‘I always wanted to tell stories and make people feel something’

‘I always wanted to tell stories and make people feel something’
Tomer Shushan’s 20-minute White Eye has been shortlisted for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 March 2021

‘I always wanted to tell stories and make people feel something’

‘I always wanted to tell stories and make people feel something’
  • Writer and director Tomer Shushan on the making and success of ‘White Eye’

DUBAI: Writer and director Tomer Shushan is no stranger to stories. Growing up listening to his grandfather entertain people through stories, he aspired to be a storyteller. Little did he know that some day he would be writing and directing his own stories.

Although his film “A Sight” (2014) and TV show “Hellblazerbiz” (2021) has generated buzz in the industry, it is his short film “White Eye” (2019) that catapulted him on to the international stage. The 20-minute film has been shortlisted for the Best Live Action Short Film at the 93rd Academy Awards.

Arab News spoke to Shushan.

What’s your story? Give us a bit of background on your life and what prompted you to be a director.

Storytelling is something that runs in my veins. I remember as a young boy I used to visit my grandparents every Saturday night and lots of people would come as well. It was a small apartment full of people — friends and family — and my grandpa used to sit in the middle and tell old stories in Moroccan. I couldn’t understand a word, but I saw how he touched people, and made them laugh and cry.

I remember I always wanted to tell stories and make people feel something. So, I used to sit on the window, looking at the streets of Tel Aviv and find characters and tell myself stories of where they came from and where they are heading.

I never thought of making films, but during my army service, I was a photographer who documented moments, and through the lens of the camera, I felt my power.

It was a very easy decision to study film. I feel that my biggest passion is to make people feel something with the stories I tell, visuals I create and sounds I choose.

Why did you decide to film “White Eye” in one shot?

The idea to make the film in one shot was because the story is about a person who experiences a stressful and intense moment. Instead of acting from a rational place, he gives into an egoistic rage. Everything happens to him in a short period of time without a moment to stop, reconsider or breathe. I wanted the audience to really feel the same way as the main character.

When a film is made in multiple shots, between every shot, viewers have a tiny little break to catch their breath. I wanted the camera to connect the viewer and the main character in a never-ending motion, tension, that doesn’t give you a break.

How do you feel about the response and the accolades the film is getting?

I am very happy; I can’t hide it. This year was very tough for filmmakers who wanted to present their films. We are all dreaming about the moment the lights go down and we can watch a film on the big screen with strangers.

But the success of the film made me really happy because all the film festivals went online and gave filmmakers a chance to present their films and audiences a chance to watch. And that’s the most important thing.

The fact that it made people from all over around the world react is unbelievable. I never thought that this film would affect so many people from so many cultures. That is what gives me a lot of inspiration and energy to continue and write my next ones.

Given the current economic and political climate, what message is the film sending?

Especially at this time, when we all feel like we can’t control our situation, I hope this story will remind us that the most important thing is to remain human in every action we do. We are all the same. And we have the power to change it here to a better place.

What do you think about the future of cinema given the rise of streaming services?

I think in everything there is progress and revolutions. Nothing can beat the magical energy in a cinema and I guess the next generation will miss it.

I hope cinemas make a comeback and people prefer to go out and watch a film.

The streaming world is taking over these days, but maybe after the pandemic, everyone will look for any reason to get out, so cinemas will rise again.


Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month
Updated 19 sec ago

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month

Netflix’s first Arabic reality series debuts next month
  • ‘The Fastest,’ a six-part series about cars and the people that drive them, will debut on Nov. 23

DUBAI: “The Fastest,” Netflix’s first Arabic-language unscripted series, will debut on Nov. 23.

The first season will feature six episodes as participants customize and optimize their cars for drag races across different terrains in the Middle East, with the winning racer receiving a cash reward.

“‘The Fastest' is our first unscripted Arab Netflix series and it will deliver on the tenets of our content strategy with its authenticity, representation, and creativity,” said said Lucy Leveugle, Netflix’s director of nonfiction originals for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“We know that the Arab world has a particular love for fast cars and thrilling experiences, so ‘The Fastest’ will put the best of the best through their paces for fans from the Middle East and beyond.”

Featuring male and female drivers from different backgrounds across the region, the series is as much about the personal stories of the drivers as it is about racing.

“In a journey combining wild adventure with a human element, we will witness the inspirational stories of the drivers and what pushes them forward,” the streaming giant said in a statement.

Tarek Al-Harbi, the popular Saudi actor, comedian, and social media sensation, is the narrator of the show guiding viewers through the twists and turns.

 

 

“Our goal is to have a slate of content as diverse as our audience and we are excited to introduce a new content format for Netflix. We want to provide Arab storytellers with the tools they need to bring their vision to life, whether that’s scripted or unscripted,” added Leveugle.

