Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement
The abandoned town of Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra in the UAE is the subject of five short films. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 March 2021

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

Time travel in Ras Al-Khaimah: Short films offer glimpse of UAE’s abandoned seafaring settlement

DUBAI: Roughly 23 kilometers southwest of Ras Al-Khaimah city lies the abandoned town of Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra. The last surviving pearl diving and seafaring settlement in the country, its ghost-like appearance and traditional coral-stone architecture have proved a magnet for the curious over the years. Now an anthropological spotlight is being shone on the once-vibrant community, providing valuable insight into the lifestyles of those who used to live there.

A series of five short films are being screened in the town until April 3, each providing a glimpse of what life was like prior to its abandonment in the 1960s. Screening as part of the Ras Al-Khaimah Fine Arts Festival, which has been held at Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra since 2019, each film is an oral history, providing an invaluable window into life in the country’s best-preserved coastal community.

“We really wanted to capture the site and showcase all the work that has gone into Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra in recent years, while at the same time using it as a platform to promote modern and contemporary art in the emirate,” says David Dingus, a research associate at the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, the festival’s organizer. “We received overwhelmingly positive feedback, but everyone wanted to know more about Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra.”




The film features first-hand accounts from people who grew up there, including Jamal Al-Ahmed and Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. (Supplied)

The problem was, very little information was available, so the foundation began researching. It soon became apparent, however, that the only way to gather information would be to interview surviving inhabitants. That in turn would prove challenging, not only because many former residents have died, but because distance and COVID-19 made face-to-face interviews much more difficult.

Initially, respondents tended to be in their fifites, but they were too young to recall the intricacies of life prior to 1968, so the foundation continued searching for older inhabitants. Eventually they tracked down a number of men who were ideal, but not all would or could participate. And although a handful of women were found, none would agree to be filmed. In the end, five men were interviewed for the project.

One of them was Sultan Mohamed Al-Zaabi, who was born in the town and lived there until he was 22. His family had two houses — one in the market and one in the neighborhood of Al-Munakh — and by his late teens he was working as a fisherman, often spending hours at sea.




Sultan Mohamed Al-Zaabi was born in the town and lived there until he was 22. (Supplied)

“Our elders would announce that they would need seven or eight boys to man the ropes on the fishing boat,” Al-Zaabi says in his film. “They would send me out to sea… with 10 or 12 other men and I would man the rope all night long… until dawn. We would come back in the morning and sell the fish for around 20 or 30 or 50 rupees maximum. We would come back tired from being at sea all night. This was the life of working at sea.”

Pearl diving and fishing were the main sources of income, but there were merchants, too, and others who owned livestock or collected firewood from the desert. The town had a large market and shopkeepers would bring rice, flour and sugar from Dubai or Umm Al-Quwain. These merchants were an integral part of the community, providing families with anything they needed until the pearlers or fishermen returned home and paid their dues.

“Living in Al-Jazirah was a blessing,” Hasan Jamal Al-Ahmed remembers fondly. Friends and neighbors would play games including Al-Yarba, Al-Gabba and Al-Zaboot and participate in traditional dances such as Al-Ayyala and Razif. On Thursdays and Fridays, two or three large trays of regag bread would be passed around in the street, he recalls, and during weddings meals would be prepared for the entire neighborhood.




“Living in Al-Jazirah was a blessing,” Hasan Jamal Al-Ahmed remembers fondly. (Supplied)

Life was tough, though. Breakfast consisted of dates and coffee, and maybe some bread if you were lucky, and rice and fish would be served for dinner. Medical care consisted largely of traditional remedies and there was no drinking water. The latter had to be brought in by donkey every day before dawn. “One big bottle of water was usually enough for one day or two,” recalls Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. “The water would be poured into the well. As for washing and showering, seawater was used. Every house was near to the sea.”

“Whoever had fish and dates back then lived comfortably,” says Al-Ahmed. “Our house had three stores (rooms), a well, a kitchen, and a majlis. It was not very big, but it was not small either. It was a decent house. Most of Al-Jazirah was built with stones, but a few of the homes were built using palm fronds. Plaster was also a common building material. It would be burned, crushed, and then made. A house would hold up to 10 people. One store was enough for parents and their children to sleep in. There was no electricity, only lanterns.”




