DUBAI: Marvel has released a short teaser trailer for its hotly anticipated superhero film “Eternals” starring Syrian refugee-turned-actor Zain Al-Rafeea alongside a star-studded cast that includes Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden.
Now 16-year-old Al-Rafeea, who gained prominence for his role in Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s critically-acclaimed “Capernaum,” appears for a couple of seconds in the two-minute long trailer for the Chloe Zhao-directed movie about an immortal alien race.
While the trailer gives away little to no details on the plot, if the clip is anything to go by, Al-Rafeea stars as a villager who comes across the Eternals when they arrive to Earth.
Rumors of Al-Rafeea joining the cast of the film first surfaced in 2019 after Hayek uploaded a picture of herself with the former Syrian refugee and “Eternals” co-star Lia Mchugh on Instagram.
“Hanging with the Eternals’ youth,” Hayek, who plays the leader of the Eternals, Ajak, captioned the Instagram post.
“The introduction happened through Nadine. Directors and producers from Hollywood talked to her and she put us in touch,” Al-Rafeea said in a previous interview with Arab News.
The actor revealed that he met his fellow cast members on the Canary Islands during the early stages of filming. “They were nice and their welcome to me was very sweet,” he said. “They invited me for lunch and we chatted for hours, I felt so happy.
“When we finished the first day’s shooting, Salma Hayek came up and hugged me. That night she gave me an iPad and iPhone, and we chatted and listened to music together,” he said.
The teenage star couldn’t reveal much about his role in “The Eternals,” only that he joins the alien heroes as a human who can speak a mysterious 7,000-year-old language.
“Eternals” is set for theatrical release on Nov. 5, 2021.
‘I’m living these stories,’ says Hind Al-Fahhad, one of the Saudi directors behind ‘Becoming’
Updated 07 December 2021
DUBAI: Five Saudi female directors will present their new drama “Becoming” at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.
The 70-minute, Arabic-language film features five short narratives, each reflecting on Saudi society and the changes it is undergoing.
Produced by the festival, “Becoming” focuses on problems confronting female characters — from a divorced mother struggling with anxiety attacks to a middle-aged hairdresser considering an abortion.
The five filmmakers behind “Becoming” include Hind Al-Fahhad, whose work mostly portrays women and the psychological and physical challenges they face.
“I feel that their stories are relevant to me,” she told Arab News. “I’m still living them and they’re all around me.”
Al-Fahhad launched a creative career as a photographer in 2006. “I’m attracted to images and the idea of expressing myself visually,” she said.
At the time, there were no opportunities to study film direction in Saudi Arabia, but the self-taught Al-Fahhad trained herself by reading, watching films and attending workshops.
Five years later, she began experimenting by directing short films, such as the award-winning “Basta” (“Peddlers”), showcasing her productions in Gulf film festivals.
“Every day, I’m discovering,” she said, explaining what she enjoys most about her artistic profession. “I experience a story, a situation in every film. I feel like I’ve entered people’s homes and their stories.”
Like most film professionals, Al-Fahhad’s interest in movies began at an early age, watching videotapes and listening to stories of her grandmother visiting local cinemas in the 1970s.
This family story, in particular, inspired Al-Fahhad to work on her upcoming film “Sharshaf” (“Fitted Sheet”), which will be filmed in 2022.
She is optimistic about the revival of cinema in the Kingdom, as well as the encouragement of aspiring independent filmmakers in her country.
“The situation is different now. We are living the dream,” she said.
“I believe things have gone back to the way they used to be. Saudi society is starting to look like other societies worldwide. It has its dreams, stories and experiences.”
Models pay tribute to Arab designers on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet
Updated 07 December 2021
DUBAI: From a stunning white Zuhair Murad gown, to daring looks by Lebanese-helmed label-of-the-moment Monot, models from around the world paid tribute to Middle Eastern designers at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.
US-Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio took time out from her busy schedule to take in the winter festivities in the city, and shared snaps and video clips of the F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Instagram before letting her 10.6 million Instagram followers in on her pre-red carpet makeup routine.
She then posted a short clip on Instagram Stories showing off her regal look — designed by none other than Lebanese icon Zuhair Murad.
The all-white look featured a peek-a-boo cut out at the waist and hip-high slit, along with gem-encrusted details on the torso and shoulder.