The show is also a testament to Netflix’s commitment to the Arab world. Just this month, it launched a Palestinian Stories collection showcasing films from some of the Arab world’s finest filmmakers, and earlier this year it announced a new hardship fund, valued at $500,000, in collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture to support those most affected by the coronavirus disease pandemic in the Arab region’s film and TV community.

It also has deals in place with Saudi Arabian production and financing group Telfaz11 to produce eight new films and with Saudi animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films along with a first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects.

“The Fastest” debuts on Nov. 23 and will be available in 190 countries around the world with 31 subtitles.


Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released
Updated 28 October 2021

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released

Results of WFA’s first diversity, equity and inclusion census released
  • Most common forms of discrimination globally were reported on the basis of age and family status

DUBAI: The initial results of the first census on diversity, equity and inclusion initiated by the World Federation of Advertisers to assess diversity challenges facing the marketing and advertising industry have been released.

Initial results identified key challenges around family status, age, and gender as well as ethnicity and disability.

It found clear gaps in lived experiences when these groups were compared to the industry average, both in individual markets and globally. For example, on Kantar’s Inclusion Index, which is generated by asking questions about people’s sense of belonging, the absence of discrimination, and the presence of negative behavior, men scored at 69 percent compared to women at 61 percent.
“This has been a Herculean but long-overdue effort. For the very first time, we hear and see the marketing industry in all its different facets and nuance,” said Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA.

Despite these serious concerns, the marketing sector still outperformed every other category analyzed by research partner Kantar, scoring an overall 64 percent on the index, ahead of the next highest sector, health and pharmaceuticals, on 60 percent.

The research effort was led by the WFA in close collaboration with agency associations including the European Association of Communication Agencies, Voxcomm, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week, The Effies, GlobalWebIndex, Campaign, the International Advertising Association and Kantar.

The most common forms of discrimination identified by the survey were family, status and age, with 27 percent agreeing that their company does not treat all employees fairly regardless of family status and 27 percent agreeing that their company does not treat all employees equally regardless of age. Thirty-six percent of respondents agreed that age can hinder one’s career, while 40 percent of women agreed that family status could hinder one’s career.

These statistics reflect a key finding from the census: Women’s experiences are notably poorer than men’s. There is also strong evidence of a gender pay gap in some markets. In the US and Canada, for example, the gap is worst among industry starters, with a 13 percent gap in the US and a 20 percent gap in Canada.

There were similar findings for ethnic minorities, who scored lower on key sentiments, such as “I feel like I belong at my company,” than ethnic majority groups in nearly all markets. In the US, 17 percent said they faced discrimination based on their racial background. In a number of markets, this was also reflected by a pay gap. However, in many markets surveyed, ethnic minorities or foreign nationals reported being paid more than the ethnic majority.

In an industry struggling to find the right talent, the lack of diversity and inclusion is of grave concern, with 17 percent saying they were likely to leave their current company as a result of the lack of inclusion and/or discrimination they had experienced. Fifteen percent said they would leave the industry entirely.

The Netherlands performed best as a country on this issue, with only 9 percent saying they would find new employment within the industry.

“There is a confidence and strong sense of belonging that rings true of the marketing industry,” said Loerke.

However, there are significant minorities in all countries saying they witness negative behaviors and discrimination on account of their age, family status, gender, ethnicity, race, disability, mental health and sexuality, he added.

“No company or industry can ignore this; a line has been drawn in the sand and we now know where progress must be made. The onus on us all now is to work together to make our industry fairer, more diverse and more inclusive — and to measure our common progress in a second wave in the spring of 2023,” he said.

The results are based on more than 10,000 responses from 27 markets around the world conducted from June to July 2021, with the online survey identifying not just the demographics of participants but also their sense of belonging, as well as experience of discrimination and demeaning behavior.

The full findings for each specific market will be shared later this year. The results will also feed into the work of the WFA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force as well as national action plans led by WFA national associations around the world.


Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
Updated 28 October 2021

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers

Facebook, Google, Twitter face grilling by British lawmakers
  • Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users

