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.”


Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
Updated 08 March 2021

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day

Unilever releases new podcast series for International Women’s Day
  • New miniseries tells the stories of six Saudi women

DUBAI: Unilever’s Miraa has partnered with regional podcast network Finyal Media to release a six-episode podcast series titled “A Breath, a Step, a Mirror” for International Women’s Day.

Miraa is an Arabic-only regional publication for, by and about Arab women, focusing on health, beauty and lifestyle.

The podcast series delves into the lives of six women from Saudi Arabia who write a letter to a younger version of themselves.

“With the launch of our new podcast, our hope is that the personal and intimate stories and growth journeys of our hosts inspire more women to look beyond their challenges and rise above judgments to pursue their growth and goals,” said Sonia Kapoor, senior content manager at Unilever and Miraa.

From encouraging their younger selves to break free of rigid molds to wishing they had had the confidence to be themselves instead of trying to please others, these women tell stories that are a reflection of their journeys and a chance to explore what they might have done differently.

“We look forward to women across the region having the chance to listen to the series, and we hope these stories will help other young Arab women to grow in confidence and reach their true potential as we mark another International Women’s Day,” added Leila Hamadeh, co-founder and CEO of Finyal Media.

The first season, produced in collaboration with Lux, was released in the first week of March, with more seasons expected throughout the year.

The series is available on all podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Anghami, Deezer and Spotify.


Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
Updated 06 March 2021

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him

Lebanon’s Salameh to sue Bloomberg after US denies talk of sanctioning him
  • Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor
  • Both Salemeh and the US State department deny the claim

LONDON: Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh announced on Friday that he will be taking legal action against Bloomberg after it published an article claiming that the US is considering sanctioning him, a move the US State Department denies.

“We have seen reports about possible sanctions of Riad Salameh. They are untrue,” a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.

Last week, Bloomberg published news that the Biden administration was considering sanctions against the central bank governor, a claim both Salemeh and the US State department deny.

An investigation into possible money laundering and embezzlement has been opened by Swiss authorities.

Salemeh, his brother and assistant were also being probed over multimillion-dollar transfers out of the country at a time when Lebanese citizens were allowed minimum withdrawal amounts from their bank accounts.

The country’s currency hit 10,000 Lebanese pounds to one US dollar on Wednesday, an unprecedented mark that sparked a resurgence of protests that have been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon witnessed nationwide protests in October 2018 calling for the end of widespread corruption and worsening economic conditions that have since seen more than half the population living below the poverty line.

The country’s current economic and financial crisis has been largely blamed on Salemeh due to his long tenure, having headed the central bank for 28 years after assuming control in 1993.


Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
Updated 06 March 2021

Why the world needs to take deepfakes seriously

Why the  world needs to take deepfakes seriously
  • Report highlights danger Artificial Intelligence can pose; warns of danger to politics, media 

LONDON: In 1938, American filmmaker Orson Welles’ narration of H.G. Wells’ alien invasion novel “The War of the Worlds” caused panic and pandemonium for listeners in the US who believed the tale to be a public broadcast by the government.

The next day, headlines across newspapers read “Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact.” Historical research, however, suggested that the actual panic itself was overstated by the media, as the broadcast itself had few listeners.
Fast-forward to 2021 with the long arms of social media and the internet, what would happen if a video showing US President Joe Biden sitting in the Oval Office announcing that he will be striking Iran imminently were to appear? Or if a video showing French President Emmanuel Macron crassly insulting Muslims surfaced?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, called deep learning, which generates images of fake events, known as deepfakes, allows for the creation of a moving image that looks and sounds exactly like Biden or Macron, but isn’t them, to speak and say whatever the creator wants, with most observers unable to tell if it is fake.

“Even before deep fakes, social media has platforms, and the different services have led to some threats on users in our region, especially women and other vulnerable communities,” Mohamed Najem, executive director of SMEX, a digital-rights organization focusing on Arabic-speaking countries, told Arab News.
“Deep fakes bring more serious threats to the aforementioned groups, especially if (criminals) want to destroy someone’s reputation — women, especially, are at risk, with them having gained more freedom within different conservative communities, which could see them suffer real damage” he added.