Meanwhile, South African model Candice Swanepoel brought her A-game to the red carpet on Monday night wearing an all-white look by Monot.
The figure-hugging gown featured a dramatic asymmetrical train.
Portuguese model Sara Sampaio opted for a dramatic Zuhair Murad gown in black, with silver embellishments across the length of the gown, while Saudi-Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian beauty Shanina Shaik also showed off a striking black number, this time by Monot.
Director Albaqer Jafeer’s ‘Take Me to the Cinema’ is a heartfelt portrait of life in Iraq
Updated 07 December 2021
JEDDAH: Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival is treating audiences to a diverse array of films from across the Arab world and beyond, and one 27-year-old Iraqi director is the latest to have his work shown to audiences in Saudi Arabia.
Albaqer Jafeer, from Baghdad, is participating in the Arab Spectacular category alongside eight other movies with “Take me to the Cinema,” his first documentary.
In an interview with Arab News, Jafeer spoke about the catastrophic wars that Iraqis have been through and how these affected entertainment for citizens and impacted him personally as a filmmaker.
“This documentary is a combination of drama and fiction. The idea came to me while I was reading a novel by the famous Iraqi novelist Nassif Falak, the hero of my film,” Jafeer said.
For Jafeer, the film had its own set of challenges, taking four years to complete.
“Iraq lacks cinema producers and theaters, and the industry itself is practically non-existent. Creating the film was extremely challenging as I am the director, actor, producer, photographer and more.
“When my film received support from the Red Sea International Film Festival, it was a significant boost in terms of production, especially with the help of talented Egyptian producers,” he continued.
The post-production stage was sponsored by the film festival, which, according to Jafeer, helped speed up the production process.
“Having my film premiere in Saudi Arabia is a golden opportunity. I am so thrilled that Saudi audiences will get to explore more about Iraq. This, for myself and other Iraqis, will create a very significant dialogue,” he said.
Inspired by Falak’s novel, the 75-minute documentary tells the story of a 65-year-old Iraqi soldier who absconded from Iraq’s mandatory military service when he was younger and found a safe haven in a cinema.
The film is viewed from Jafeer’s eyes, as he questions the future of the film industry, that of the Iraqi generation born in the 1990s, and how the cycle of life is repeated, with many of the same issues faced by different generations.
“What happened to the dreams of the previous generation? What happened to their journey? Is it over? Or can they still achieve their goals?” Jafeer asked, relaying some of the main thematic questions dealt with in the poignant cinematic work.
“The film is full of questions. Some might be answered within the context, others might remain unanswered, but I would like to leave them to the previous Iraqi generation to answer,” he added.
“Take me to the Cinema” also highlights how Iraq was home to over 100 movie theaters during the country’s glory days before the wars began.
“There is a street called ‘Cinema Street’ located in the city of Ramadi where all the movie theaters used to be. Sadly, these buildings have now been turned into military uniform shops. This shows how our lives are merged with war,” the director said.
“Take me to the Cinema” will be screened on Dec. 10 and 13 at Al-Balad Vox cinemas.
Saudi Arabia lifts the curtain on the future of film
Saudi festival-goers are donning VR headsets for a cinema experience like no other
Updated 07 December 2021
JEDDAH: Ever wondered what the future of storytelling looks like?
Saudi audiences are about to find out, thanks to Red Sea: Immersive, a program of virtual reality experiences organized as part of the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival, which is running until Dec. 15 at Jeddah’s newly opened creative complex Hayy Jameel.
Audiences will don virtual reality headsets and step into the shoes of a character as they journey through a 360-degree story world that draws on the skills of theater directors, filmmakers and architects — and even gamers.
Red Sea: Immersive features a selection from award-winning international artists and directors that will appeal to all types of audiences, with documentaries, animations and interactive narratives, as well as games, art and virtual world explorations.
Hayy Jameel, which includes galleries, art and design studios and the Kingdom’s first arthouse cinema, is an ideal venue for the VR program.
In collaboration with Art Jameel, Red Sea: Immersive will showcase 21 programs, including ground-breaking VR works produced in 2021 by directors and artists from the UK, France, Taiwan, the US, Germany and Denmark.
