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.”


Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl
Updated 22 September 2021

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl

Netflix acquires the whole works of Roald Dahl
  • The streaming giant said it had bought The Roald Dahl Story Company, the family firm that owns the late British author’s copyright
  • No financial details of the deal were given

SAN FRANCISCO: Netflix has acquired the whole works of acclaimed children’s author Roald Dahl, creator of such classics as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda,” the company  announced Wednesday.

In 2018, Netflix signed a deal to create animated series based on 16 Dahl books. But now the streaming giant said it had bought The Roald Dahl Story Company, the family firm that owns the late British author’s copyright.

“This acquisition builds on the partnership we started three years ago to create a slate of animated TV series,” Netflix co-chief executive Ted Sarandos and Luke Kelly, RDSC managing director and Dahl's grandson, said in a joint statement.

Under the previous deal, Oscar-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi and “Zootropolis” screenwriter Phil Johnston are working on a series based on the world of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and an adaptation of “Matilda the Musical,” both of which are currently underway.

“These projects opened our eyes to a much more ambitious venture – the creation of a unique universe across animated and live action films and TV, publishing, games, immersive experiences, live theater, consumer products and more,” Netflix said.

Dahl died in 1990 aged 74. His books have been translated into 63 languages and sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

“These stories and their messages of the power and possibility of young people have never felt more pertinent,” the statement said. “As we bring these timeless tales to more audiences in new formats, we're committed to maintaining their unique spirit and their universal themes of surprise and kindness, while also sprinkling some fresh magic into the mix.”

No financial details of the deal were given. However, in 2018, The Hollywood Reporter quoted sources as saying that the licensing deal covering the 16 Dahl books cost Netflix more than $100 million.


Facebook’s Project Amplify blatantly pushes pro-company stories: US newspaper

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
Updated 22 September 2021

Facebook’s Project Amplify blatantly pushes pro-company stories: US newspaper

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. (File/AFP)
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed off pushing pro-platform stories to users via Facebook News Feed, reported The New York Times

LONDON: A recently launched Facebook initiative codenamed Project Amplify was set up to push pro-platform stories on users’ news feeds, The New York Times reported.

And some of the promoted articles were written by the social networking giant to help paint the company in a positive light, the newspaper claimed.

The article said Project Amplify came into being at a meeting in January with the aim of reshaping Facebook’s image by adopting a multi-faceted approach including measures such as distancing the chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, from controversies, and reducing external access to data.

Despite Facebook owning up to some of its mistakes and promising to take corrective measures, the platform continued to come under fire for the same issues. As a result, Facebook executives decided to go on the offensive with a new approach involving marketing, communications, policy, and integrity teams, sources revealed.

Although Zuckerberg did not drive all the decisions as part of the new initiative, he reportedly approved them.

Denying the newspaper’s claims, Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said: “People deserve to know the steps we’re taking to address the different issues facing our company — and we’re going to share those steps widely.”

Since the recent launch of the new project, Facebook has been testing the changes in three US cities through a tool called Quick Promote. The stories appear with a Facebook logo and link to websites published by the company as well as third-party websites.

Osborne told The New York Times that it was a “test for an informational unit clearly marked as coming from Facebook,” adding that the new initiative was “similar to corporate responsibility initiatives people see in other technology and consumer products.”

In a series of tweets, Osborne said The New York Times’ article had attempted to “villainize Facebook,” included “clear falsehoods,” and had left out part of his statement which included him saying, “there is zero change to News Feed ranking.”

He added that the January meeting had never taken place, although according to the newspaper report one attendee had claimed that several executives at the meeting were shocked by the proposal.

Osborne concluded his tweets by suggesting that The New York Times’ story should have written that, “Facebook ran a small test of an informational unit on Facebook in three cities – clearly labeled as from Facebook on the top of the unit,” along with an image of what the stories looked like.

Screengrab of Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne's tweet of pro-Facebook stories in the News Feed. (Twitter:@JoeOsborne) 

 


Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist
Updated 22 September 2021

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist

Spotify celebrates Saudi National Day with patriotic playlist
  • “Ana El Saudi” playlist brings east, west, central regions together with special selection

DUBAI: Music and podcast streaming platform Spotify is celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day through music by releasing a special playlist.

Its “Ana El Saudi” playlist brings together some of the finest male and female voices to pay homage to Saudis through a rich selection of 94 patriotic songs. The tracks are considered a treasure among Saudi nationals, and Spotify expects them to be especially overplayed to mark the momentous day.

Among the songs that Saudis listen to the most on Spotify’s Saudi National Day playlist is Fahad Bin Fasla’s “Haza El Saudi Foq.” The Sheilat star’s hit song was an instant fan favorite among locals and has established itself at the top spot.

Rabeh Saqr’s “Anta Malek” comes in second place; the iconic Saudi artist has been serenading the Kingdom with his oriental style for more than 30 years, cementing his legacy in Saudi music.

Ayed, Borhan, and Naif Al-Naif’s “Ya Mohammed” is third, with the three khaleeji-style artists collaborating to tribute a song to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Mashael secures the top spot for female artists. Her recently released song “Sawb Alriyadh” has already garnered almost 2 million streams on Spotify. Waed, Shaikha Alaslawi, and Shamma Hamdan come in second, third, and fourth, respectively, among the female artists.

Riyadh has been the city leading the way in streaming “Ana El Saudi,” followed by Jeddah and Dammam.

Tune into “Ana El Saudi” here.


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+.