Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene
As for his own filmmaking, Djouamaa is currently in the process of developing a documentary that he says will “destabilize the current system, especially its relations with France.” (Supplied)
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Updated 18 June 2021

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene

Aissa Djouamaa on revitalizing the North African movie scene
  • Meet the director and producer leading the charge for a new wave of Algerian cinema

PARIS: Algerian director and producer Aissa Djouamaa (whose debut feature, “Cilima,” was helmed under his ‘artist name’ Aissa ben Said) may have chosen to keep his distances from the media, but he remains, nonetheless, a deeply committed artist, both behind the camera and on the ground. He is recognized as someone who has initiated a major and profound change in the movie industry of his native country, Algeria.

Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. When he was rejected by the School of Dramatic Arts in Algiers due to his unsatisfactory baccalaureate grades, he decided to study biology for four years, but his passion for cinema did not fade. So, in 2007 he took the decision to join the Tunis School of Arts and Cinema.

"I enrolled there with the intention of becoming an actor. But when I discovered the universe of the film industry, I started focusing on the picture, the frame and the writing,” he says.




“Cilima” is typical of the ideals behind Nouvelle Vague Algerienne, aimed as it is at reviving Algerian cinema. (Supplied)

Djouamaa ranked top of his class for two consecutive years before encountering a major problem. “I realized that I was attracted to disturbing social issues, to topics that were not supposed to be addressed,” he says. “I decided that for my final project I would make a movie about the aggressive police attacks that took place during the local derby between the Tunisian football teams Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Club Africain.” However, he was unable to get the necessary authorization, so his film was never completed.

In summer 2010, Djouamaa traveled to Algeria to produce his first short film “Un Cri Sans Echo” (A scream without echo), which focused on marginalized musicians living in Souk Ahras, the artist's hometown. The film was screened during the Doc à Tunis festival in April 2011, just months after then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted at the start of the Arab Spring, and it earned Djouamaa his diploma.

When he returned to Algeria, he encountered numerous problems, mainly financial. “I worked as a sales consultant for a multinational company. Every vacation I had, I would make a short film,” he says. “I also taught at the Office des Établissements de Jeunes, which produced my first film.”

Djouamaa’s second movie — “Colors, the Country and Me,” was about a hero of Souk Ahras: Taoufik Makhloufi, the only Algerian to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.




Perseverance is one of Djouamaa’s major qualities. (Supplied)

“It’s about the new generation that perceives Algeria from a different angle,” he says. “It was time to write a new page of Algeria’s history as seen through the eyes of this generation.”

In order to emphasize a different vision to that of traditional non-fiction filmmakers, Djouamaa next decided to take part in his own documentary. “Talking about Algeria’s 50th Independence Day does not necessarily mean talking about the Algerian revolution as such, but rather talking about what Algeria has experienced, from independence until today,” he says.

Djouamaa was beginning to make a name for himself in his homeland. In 2014, he participated in the first Algiers French Institute laboratory and his film “Makash Kifach No Way” was broadcast on French television. The following year, he quit his job and headed to Canada to participate in KINOMADA — a non-profit film production platform — and to shoot his first fictional film, the short “We Return to Paradise,” which featured a rabbi, a priest and an imam. “I have never thought of presenting it in Algeria, as the topic (exploring the merits of art vs. religion) remains taboo.”

In 2016, he took part in a summer program at Paris’ renowned La Fémis film and television school. There, he filmed the Place de la Republique square during the “Nuit Debout” (Up all night) protests against new labor laws. “It has always been the French producing documentaries about Algeria,” he says. “It was about time that an Algerian made a documentary about France.”

His experiences in Canada and France inspired Djouamaa — despite Algeria’s “suffocating bureaucracy” — to establish his own production company, Nouvelle Vague Algerienne (Algerian New Wave). And it was his second fictional short, “Un Homme, Deux Théatres” (One man, two theaters), that saw his reputation grow outside of Algeria.




Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema rise again. (Supplied)

“This film was the door to international recognition,” he says. “It got screened all over the globe. I even received an award for it in Madagascar.”