A competition for the Golden Yusr Immersive Award, including a cash prize of $10,000, will be judged by an all-female jury led by US multimedia artist Laurie Anderson.
Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive, told Arab News that the program aims to show Saudi directors, artists, illustrators and audiences that virtual reality is a unique new platform to create stories, produce art and build story worlds.
“The program will be inspiring because it’s really about using new tools to tell stories. So, I’m really hoping the selection that we show is going to be an inspiration to artists,” Rosenthal, who also curated Venice VR at the Venice International Film Festival, said.
While people in Saudi Arabia are familiar with flat-screen media, such as film, television and social media, “the 360 VR experience will give them a chance to visit new worlds,” she said.
“I’m really excited about showing them emotions, stories and how you can enter into a story world in a 360-degree spatial way. It’s powerful,” Rosenthal said.
• Audiences will don virtual reality headsets and step into the shoes of a character as they journey through a 360-degree story world that draws on the skills of theater directors, filmmakers and architects — and even gamers.
• Red Sea: Immersive features a selection from award-winning international artists and directors that will appeal to all types of audiences.
The VR experiences include “Anandala,” “End of Night,” “Genesis,” “Glimpse,” “Goliath: Playing with Reality,” “Kusunda,” “Laika,” “Lavrynthos,” “Le Bal De Paris De Blanca Li,” “Marco and Polo Go Round,” “Reeducated,” “Samsara (Lun Hui),” and “The Sick Rose.”
VR projects are very different to filmmaking, Rosenthal said.
“Filmmaking is about the flat screen. It’s about a director and an editor, deciding where you cut each scene, whether there’s a long shot or a wide shot, or a close-up. But in VR there’s agency for the viewer because you’re in a 360-degree environment, and can interact with characters and the story. It is a very different medium to filmmaking.”
She added: “It involves many different disciplines, and so filmmaking is a very important part of it, but it’s going to be exciting how filmmakers work with other people from other disciplines to create these experiences.”
Each experience features an artificial world and various formats such as animation, documentaries, love stories, abstract art, and journeys through place, time and emotions.
Viewers in some experiences can become involved in real-time performance, using game engine controllers to play an interactive role in helping a character.
Rosenthal said: “Red Sea: Immersive has selected the best virtual reality projects of the past two years. I’ve done a competition section with 13 projects, but I also wanted to show that there are many different genres and subject matters that can be covered with virtual reality tools. So, it’s really a wide selection.”
She added: “I selected around eight other experiences that were produced in 2020. And there are some of my favorite experiences that have been shown and won awards at different festivals. But the competition section is all about the projects that have been produced in 2021. So, we have, for example, three projects that were the main award winners at the Venice Film Festival.”
According to Rosenthal, using a technology such as VR requires skills in a range of areas, such as games design, architecture and spatial design.
The real-time interaction experience “Glimpse” is a collaboration between a game designer and a film director.
“Benjamin Cleary, the director of ‘Glimpse,’ has previously won an Oscar for a short film, while his co-director, Michael O’Connor, is more involved in the games world and used to work at Sega, the video-game company. So, you need a knowledge of game engines, and you need to be able to direct and tell the story like a filmmaker,” Rosenthal said.
“We hope that this is going to be an inspiration to different creators, storytellers and filmmakers. But what’s really new about virtual reality is that it really brings together different artistic mediums,” she added.
The Hayy Jameel venue has 14 booths where the audience can book a one-hour slot to watch any of the 21 projects. Longer bookings to cover most of the projects are also available.
The inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival will support emerging talents and bring the best in Arab and world cinema to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jeddah Old Town until Dec. 15, 2021.
Stars shine on the Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet
Inaugural event features home-grown talent and features alongside international icons and blockbusters
Updated 07 December 2021
Rawan Radwan Nada Hameed
JEDDAH: Cinematic masterpieces and their creators flocked to Jeddah for the long-awaited Red Sea International Film Festival.
After nearly two years on hold, the star-studded event finally rolled out the red carpet in the Kingdom’s beating cultural heart: Jeddah’s historic downtown area known as Al-Balad. With homes dating back at least three centuries in the backdrop, the scene was shining with international, Arab, and Saudi film stars, filmmakers, directors, and producers; a beautiful mix of the old and new as history was being made.