“One big bottle of water was usually enough for one day or two,” recalls Abdullah Saeed Al-Zaabi. (Supplied)

Even lanterns were rare. Families would often use masrai — bottles with cotton wicks (the cotton would contain dates and the bottle would contain gas) — for lighting and those who didn’t have electricity would use car batteries to power any electrical devices they might have. There were no telephones either, only a few radios, and when televisions first arrived in the 1960s electricity would be available for only a few hours a day.

In the summer, everybody would leave. For Ibrahim Mousa Al-Zaabi, who was taught to dive with a rock tied around his leg, that meant travelling to Fujairah with his grandfather. “He had a farm with plenty of palm trees,” he recalls. “We would stay for five or six months and then come back, bringing dates on ships. Dates used to be distributed every two days. Every pack of dates had a mark on it. Out of trust between each other, people would go into each house, put the dates down, and leave the house.”




A series of five short films are being screened in the town until April 3. (Supplied)

Left untouched for years, the abandoned town has been the subject of restoration work since 2015, when Ras Al-Khaimah’s Department of Antiquities and Museums initiated the Jazirah Al-Hamra Conservation Project. Since then the focus has been on turning the town into a national heritage site, complete with workshops, museum and visitors center.

The challenge now for Dingus is to find a permanent home for the foundation’s oral history project. Whether that will take the form of a permanent fixture at the National Museum of Ras Al-Khaimah or within Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra itself, is uncertain. What Dingus does know, however, is that it’s important to record how its inhabitants used to live.

“We’re losing something with every generation,” he says. “There’s less reinforcement of these stories and their history tends to get lost over time. So we just want to make sure that it isn’t lost and forgotten and that the really unique and rich culture and heritage that was in Al-Jazirah Al-Hamra is remembered.”


Lebanese short film ‘Warsha’ premieres at Sundance Festival

Lebanese short film ‘Warsha’ premieres at Sundance Festival
Updated 24 January 2022

Lebanese short film ‘Warsha’ premieres at Sundance Festival

Lebanese short film ‘Warsha’ premieres at Sundance Festival

DUBAI:  “Warsha,” a short film written and directed by Lebanese filmmaker Dania Bdeir, had its global premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

The 15-minute-long film, which tells the story of a Syrian crane operator in Beirut named Mohamed (played by Lebanese singer Khamsa), is part of the annual festival’s online program until Jan. 30.

The film will be screened physically at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France, which runs from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, before it is set to make its Middle Eastern premiere later this year.

“Warsha” was also selected for the 2022 International Film Festival of Rotterdam.


‘A milestone for Arab cinema’ — director and stars discuss ‘Perfect Strangers’

 ‘A milestone for Arab cinema’ — director and stars discuss ‘Perfect Strangers’
The film is now streaming on Netflix. Supplied
Updated 24 January 2022

‘A milestone for Arab cinema’ — director and stars discuss ‘Perfect Strangers’

 ‘A milestone for Arab cinema’ — director and stars discuss ‘Perfect Strangers’
  • The first Arabic-language Netflix original movie has been a huge success both regionally and internationally thanks to stellar performances from the cast and its first-time director

DUBAI: It’s been a long time since an Arabic-language film has dominated conversation across the Arab world quite like “Perfect Strangers” currently is. The first original Arabic-language Netflix film — an adaptation of the award-winning Italian original of the same name — has been trending across the region since its launch on January 20, inspiring both overwhelming praise for its stellar performances and fierce debate over the questions it poses. 

“Perfect Strangers” was helmed by Lebanese director Wissam Smayra and features several of the region’s most-acclaimed actors, including Egypt’s Mona Zaki and Eyad Nassar alongside Lebanon’s Georges Khabbaz, Diamand Bou Abboud, Nadine Labaki, Adel Karam, and Fouad Yammine.

