing point of view, I had to be very careful that when I did bring anything to him; it had to add value because otherwise I’m interfering in his process. Otherwise, I would leave it with him and then if I felt something was not quite what the character would do, we would have our conversation and vice versa.”
Sometimes these conversations about character would continue late into the night, after which Bakri often retreated into silence until the cameras rolled, with Nabulsi unsure of where his process had taken him after their discussions.


“Then when he’s doing the scene I would be watching him and I would know that he’d taken in the conversation we’ve had, and he would do it beautifully,” she said. “He captured the sort of dignity and the depth and the frustration and the humanity of this man so well.”
Unlike Jordanian director Ameen Nayfeh’s “200 Meters” (2020) — another excellent film centered on a Palestinian father plagued by border crossings, which starred previous Bakri collaborator Ali Suliman — “The Present” is not only the story of a man. It is the story of a father and his daughter, and her role is integral to the film’s power and success.
Throughout the film Yusuf (Saleh’s character) is watched closely by his daughter, Yasmine (Mariam Kanj). At one point, movingly, she tells him that their ordeal is not his fault. Ultimately it is Yasmine who takes matters into her own hands as her father reaches breaking point.
“I had various versions of what could happen but I certainly wanted to lend hope, and something unexpected,” said Nabulsi. “I wanted to offer a suggestion that maybe it’s the youth, and maybe it’s female youth, that can offer us a more hopeful future. They are coming out smarter and stronger, after all.”
The next challenge for Nabulsi is her first feature film, a dramatic, character-driven thriller inspired by real events, which is being co-produced by Philistine Films in Palestine and Cocoon Films in the UK. It will reunite her with Bakri, who will star as the film’s protagonist, and she is working with casting director Leo Davies, who helped to select Helen Mirren for her Oscar-winning title role in “The Queen” (2006), to find the perfect actors to portray three Western characters. Shooting is scheduled to begin by the end of this year.
Before then, Nabulsi will experience the excitement of her first major awards season as a contender, as she waits to find out whether “The Present” makes it onto the final list of Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short. It is also on the long list for a BAFTA in the British Short Film category.
“I’m not sitting here with delusions of grandeur or anything like that,” she said. “It’s just the appreciation of what this can do — allowing me to continue my work and continue to tell stories to raise the global social conscience.
“Powerful, evocative, world-standard, cinematic, beautiful storytelling — that is the kind of filmmaking I want to be doing.”


Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016
Updated 21 September 2021

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016

Facebook spent over $13 bln on safety, security since 2016
  • The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security
  • Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app

DUBAI: Facebook Inc. said on Tuesday it has invested more than $13 billion in safety and security measures since 2016.
This comes days after a newspaper reported the company had failed to fix “the platform’s ill effects” researchers had identified.
The social media giant said it now has 40,000 people working on safety and security, compared with 10,000 five years ago.
Facebook played down the negative effects on young users of its Instagram app and had a weak response to alarms raised by employees over how the platform is used in developing countries by human traffickers, the Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing a review of internal company documents.
“In the past, we didn’t address safety and security challenges early enough in the product development process,” the company said in a blog post
“But we have fundamentally changed that approach.”
Facebook said its artificial intelligence technology has helped it block 3 billion fake accounts in the first half of this year. The company also removed more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.
The company said it now removes 15 times more content that violates its standards on hate speech across Facebook and its image-sharing platform Instagram than when it first began reporting it in 2017.


Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days. (File/AFP)
The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days. (File/AFP)
Updated 21 September 2021

Netflix offers free plan in Kenya to entice new subscribers

The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days. (File/AFP)
  • Netflix offers free mobile plan with one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya to increase frowth
  • The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads

LOS ANGELES: Netflix Inc. on Monday began offering a free mobile plan with about one-quarter of its TV shows and movies in Kenya, a strategy aimed at sparking growth in a key African market, the company told Reuters.
The free plan is available on Android mobile phones and will not have ads. It features Netflix movies and TV shows such as dramas “Money Heist” and “Bridgerton” and African series “Blood & Water,” plus some of the programming the company licenses from others. Netflix hopes the free plan will lead to users signing up for a paid option with more content.
The world’s largest streaming video service is looking to add customers outside of more saturated markets such as the United States, where new subscriber signups have slowed at a time when competition for online audiences has intensified.
Executives remain bullish on the long-term future, noting there are large markets where streaming television is just starting to take hold. To attract customers in Africa, Netflix is investing in locally made programming such as “Queen Sono” and “Jiva!” and has partnered with production studios in Nigeria.
“If you’ve never watched Netflix before — and many people in Kenya haven’t — this is a great way to experience our service,” Cathy Conk, director of product innovation at Netflix, said in a blog post. “And if you like what you see, it’s easy to upgrade to one of our paid plans so you can enjoy our full catalog on your TV or laptop as well.”
The free plan started on Monday and will roll out across Kenya in the coming days.
The non-paying Netflix subscribers in Kenya will not be counted in the paid total the company reports each quarter, a spokesperson said.
Netflix has experimented with free offers before. In 2020, it made some episodes of series such as “Stranger Things” and movies including “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” available around the world for no charge via web browsers.
The free plan in Kenya is broader. It will look similar to paid Netflix profiles to give viewers a feel for the service, the spokesperson said. Shows that are not included in the free plan will be marked with a lock icon. Clicking on one of those titles will encourage the user sign up for a paid option.
Anyone 18 or older in Kenya can enroll in the free plan and create up to five profiles. No payment information will be required.
Some functions, such as the ability to download a show or movie, will not be available under the free plan.
Netflix, which streams in more than 190 countries, has taken other steps to boost usage in Africa, including creation of a paid mobile-only plan and partnerships with local telecom operators to ease payments.
The company reported 209 million paying customers worldwide at the end of June. New member pickups slowed in the first half of 2021 after a boom early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa currently is a relatively small market for streaming TV subscriptions. Digital TV Research projects Netflix will lead subscription video on demand services on the continent with 6.26 million paying customers in 2026, followed by Walt Disney Co’s Disney+.


Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers
Updated 21 September 2021

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers

Arab journalists’ body, Facebook, media groups join forces to empower women writers
  • Year-long campaign to end online harassment against women journalists proves major success

DUBAI:Women have long faced discrimination in the workplace with issues ranging from unfair pay gaps to unconscious biases.

And the switch to remote working due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought its own set of challenges, especially for women as they struggle juggling home and work responsibilities.

In addition, women working online have also had to contend with sexual harassment, misogyny, hate speech, trolls, and other forms of abuse.

According to a study by the International Center for Journalists and the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, 20 percent of participants said their experience of online abuse, harassment, threats, or attacks had been “much worse than usual” after the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the region, a 2020 study by Arab Barometer found that there was a 56 percent decrease in the odds of being an internet user for women as opposed to men. Women faced “immense barriers to full participation in the digital sphere” reflective of issues in real life, the survey reported.

“Cultural norms, gender roles, biases, and stereotypes often dissuade and even prevent women from accessing the internet, gaining digital literacy, and participating in the digital economy or society,” the report added.

While the online environment was precarious for all women, female journalists were discovered to be among those who faced the most online abuse, including intimidation and threats.

In response to the trends and to protect female journalists from online abuse, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism in partnership with the Facebook Journalism Project, WAN-IFRA’s Women in News, the International Women’s Media Foundation, and the International Research and Exchanges Board, along with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, last year launched a 12-month project, titled “I Will Not Stay Silent,” targeting the Arab journalistic community.

The IWNSS multidisciplinary project, was set up to create an inclusive digital public space free of exclusion, sexism, discrimination, and all other forms of injustice, for women and men in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Mohammed Omar, Facebook’s MENA news partnerships manager, said: “Attacks such as online bullying, doxing, threats, and sexual harassment are serious problems that have only become more prominent and coordinated in recent years.

“By taking part in the online webinars, journalists, especially women journalists, are empowered to come forward and speak in a safe space about the problems they have faced at work,” he added.