The event, set to run until Dec. 15, will feature world premieres of selected films made by the Kingdom’s up-and-coming talent, with 138 films from over 60 countries in total. The historical event, dubbed “a landmark moment,” by RSIFF Chairman Mohammed Al-Turki, will “serve (as) a launchpad for young Saudi and Arab talent and support the development of our flourishing industry.”
Less than 24 hours ago, residents of the city watched the closing ceremony of the first Saudi Arabian Formula One Grand Prix, another historic moment for the Kingdom and the city of Jeddah as it bore witness to one of the biggest sports events in the world.
The celebrations continue at RSIFF as it aims to bring the global film industry “to network, share knowledge and forge partnerships” and will gather local film lovers, filmmakers, and international industry leaders at one event.
• After nearly two years on hold, the star-studded event finally rolled out the red carpet in the Kingdom’s beating cultural heart: Jeddah’s historic downtown area known as Al-Balad.
• With homes dating back at least three centuries in the backdrop, the scene was shining with international, Arab, and Saudi film stars, filmmakers, directors, and producers; a beautiful mix of the old and new as history was being made.
• The celebrations continue at RSIFF as it aims to bring the global film industry ‘to network, share knowledge and forge partnerships.’
The red carpet witnessed some of the Kingdom’s most prominent names in film and television. Speaking to Arab News, Saudi actress Sumaya Rida, who starred in the Saudi film “Rupture,” said how much of an honor it was to represent the Kingdom in the film industry, with “Rupture” the only Saudi feature competing on an international scale as part of the festival.
“I had the opportunity to be part of two films for the festival. ‘Rupture’ is directed by Hamzah Jamjoom and produced by Aymen Khoja. I starred with the American actor Billy Zane. I also had the pleasure to co-star in the short film ‘Junoon,’ a horror short appealing to the new wave of Saudi cinema. There are many other great Saudi films and I am honestly very excited to watch these works,” said Rida.
One of the most significant cinematic figures in the Kingdom, Haifaa Al-Mansour, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, will be honored at the RSIFF and told Arab News that the support filmmakers have received in the past few years had produced great talents with fresh ideas, especially female members of the film industry, who have received unprecedented support.
“This is a beautiful beginning and I’m proud to be at such an event in Saudi Arabia celebrating cinema and celebrating women in cinema. As a Saudi director, this is a big deal and I’m proud to see a film directed and produced by Saudi female directors. This is a major leap for women in the Kingdom,” she told Arab News.
“I’m so happy to be here in Jeddah. I’m so proud to see all of this happening and I’m so happy to see a festival at this scale in the Arab world, and (am) hoping for many more festivals,” Lebanese fashion entrepreneur and digital influencer Karen Wazen told Arab News.
The festival’s movies are divided into 11 sections: Competition, Short Film Competition, International Spectacular, Arab Spectacular, Festival Favorites, New Saudi/ New Cinema (Feature), New Saudi/ New Cinema (Shorts), Treasures, Next Generation, Immersive and Episodic.
“It’s a great honor because this is the first movie festival here and it’s a symbol, it’s a sign of developing, and I really love this because cinema and all kinds of art open the mind. It’s beautiful,” Italian actor Michele Morrone told Arab News.
The Saudi films that will screen include: “Junoon” by directors Maan B. and Yaser B. Khalid, “Route 10” by Omar Naim, “Quareer” by Ragheed Al-Nahdi, Norah Almowald, Ruba Khafagy, Fatma Alhazmi, and Noor Alameer, “Fay’s Palette” by Anas Ba-Tahaf, “Becoming” by Sara Mesfer, Jawaher Alamri, Noor Alameer, Hind Alfahhad, and Fatima Al-Banawi, “Kayan” by Hakeem Jomaah and “Cinema Al-Hara” by Faizah Ambah.
The lineup is interspersed with high-profile international films such as Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Elena Ferrante adaptation “The Lost Daughter,” “Memory Box” by Beirut-born director duo Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, “Huda’s Salon” by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, and India’s “Paka” directed by Nithin Lukose.
The festival will host several initiatives aimed at improving the Saudi film industry and enriching the Kingdom’s cinematic scene and talent development, and host a plethora of screenings, talks, workshops, and a masterclass by no other than famous Egyptian actress Yousra, tribute talks with Laila Eloui, and many more activities.