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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Photo/Supplied
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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.”


Discovery+ comes to STC’s Jawwy TV 

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
Updated 24 February 2021

Discovery+ comes to STC’s Jawwy TV 

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. (Supplied)
  • The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform

DUBAI: Discovery+ has signed a long-term partnership with the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) through its media arm, Intigral.

The agreement will provide Discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. Users can sign up for the add-on subscription, which will be valid for 12 months.

“We are delighted to enter this new partnership with the leading telco operator in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and combine our strengths to provide customers access to our much-loved brands and content on discovery+,” said Kasia Kieli, president and MD of Discovery EMEA. “This agreement with Intigral reaffirms our digital strategy as we continue to grow our global footprint.”

Discovery+’s offering will include 4,000 hours of on-demand content featuring original and global shows such as “Shark Week,” “MythBusters” and “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (Uncensored)” as well as other Discovery channels such as Fatafeat, TLC, Discovery Family, Animal Planet, Discovery Science and Investigation Discovery, with more to follow.

Discovery+ and STC also plan to make the Discovery+ app available to STC’s mobile customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain as an added value to the existing service.

“As the entertainment arm of STC, we are thrilled to have partnered with Discovery to offer its extensive content portfolio to our subscribers,” said Markus Golder, CEO of Intigral.


New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia
Updated 24 February 2021

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia

New YouTube research highlights viewing trends in Saudi Arabia
  • Most-trending categories in the Kingdom were gaming, learning and sports

DUBAI: YouTube held its first online festival for advertisers in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), where it unveiled new research on audience viewership in Saudi Arabia.

The most-trending categories in the Kingdom were gaming, learning and sports, and the most-watched content was locally produced.

The last 12 months saw steady growth in gaming content streaming in Arabic. Puzzles and adventures were the most popular genres, followed by combat sports such as wrestling and boxing, and e-sports such as FIFA.

Viewership of educational videos on YouTube also witnessed an increase. Watch time of science and maths videos increased by 200 percent, while 95 percent of users watched DIY content.

In August of last year, YouTube reached over 20 million people in Saudi Arabia, who watched videos on the platform for an average of 55 minutes per day. Seven out of 10 most-watched videos in the Kingdom were locally produced.

“People in Saudi Arabia come to YouTube to catch more personalized content and high-quality entertainment produced by local creators. They are looking for relevant and relatable video content that may not always be available in more traditional media,” said Souheil Soueid, head of advertising products and solutions at Google and YouTube in MENA.

“This is evident in the continuous growth in watch time on the platform across all devices, including TV, and the popularity of new content genres like gaming and learning amongst others.”

FAST FACTS: SAUDI YOUTUBE CONSUMPTION HABITS

• Watch time of science, maths videos up 200 percent.

• 95 percent of users watched DIY content.

• Average watch time 55 minutes per day.

• YouTube reached over 20m people in KSA last year.


TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users
Updated 24 February 2021

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users

TikTok ‘live show’ series to educate users
  • Experts and influencers to offer insights on marketing, health, motivation

DUBAI: Short-form mobile video app TikTok has launched a new live series, #LearnonTikTok, to support the recent surge in educational content on the platform.

With the onset of the pandemic last year, TikTok witnessed a shift in the way audiences create and consume content on the platform, with knowledge-sharing and education-related content seeing a 300 percent growth.

“As people spent more time indoors during the pandemic, an upward trend emerged in the demand for educational content on TikTok,” said Rami Zeidan, head of video and creative at TikTok.

TikTok announced the initiative in the US in January last year, which included a partnership with the online study platform Quizlet. It also formed a $50 million creative learning fund, as part of its $250 million pledge to support its community during the pandemic.

As part of the #LearnonTikTok program, the platform partnered with prominent personalities including Bill Nye, Lilly Singh, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Tyra Banks to feature educational content on TikTok.

Building on the popularity of educational content on the platform in the region, TikTok will now be hosting live sessions every week, for a month from Feb. 25.

Topics include show business and social media; digital and influencer marketing; health and fitness; and motivation.

The sessions will be hosted by Al Arabiya TV presenter Mahira Abdel Aziz. Each session will be led by a regional celebrity or influencer such as TV presenter Azza Zarour; digital content creator Nael Abu Alteen; Egyptian activist and athlete Manal Rostom; and travel blogger and YouTuber Haifa Beseisso.

“The #LearnOnTikTok Live Show has been designed to enable users to discover new interests and passions while learning from regional experts in popular fields,” added Zeidan.


Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas
Updated 24 February 2021

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas

Spotify announces Ramadan podcast in partnership with Obamas
  • ‘Tell Them, I Am’ podcast features a collection of narratives from Muslim voices including activists, artists, actors and athletes

Audio company Spotify’s partnership with Barack and Michelle Obama will bring to light diverse Muslim voices in its upcoming podcast “Higher Ground: Tell Them, I Am.”