“Perfect Strangers” features several of the region’s most-acclaimed actors. Supplied

Set during a dinner party held by a group of Egyptian and Lebanese friends, the film revolves around a game in which each person puts their mobile phone on the table, exposing to the rest every call or message that they receive. What starts off as light fun quickly descends into dramatic chaos as painful truths come to light. 

The film has already stirred controversy on social media with some Twitter users accusing the movie of “moral degradation” and “putting Western ideas in a conservative society.”

Much of the anger has originated in Egypt, according to the Hollywood Reporter, with one example being Egyptian lawyer Ayman Mahfouz who claimed that the movie is a “plot to disrupt Arab society.”

“The film touches on taboos, but it’s not about the taboos,” Zaki, the biggest star in Egyptian cinema, tells Arab News. “The main idea is about the privacy we hide in our phones, how we keep secrets from everyone around us, and how — for so many of us — even those who we are closest to know nothing about us.”

Bou Abboud defines the point of the film further: “It’s about exploring the exact limit to which we can reveal ourselves to the closest people around us and not be judged.” 

“We tackle each topic without (judgment),” adds Smayra. “We’re not trying to prove anything. We are just going into reality and focusing on the human interactions it inspires.” 

The film is a landmark in more ways than one, an eminently accessible mainstream drama that has immediately found a global audience, trending at the top of Netflix in countries including France and proving that Arab film is reaching a turning point both in terms of quality and widespread popularity, regionally and internationally. 

Helmed by Lebanese director Wissam Smayra, the film revolves around a game in which each person puts their mobile phone on the table, exposing to the rest every call or message that they receive. Supplied

“Respect (for Arab film) is starting to really grow. And this is a milestone, I think,” says Labaki, the Oscar-nominated director of “Capernaum.” 

To achieve the naturalistic style of “Perfect Strangers,” Smayra approached the film much like a piece of theater, rehearsing the script from start to finish with his actors for weeks on end, and filming the entire project chronologically rather than out of order, as is the norm for most films.

During filming, Smayra and the cast would meet every day out of costume and without make up, running through that day’s 10-minute scene 20 to 30 times in a row for hours until it became second nature, before filming the scene that night.  

“This is when you know that you have amazing actors,” says Smayra. “It wasn’t normal — these were crazy, insane geniuses. I was witnessing something magic.

“We worked with two cameras. Each day, we would start shooting for three or four hours until it was done,” he continues. “It was insane. Afterwards I could see they were all drained.” 

“And that was even though we were all just sitting around a table!” says Zaki. “It was an emotional drain.”

Nadine Labaki and Georges Khabbaz on set. Supplied

“It was easy for me, though,” adds co-star Karam, who also starred in the Oscar-nominated film “The Insult,” with a smile. 

Part of the reason for most of the cast’s constant exhaustion was that, unlike most films, there were no breaks for the actors. Because of the multiple handheld cameras and the nature of the story, the troupe could never drop out of character.

“The way it was shot was very important. You had to be present the whole time — even if it's not your moment, even if you know you're not going to be talking for a while,” says Labaki. “We were present not only as characters but as ourselves, watching the performance of somebody else that is so real that you really feel you're in it, you really identify, and you start thinking about your own situation. It was really fascinating.”

Smayra, who, like Labaki, got his start directing music videos in Lebanon in the early 2000s, has worked with Labaki in the past, executive producing “Capernaum.” Though it was his first feature-length film, he was a soft-spoken but assured presence, and never leaned on his fellow director in the cast as others have. 

“I never felt I was working with a first-time director,” says Labaki. “I felt from the start that this was going to be great; I was in good hands. Because of that, my only concern became doing the best I can for the character, and for everybody else, because you feel like everybody's performing on such a high level. I felt like I needed to be up to the expectations, and up to the standard they were all setting. I really loved this whole adventure.” 

“Perfect Strangers” is an adaptation of the award-winning Italian original of the same name. Supplied

For Egyptian star Nassar, what was truly remarkable is how nothing was lost in translation, and all the power he felt in the moment remains on the screen in the final cut.