At the 2017 Carthage Film Festival, Djouamaa encountered members of the Algerian Ministry of Culture, which only served to reinforce his belief that he was operating outside of his country’s mainstream media business. “They were wondering, ‘Who is this stranger, so unfamiliar to Algerian society, who doesn’t seem interested in who we are?’” he says.

But he got on better with the director of the Algerian commission which allocates funds to filmmakers, obtaining funding for five projects. He went on to shoot his first feature film “Cilima,” which he has described as a “one-of-a-kind film” that combined stories created by four young filmmakers from across Algeria.

“Cilima” is typical of the ideals behind Nouvelle Vague Algerienne, aimed as it is at reviving Algerian cinema.

“I am an artist who recognizes the enormous potential of the young generation. The Algerian New Wave is not just about producing projects talking about present Algeria. It’s a whole educational project. We are trying to make a change”, he explains. “I am a staunchly committed artist, a member of the Hirak. I have always refused to be part of the ingrained system.”




He went on to shoot his first feature film “Cilima,” which he has described as a “one-of-a-kind film” that combined stories created by four young filmmakers from across Algeria. (Supplied)

That system in Algeria, he explains, “was based on revolutionary films, subsidized with huge amounts of public money. Algerian cinema reached its peak with the Palme d'Or awarded in 1975 to Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina. Then came the black decade that saw the number of movie theaters fall from 500 to just 40.”

Djouamaa hopes to see Algerian cinema rise again. Along with two other producers, he has set up the Basma Collective. “In this country we have a lack in film schools,” he explains. “It is extremely important not to cut corners. We are in the process of setting up Timi Lab — a writing development venture — in Timimoun, in the Algerian Sahara, with the help of funds from the international film industry. We are also preparing an African and Arab festival called Timi Film Days.”

As for his own filmmaking, Djouamaa is currently in the process of developing a documentary that he says will “destabilize the current system, especially its relations with France.” It is based around the story of the village of Reggane, the location of French nuclear tests between 1960 and 1968.

“I decided not to make a historical movie, but instead to bring in my creative touch,” he says. “The story is about an association that contacts an international law firm (in relation to the Reggane tests). The latter files a complaint before the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

Clearly, Djouamaa’s Algerian New Wave is set on making waves.


Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala
The menu for this year's Met Gala is a collective effort by10 New York-based chefs. Supplied
Updated 8 min 26 sec ago

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

Chefs Fariyal Abdullahi, Nasim Alikhani to dish up dinner for this year’s Met Gala

DUBAI: For the first time, the Met Gala is introducing a sustainable plant-based menu for its annual event taking place this year on Sept. 13, 2021. 

Guests will be treated to a healthy dinner curated by a group of 10 notable New York-based chefs and Instagram influencers, handpicked by Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson and Bon Appétit.

Among the chefs selected is US-Ethiopian Fariyal Abdullahi and American-Iranian Nasim Alikhani.

Abdullahi is the culinary manager of R+D Kitchen in Dallas, while Alikhani spearheads a hot spot in Brooklyn, New York, called Sofreh.

They join other New York-based chefs, cookbook authors and culinary enthusiasts Emma Bengtsson, Lazarus Lynch, Junghyun Park, Erik Ramirez, Thomas Raquel, Sophia Roe, Simone Tong and Fabian von Hauske.

“I am honored to participate in an initiative that highlights the incredible work of these 10 New York chefs at the Met Gala,” said Samuelsson in a press release issued from the Met. 

“After a difficult two years for the restaurant industry, this will showcase the work and tell the stories of a dynamic group of chefs while presenting an exciting menu of delicious, plant-based dishes. The gala offers an incomparable opportunity for emerging talent to elevate their careers and share their perspectives and craft.”

In the weeks leading up to the gala, the 10 chefs will share plant-based recipes via Instagram Reels, powered by a partnership with the photo-sharing social media platform.