As part of the program, 13 webinars were held addressing topics such as how to deal with privacy issues, gender terms in media, gender balance in media coverage, and sexual harassment in the newsroom and on the internet.

The webinars reached 1.3 million people on Facebook with more than 2,000 journalists joining in via video conferencing. The 13th webinar, which was an open discussion for all participants, reached 92,000 people and had 953 participants on the platform.

Rawan Damen, director general of ARIJ, said: “With such a knowledgeable, supportive consortium, we were able to launch and execute IWNSS, which is much needed to protect the ecosystem of investigative journalism in particular and journalism in MENA as a whole.”

In addition to the webinars, IWNSS held live training, one-on-one clinics, and offered extra resources and tools to help journalists.

The ARIJ academy and Facebook also held a free online diploma program between June and September for 20 trainees, targeting media professionals, especially female journalists and HR professionals, and, said the ARIJ, “anyone professionally interested to have the tools to deal with various forms of misuse of authority in the work environment and beyond.”

Damen added: “The uniqueness of this project is not only in its regional focus but in its use of five different methods to achieve a comprehensive result; wide awareness, in-depth, focused live training, one-to-one clinics, self-based tools, and digital campaigns.”

Moving forward, IWNSS has launched 200 digital one-to-one clinics to provide the necessary tools to help journalists project themselves in the digital world. The clinics are free of charge and those interested can apply through ARIJ.


Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)
Updated 20 September 2021

Georgian chess champion sues Netflix for ‘sexist’ portrayal in ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

Netflix faces defamation suit for wrong portrayal of female chess champion in the Queen's Gambit. (Netflix)

LONDON: Georgian chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili filed a defamation lawsuit on Thursday against Netflix, accusing the streaming giant of incorrectly portraying her in the hit series “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Gaprindashvili, 80, said Netflix’s claim in the series that she “never faced men” is “grossly sexist and belittling.”

The lawsuit refers to a specific line in the series finale which compares the main character, Elizabeth Harmon, to Gaprindashvili. The series makes a notable distinction between the fictional character and Gaprindashvili, which is that the latter never faced men during her chess tournaments. 

In the finale, a character narrates: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Gaprindashvili began playing chess at 13, became the female world champion at 20 and was the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can attain. 

Contrary to Netflix’s portrayal, Gaprindashvili did indeed face men, 59 of them, including 28 in one simultaneous match when the series was supposedly set in 1968. 

“They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations,” Gaprindashvili said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the irony.”

Another notable item in the lawsuit relates to Gaprindashvili’s nationality. While the series portrayed her as Russian, she in fact is Georgian and was born in Zugdidi, Georgia.

Netflix responded to Gaprindashvili and said it “has only the utmost respect for Ms Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”


Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
Updated 20 September 2021

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened

Lawyer says US journalist in Myanmar jail seems disheartened
  • US journalist Danny Fenster appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said
  • Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the US
BANGKOK: US journalist Danny Fenster, imprisoned in Myanmar for almost four months while awaiting trial, appeared disheartened during a court hearing Monday, his lawyer said.
Fenster has been charged with incitement — spreading inflammatory information — an offense for which he could be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The charge does not specify what he is accused of doing.
The military-installed government that took power in February has sought to curb independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting dozens of journalists.
Fenster is being detained in Yangon’s Insein Prison, an overcrowded facility which for decades has housed political prisoners.
Lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster seemed demoralized when he spoke with him in a video conference during Monday’s court hearing, his first opportunity to do so in more than a month. Hearings are conducted by video at a township court instead of in a special courtroom at the prison because of the coronavirus, which in the past few months has severely impacted Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
“His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that ‘I have nothing to say,’” the lawyer said. “I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn’t request anything.”
Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medicine he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.
Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
“We are very concerned about Danny’s physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today’s hearing,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. “It’s totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family.”
Monday’s hearing was held to extend Fenster’s pre-trial detention, and set Oct. 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.
Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster’s release, as has the US government.
“We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of US citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.
“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” Price said. “We continue to press Burma’s military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family.”