“I told Wissam, ‘You are a magician.’ As an actor, I knew the subtleties I had introduced while filming and I knew the best moments of the other actors,” he says. “Watching it, there are no missing moments. All the actors’ power was there, nothing lost in the editing. He was seeing everything. I’ve never seen that done so well.”

And Nassar says that, to his surprise, he left the set a changed performer. “After I finished ‘Perfect Strangers’ and got back to Egypt, I had a different style of acting,” he says. “Working with actors such as Georges Khabbaz allowed me to see other schools of acting.” 

Khabbaz, Lebanon’s most renowned stage actor, found the film uniquely challenging, though he ends up being the film’s quiet and soulful anchor and has received an outpouring of praise online for his performance.

“I am a man of the stage,” Khabbaz explains. “The stage has vast space, which allows you to express using all tools.  This role was different. It was difficult. To do it, I had to keep my emotions closer to my chest, and show them only in reactions. I tried to do this role as an Eastern man but maintaining the Western concept of the movie. For this performance, I became a man of reaction, not a man of action.”

The film is trending at the top of Netflix in countries including France. Supplied

While some of the discussion around the film has focused on why Arab cinema is producing remakes rather than crafting original stories, each cast member made sure that “Perfect Strangers” responded to that concern with gusto, crafting a true piece of art that stands as the best version of the concept — one possessed with a uniquely Arab spirit — rather than a lazy cash-in. 

“Throughout the filming, my inner question was: ‘Why are we making this movie?’ We constantly discussed how we could present this material as Eastern people for an Eastern audience,” says Nassar. “The answer lay in how the dilemma the film poses affects Eastern people uniquely. We ended up discovering during the whole filming process why we were doing the Arabic version of this movie. In the end, it was very clear to all of us, and it will be to audiences, as well.”


Rihanna shows off Amina Muaddi heels in New York

Rihanna has collaborated with Amina Muaddi in the past. (File/Getty Images)
Rihanna has collaborated with Amina Muaddi in the past. (File/Getty Images)
Updated 24 January 2022

Rihanna shows off Amina Muaddi heels in New York

Rihanna has collaborated with Amina Muaddi in the past. (File/Getty Images)

DUBAI: No one has an affinity for Amina Muaddi shoes quite like Rihanna.

The singer-turned-designer has an unparalleled collection of heels by the Jordanian-Romanian designer, which have become her go-to choice of footwear whether she is attending lavish red carpet events, fundraising galas, taking an off-duty stroll or stepping out to dinner with her reported beau A$AP Rocky.

(Getty Images)

The Fenty Beauty founder was spotted out on a chilly January night in New York City while heading to dinner at a SoHo restaurant with the rapper, born Rakim Mayers. For the occasion, the superstar put her best foot forward, wearing crystal-wrap Amina Muaddi sandals that she paired with a red Balenciaga puffer coat worn over an oversized jersey. She accessorized the look with a pair of leather ski gloves by Miu Miu, structural diamond earrings and a black baseball cap with an embroidered “R” from R13.

One thing Rihanna and A$AP Rocky seem to have in common is their penchant for the part-Jordanian footwear designer’s creations.

The artists have both collaborated with the designer in the recent past.

In 2020, the Paris-based designer teamed up with the rapper’s creative agency AWGE on a four-piece collection of flared pumps and lace-up heels.

The collection marked A$AP Rocky’s first foray into women’s footwear and was Muaddi’s first collaboration for her own brand, though she also released a limited-edition footwear capsule collection with Rihanna’s Fenty label that same year.

The collaboration was honored as Collaborator of the Year at the 34th edition of the FN Achievement Awards.

Following the sell-out success of the first collection, Barbados-born Rihanna enlisted Muaddi to design yet another collection for Fenty.

According to an interview with British Vogue, Rihanna came by Muaddi’s shoes after her longtime stylist Jahleel Weaver introduced her to early prototypes.

But then she bought a few pairs herself via her personal shopper. She’s such a nice person. She sent me some Fenty clothes when she launched her own label – I feel amazing when I’m wearing them. There’s that swagger, you feel like you are channeling Rihanna,” Muaddi stated.