In 2019, Spotify partnered with the Obamas’ production company Higher Productions to produce podcasts exclusive to the platform.

The “Tell Them, I Am” podcast features a collection of narratives from Muslim voices including activists, artists, actors and athletes.

It is hosted by Misha Euceph, a first-generation Pakistani-American writer, podcast host and producer.

The announcement was made at the company’s Stream On event, which included a performance by Justin Bieber and was attended by the former US president, the duke and duchess of Sussex, and Bruce Springsteen, among other notable personalities.

The first season aired during Ramadan in 2019, featuring personalities such as Egyptian stand-up comedian, actor, writer and director Ramy Youssef, comedian Ahamed Weinberg, and actress Alia Shawkat from TV show “Arrested Development.” The second season will air on the first day of Ramadan this year.

“The stories are universal and the guests are all Muslim,” Euceph said during the Stream On event. “The ultimate goal is for people to feel something, for them to fall in love with the people they’re listening to without ever thinking about who they are and what they look like.”

Spotify announced a second podcast with Higher Productions titled “Renegades: Born in the USA.”

The eight-episode series features conversations between Springsteen and Barack Obama as they explore topics of race, fatherhood, marriage and the future of America.

The company also announced its expansion to 80 new markets across Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America during the event.

Insert infographic

In the majority of these markets, Spotify will launch with its full podcast catalog. For the others, it will work with local partners to introduce more podcasts from its catalog, as well as Spotify’s proprietary creator platform Anchor.

FAST FACTS

Over $5bn paid out to rights holders in 2020.

Monthly consumption of podcasts on Spotify up 1,500 percent in 3 years.

57,000 artists represent 90 percent of monthly streams on platform.

On Spotify, artists receive over 80 percent of streams from outside home country.

Over last 4 years, number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $1m a year up over 82 percent.

Over last 4 years, number of recording artists whose catalogs generated over $100,000 a year up 79 percent.


Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law
Updated 24 February 2021

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law

Australian lawmakers expected to pass amendments to Facebook, Google law
  • Amendments introduced to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute
  • The code was designed to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers

CANBERRA: Australian lawmakers are expected to approve amendments to landmark legislation to force Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to pay media companies for news content, despite opposition from some minor political parties.
The government introduced amendments to the so-called Media Bargaining Code after Facebook last week escalated a dispute over the new laws by blocking Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its popular social media platform.
Australia’s Senate began debating the amendments on Wednesday. The ruling conservative Liberal Party does not have a majority in the upper house, but support from the opposition Labour Party is expected to be enough to pass the bill.
“What we’ve sworn to do is create a level playing field,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Wednesday.
“We’ve sought to sustain public interest journalism in this country, and we’ve also sought to enhance and encourage those commercial deals between the parties.”
Facebook on Tuesday said it would restore Australian users’ access to news in light of the compromise it had reached with the government.
In one major change, Frydenberg will be given the discretion to decide that either Facebook or Google need not be subject to the code, if they make a “significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry.”
The original legislation had required the tech giants to submit to forced arbitration if they could not reach a commercial deal with Australian news companies for their content, effectively allowing the government to set a price.
Some politicians and media companies are concerned the change allows Frydenberg to exempt Facebook or Google from the new laws even if they do not strike deals with all media companies, to the detriment of smaller publishers.
“This changes the bill significantly,” independent senator Rex Patrick, who plans to vote against the amended bill, told Reuters.
“The big players could successfully negotiate with Facebook or Google. The minister then doesn’t designate them, and all the little players miss out.”
Lee O’Connor, owner and editor of regional newspaper The Coonamble Times, said the amendments appeared to favor big media groups.
“It’s the vagueness of the language that’s the main concern, and the minister’s discretion is part of that,” O’Connor said.
Frydenberg has said he will give Facebook and Google time to strike deals with Australian media companies before deciding whether to enforce his new powers.
The code was designed by the government and competition regulator to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers when negotiating payment for news content displayed on the tech firms’ sites.
After first threatening to withdraw its search engine from Australia, Google has instead struck a series of deals with several publishers, including a global news deal with News Corp.
Major television broadcaster and newspaper publisher Seven West Media on Tuesday said it had signed a letter of intent to reach a content supply deal with Facebook within 60 days.
Rival Nine Entertainment Co. also revealed on Wednesday it was in negotiations with Facebook.
“At this stage, we’re still obviously proceeding with negotiations,” Nine chief executive Hugh Marks told analysts at a company briefing on Wednesday. “It is really positive for our business and positive particularly for the publishing business.”