LONDON: British lawmakers are set to grill Facebook and other tech giants Thursday over how they handle online safety as European efforts to regulate social media companies gain momentum.
Representatives from Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok will be questioned by members of a parliamentary committee scrutinizing the British government’s draft online safety legislation.
Governments on both sides of the Atlantic want tougher rules aimed at protecting social media users, especially younger ones, but the United Kingdom’s efforts are much further along. UK lawmakers are questioning researchers, journalists, tech executives and other experts for a report to the government on how to improve the final version of the online safety bill.
The hearing comes the same week YouTube, TikTok and Snapchat were questioned by a US Senate panel. They provided little firm commitment for US legislation bolstering protection of children from online harm, which lawmakers say ranges from eating disorders, sexually explicit content and material promoting addictive drugs.
Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen appeared before the UK committee this week, telling members that the company’s systems make online hate worse and that it has little incentive to fix the problem. She said time is running out to regulate social media companies that use artificial intelligence systems to determine what content people see.
Haugen was a Facebook data scientist who copied internal research documents and turned them over to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. They also were provided to a group of media outlets, including The Associated Press, which reported numerous stories about how Facebook prioritized profits over safety and hid its own research from investors and the public.
The UK’s online safety bill calls for a regulator to ensure tech companies comply with rules requiring them to remove dangerous or harmful content or face penalties worth up to 10 percent of annual global revenue. The European Union is working on similar digital rules.
British lawmakers are still grappling with thorny issues such as ensuring privacy and free speech and defining legal but harmful content, including online bullying and advocacy of self-harm.
They’re also trying to get a handle on misinformation that flourishes on social media.
Maria Ressa, a Filipino journalist who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for freedom of expression under grave risks, acknowledged the challenge, telling the committee on Wednesday that a law to curb disinformation is needed.
“Regulation is our last hope,” Ressa said. “The problem is that you will be a model for everyone else around the the world, so you must be a gold standard, that’s tough.” At the same time, “doing nothing pushes the world closer to fascism,” she added.


MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
Updated 27 October 2021

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia

MBC to close office in Lebanon and relocate to Saudi Arabia
  • Staff reportedly offered a choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning

LONDON: Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC Group announced on Wednesday that it plans to shut its office in Beirut “soon” and relocate to Riyadh.

The company said the reason for the move is a push by authorities in the Kingdom to relocate all state-owned media and broadcasting companies to Saudi Arabia.

While the headquarters of MBC is currently in Dubai, the Lebanon branch was a prominent production office. The company has reportedly offered staff the choice of moving to Riyadh or resigning.

The decision to move the offices of Saudi media companies to Riyadh from other cities in the region, such as Beirut and Dubai, is the result of plans by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to establish the Kingdom as a regional business hub.

News of the move comes a day after George Kordahi, the Lebanese information minister and a former MBC presenter, caused controversy with his comments about Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen.

When asked during an appearance on Barlamanasha3b TV what he thinks about the situation in Yemen, Kordahi said: “They (the Houthis) are defending themselves.”

He added: “Are they attacking anyone? In my opinion, this Yemeni war is absurd and should stop.”


Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+
Updated 27 October 2021

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+

Near acquires minority stake in data-driven marketing platform MEmob+
  • Singapore-based data intelligence specialist acquires minority stake in a deal that values the company at more than $25 million

DUBAI: Singapore-based data intelligence company Near has acquired a minority stake in Middle Eastern SaaS provider of data-driven marketing solutions MEmob+ in a deal that values the company at $25 million.

MEmob+ is a part of Akama Holding, the Dubai-based family office with investments in media, tech and content. It was launched in 2019 by Alexandre Hawari, CEO of Akama Holding and Ihab El-Yaman, the then-head of mobile and performance director of Mediaquest, and current CEO of MEmob+.

The MarTech company has exclusive partnerships with global and regional first party data holders, giving it access to billions of device IDs globally, including more than 400 million in the MENA region. MEmob+ supports brands’ data-driven media activities, location measurement and footfall attribution, research and analysis with a roster of more than 50 major international and regional clients.

“Near, a global giant in the data intelligence market, and MEmob+, a regional leader, were destined to find a common ground and a shared ambition,” said Hawari. 

“Our technical collaboration has now evolved into a financial one. Together, we will capitalize on the attractive growth dynamics in the emerging markets in MEA to further build out MEmob’s leadership position and create the leading global location data intelligence platform,” he added.

In 2020, its second year in operation, MEmob’s turnover grew by 76 percent. Led by El-Yaman, the team behind this growth will continue to build on its track record of performance and innovation.

Near is the global leader in privacy-led data intelligence. The company provides the world’s largest source of intelligence on people, places, and products — processing data from over 1.6 billion monthly users in 44 countries. Founded in 2012, Near is headquartered in Singapore with offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Bangalore, Tokyo and Sydney.

This is Near’s first equity stake in the Middle East. It is the result of a year of research and negotiations to find the best partner to support its expansion in the Middle East and Africa. The cash-in transaction will see the funds injected into the business to accelerate its growth and development even further by increasing its customer base, backing product extension and supporting geographical expansion.

“Our investment in MEmob+ is at the intersection of our core values at Near: Innovation and scale,” said Anil Mathews, CEO of Near, who will join MEmob’s board of directors.

“We’ve watched them grow, in size and sophistication, and realized the opportunities that would come from a closer collaboration. We focus on partners with high growth and world-class management and are impressed by the leading position MEmob+ has built,” he added.