 


Review: Netflix’s ‘The House’ shows that home is where the art is

‘The House’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
‘The House’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 24 January 2022

Review: Netflix’s ‘The House’ shows that home is where the art is

‘The House’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

LONDON: Netflix is going big on adult animation. Not only has the streaming giant built its own studio in Los Angeles, but it continues to partner with some of the biggest names in the business –its first animated anthology film, “The House,” sees Netflix link up with London’s Nexus Studios to tell a trio of stop-motion stories centered around the mysterious titular house.

In the first, a family makes a Faustian deal with a creepy architect — he will build them a wonderful home if they agree to leave their old house and their belongings behind. As the allure of the creepy building overwhelms the mother and father, only their eldest daughter seems suspicious, investigating the sprawling house in search of clues about their mysterious benefactor.

The second relocates the story to a more modern setting, in which a beleaguered developer (voiced by a charming Jarvis Cocker) struggles to complete the renovation of the same building. The anthropomorphized rat must land a buyer before the bank comes calling, but an interested couple could spell more trouble than the house is worth.

In the final chapter, landlord Rosa (a cat, this time) struggles to keep on top of maintenance, while her rent-shy tenants make plans to flee rising flood waters that edge ever-closer to the house’s front door.

Sure, the three stories feel a bit uneven – the first a gothic nightmare, the second a modern creep-fest, the third a dystopian surrealist study – and the thread that binds them all together, the house itself, shifts from a malevolent entity to an inanimate object and (eventually) a savior figure in a bewildering, meandering arc that is a little hard to decipher. But “The House” remains a stop-motion masterpiece. Even if the stories are unbalanced, and the tone ever shifting, this anthology is a rare, beautiful showcase of animation at its most beguiling and captivating.


Nora Attal stars in summer campaign for Weekend Max Mara

Nora Attal stars in summer campaign for Weekend Max Mara
The 21-year-old stars in the Weekend Max Mara Spring 2022 campaign. Instagram
Updated 23 January 2022

Nora Attal stars in summer campaign for Weekend Max Mara

Nora Attal stars in summer campaign for Weekend Max Mara

DUBAI: British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is starring in a new campaign for Weekend Max Mara, the sister brand of Max Mara’s mainline collections.

Lensed by Eddie Wrey, Attal features in a video and campaign images set along a rocky stretch of coast in Capo Malfatano, Italy.

The 21-year-old catwalk star features in the stunning video advertorial wearing key pieces from the label’s Spring 2022 collection.

She can be seen wearing a beige knit sweater with yarn tassels worn with matching cream-colored trousers paired with loafers and the brand’s Pasticcino bag.

In the 15-second-long clip, Attal can also be seen wearing a belted trench coat, a flowy shirt dress cinched at the waist with a belt and a matching pinstriped trousers and jacket combination.

According to the brand, the Spring 2022 advertising campaign “portrays the protagonist in the summer wardrobe you have always wished for.”

The collection boasts a wide range of summer-ready styles from reinvented classics and summer-ready essentials to cashmere sweaters emblazoned with butterflies and cotton trousers. Tweed miniskirts, leather pouches and linen blouses are among the other items that jostle for attention in the label’s new collection.

The model has been keeping quite busy. She recently appeared in the holiday campaign for German label Boss, alongside Australian actor Chris Hemsworth.

Attal has forged a position as one of the most in-demand models in the world at the moment — Models.com currently ranks her as one of the top 50 models worldwide.

Based in London and singed to Viva Model Management, Attal has walked for renowned fashion houses such as Prada, Fendi, Dior, Chanel and Versace, to name a few, in addition to appearing in the pages of publications such as Vogue magazine.

Born to Moroccan parents in the UK, the model was first discovered by Jonathan Anderson, founder of the J.W. Anderson label, and shot a campaign for the British fashion house in 2014, before making her runway debut three years later.

Attal is among the growing list of Arab models breaking ground in the industry, including Italian-Moroccan Malika El-Maslouhi, part-Palestinian sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, Moroccan-Egyptian Imaan Hammam and French-Algerian Loli Bahia, to name a few.