Recently, a series of very convincing TikTok videos showing Actor Tom Cruise doing multiple activities has left millions confused as to whether or not it really is the famous actor. Other known deepfakes show former US President Barack Obama calling his successor Donald Trump a “dipsh*t” and Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about stealing users’ private data.
According to a report published last year by University College London (UCL), deepfakes rank as the most serious AI crime threat.
“As the capabilities of AI-based technologies expand, so too has their potential for criminal exploitation. To adequately prepare for possible AI threats, we need to identify what these threats might be, and how they may impact our lives,” author Lewis Griffin stated in the report.

Crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed.

Among the most serious concerns posed by fake content such as deepfakes is that, as they are so difficult to identify, they could be used for all manner of dubious purposes, ranging from discrediting a politician or a public figure to blackmail.
“Unlike many traditional crimes, crimes in the digital realm can be easily shared, repeated, and even sold, allowing criminal techniques to be marketed and for crime to be provided as a service. This means criminals may be able to outsource the more challenging aspects of their AI-based crime,” co-author Dr. Matthew Caldwell stated in the report.
To make matters worse, the rise in convincing deepfakes could in turn play a major role in discrediting major news institutions.
“If even a small fraction of visual evidence is proven to be convincing fakes, it becomes much easier to discredit genuine evidence, undermining criminal investigation and the credibility of political and social institutions that rely on trustworthy communications,” the report stated.
“Social media platforms need to understand the threats and act on them. Unfortunately there is no trust in governments in our region to do the right thing; my assumption is that they will use this to restrict more speech and criminalize it, which will lead to more closure of civic spaces,” Najem said.
The UCL report goes on to note that awareness and changes in people’s behaviors toward the spread and creation of these videos might be the only effective line of defense. While so far many of the videos popping up on social media are fun — of politicians singing and dancing, say, or Nicholas Cage’s face on Wonder Woman’s body — things may take a sharper, darker turn soon.


Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
Updated 05 March 2021

Lebanese media outlet Sawt Beirut International launches English-language edition

Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app. (Supplied)
  • Sawt Beirut International wants to reach larger audience abroad through its website, mobile app

LONDON: Sawt Beirut International (SBI) launched an English-language edition of its news website with the aim of reaching the Lebanese diaspora abroad.

“The English-language website will take Lebanon and Beirut’s voice to all the Lebanese diaspora living in Europe or the US,” SBI Chariman and CEO Jerry Maher told Arab News. “It’s for those who can speak Arabic but can’t read Arabic.”

SBI is a Lebanese media outlet that is on a mission to fight corruption and hold accountable the country’s politicians.

“We can share with them the pains the country is going through and allow them to take part in the change that is coming. We want them to be part of the next phase of Lebanon and understand all that is going on in the country.”

The English-language website will also be coupled with a mobile app, similar to the Arabic version. Maher says SBI is planning a French and Spanish version in the future.

“We are focusing on political, economic and social issues on the news website so Lebanese abroad will know exactly what is going on in the country, where the problem is and how they can help solve it,” the SBI founder said.

Maher said the new website will include a “stories” feature similar to other social-media outlets like Facebook and Instagram.


YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
Updated 05 March 2021

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos

YouTube cancels Myanmar military-run channels, pulls videos
  • The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules
  • YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months

BANGKOK: YouTube has removed five channels run by Myanmar’s military for violating its community guidelines and terms of service.
The company said Friday that it terminated channels of broadcasters Myawaddy Media, MRTV, WD Online Broadcasting, MWD Variety and MWD Myanmar. The decision follows a Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, provoking massive public protests.
“We have terminated a number of channels and removed several videos from YouTube in accordance with our community guidelines and applicable laws,” YouTube said in an emailed statement.
The company said it was monitoring the situation for any content that might violate its rules.
YouTube said it had terminated around 20 channels and removed over 160 videos in the past couple months for violating its policies regarding hate speech and harassment, spam and deceptive practices, violent or graphic content policy and violations of its terms of service.
In December, it pulled 34 channels as part of an investigation into content uploaded in a coordinated influence campaign. That campaign uploaded content about elections in Myanmar, regional conflicts and news related to the US, China and Malaysia, the company said.
The decision by YouTube followed Facebook’s earlier announcement that it had removed all Myanmar military-linked pages from its site and from Instagram, which it also owns.