The Met Gala is an annual fundraising gala that celebrates New York’s the Costume Institute’s new exhibition on a changing theme. It typically occurs on the first Monday in May, however, due to COVID-19, it is set to take place as a smaller affair on Sept. 13.


Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad
Bella Hadid is one of the most in-demand models in the world at the moment. File/ Getty Images
Updated 03 August 2021

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

Bella Hadid revives noughties fashion in new Miss Sixty ad

DUBAI: Noughties fashion is back, and it doesn’t appear like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Whether it was Blumarine’s Paris Hilton-inspired Fall 2021 collection or the recent resurgence of Ed Hardy, the fabulously gaudy and over-the-top aesthetic of the 2000s in fashion is inescapable. Some of the decade’s most notorious brands have also made a return, including denim label Miss Sixty, which is now being fronted by Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid. 

This week, the brand unveiled its Fall 2021 campaign, which featured the 24-year-old catwalk star rocking a blond bob and striking various poses while wearing pieces from the label’s most recent collection, which included a long-sleeve striped T-shirt emblazoned with the brand's name on the bottom paired with form-hugging black pants and a silver chain belt.

Bella Hadid for Miss Sixty's Fall 2021 campaign. Instagram

The Miss Sixty brand was one of the top labels to define millennium-era style and was wildly popular in the 2000s, with celebrities including Paris Hilton, Mischa Barton and Hilary Duff rocking their low-rise jeans and statement belts.

After fading out of style in the last decade, the denim brand made a resurgence earlier this year, tapping Hadid to serve as the face of Miss Sixty last February.

Hadid announced the exciting news via Instagram earlier this year. 

“Just signed my newest contract as the face of @misssixty,” she wrote at the time. “I have so many vintage pieces that I have collected over the years and I can’t wait to pair it all with the new! This is a dream, I’m so excited to see what we do together in the future!”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Indeed, Hadid certainly is a fitting choice for the revival of Miss Sixty.

In addition to being one of the most in-demand models in the world, Hadid is also known for taking past, and often-times polarizing, fashion trends from the early 2000s and making them look fresh again.

From bedazzled cropped T-shirts and flared jeans to monogrammed baguette bags and newspaper boy caps, there’s almost no defining Y2K fashion trend that Hadid hasn’t rocked in weeks past. All that is really needed to complete her looks is a hot pink Motorola Razr or an iPod Nano.


Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced
Winner of the 2020 Ithra Art Prize, “Rakhm” by Fahad Bin Naif. Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

Jury for Saudi Arabia’s 2021 Ithra Art Prize announced

DUBAI: The jury for the 4th edition of the Ithra Art Prize has been revealed.

The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) has announced a panel of seven international art experts as the jury for the prize.

They are Abdullah K. Al-Turki, board member of the Ad-Diriyah Biennale Foundation; Dr. Ridha Moumni, historian of art and archaeology; Brahim Alaoui, former director of the museum of the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris and  Salwa Mikdadi, Director of Al-Mawrid Arab Center for the Study of Art (NYUAD).

They will be joined by Amal Khalaf, curator, artist and Director of Programs at Cubitt and Civic Curator at the Serpentine Galleries in London; Clare Davies, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Farah Abushullaih, Head of Museums and Exhibits at Ithra.

The jury are responsible for evaluating submissions for the contemporary art prize, which is open to artists from or based in the 22 Arab League countries, with the winner receiving a financial grant of up to $100,000 in commission of a singular work of art. 

Individual artists and collectives are invited to submit a proposal for the Ithra Art Prize by Aug. 13, 2021, with the winner being announced on Aug. 30, 2021.

Meanwhile, the winning piece will be unveiled at Ad-Diriyah Biennale, the Kingdom’s first biennale, scheduled to be held between Dec. 7 and March 7, 2022.

The winner will join the likes of UAE-based Saudi artist Ayman Zeidani, whose project “Meem” won the inaugural edition of the Ithra Art Prize in 2018, 2019 winner, Dania Al-Saleh and Fahad Bin Naif, who won the 2020 prize for his artwork “Rakhm.”


Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood
Model Josephine Skriver has walked the runway for a variety of high-end labels. Instagram
Updated 02 August 2021

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

Model Josephine Skriver champions Dubai-based label in Hollywood

DUBAI: Victoria’s Secret model Josephine Skriver is the latest celebrity to be spotted toting a design by Dubai-based accessories label L’Afshar.

Each of L’Afshar’s covetable box bags and clutches are meticulously handcrafted by Esmod graduate Lilian L’Afshar in her Dubai-based studio. 

The label’s handmade lucite clutches are instantly recognizable by their unique, structured designs and use of marbled resin and intricate mirror-work.

The brand’s clutches have been sported by everyone from Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid to Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

The British-born Iranian designer founded her eponymous label in 2014.

She discovered her flair for bag design accidentally while making a last-minute black and red, transparent acrylic clutch for her graduation collection while studying at Esmod.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by L'AFSHAR (@lilianafshar)

Today, her mini-bags are a constant on international red carpets.

Skriver, 28, attended the 2021 Sports Illustrated issue release celebration at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, and for the occasion wore a metallic feather-trimmed mini dress, which she paired with L’Afshar’s Elle bag in silver mirror.

It has been a busy couple of weeks for the Danish model.

Shortly after the Sports Illustrated issue release event, Skriver touched down in Croatia with fellow models Shanina Shaik, Sara Sampaio, Lais Ribiero, Romee Strijd and Taylor Hill to celebrate close friend Jasmine Tookes’ upcoming marriage with Snapchat’s Juan David Borrero.

The stylish friend group attended the future bride’s bachelorette party this week in Hvar, an idyllic island in Croatia. 

Tookes and Borrero got engaged in September 2020 and are set to get married in Borrero’s home country of Ecuador, but due to COVID-19 the exact wedding date is yet to be announced.  

Tookes is set to tie the knot in a wedding gown by Lebanese couturier Zuhair Murad. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jasmine Tookes (@jastookes)

The model originally teased the news following Murad’s Fall 2021 couture show in Paris, where she was sat front row. “Ten years ago, I used to walk his couture shows and now I wear his dresses on almost every red carpet. Something even more special is coming very soon,” she wrote on Instagram.

More recently, the model revealed via Instagram that she got to “see and try on my finished wedding dress. It is beyond everything I ever imagined.” 

The Raas Balbek-born couturier simply commented with three red heart emojis.


Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition
Ard El Ewa (2015/2016). Supplied
Updated 02 August 2021

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

Artist Ibrahim Ahmed explores colonialism and identity in US solo exhibition

DUBAI: Two large, brightly colored textile-based sculptures hang like gigantic carpets. The only thing distinguishing them from what could be a meticulously woven rug is that various textiles are sewn together and supported by structures, like sails. These artworks by Cairo-based Ibrahim Ahmed are some of the main features in his first solo US museum show “It Will Always Come Back to You” at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The show features a thematic selection of Ahmed’s work from 2013 to 2020, produced using a variety of media, including primarily textile-based sculpture, painting and photo collage exploring issues related to migration, colonialism and the Global South — regions outside of Europe and North America that have historically been politically and culturally marginalized.

Only Dreamers Leave (2016). Supplied

Two works of art are the most expansive in the show: “Only Dreamers Leave” (2016) and “Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Embroidered onto the conglomeration of diverse textiles are gold patterns that refer to baroque and arabesque iron gates, symbols of wealth and power in Egypt. Staged in opposite areas of the exhibition, the works are in dialogue with each other while also relaying Ahmed’s missive for the exhibition: to explore the myths surrounding migration to the Global North and contemporary representations of the nation-state.

The artist himself is a product of such migration. Born in Kuwait in 1984 and of Egyptian heritage, Ahmed spent his childhood between Bahrain and Egypt, before moving to the US with his family at the age of 13. In 2014, he moved back to Cairo, where he currently lives and works in the informal working-class neighborhood of Ard El Lewa. 

Does Anybody Leave Heaven” (2019). Supplied

The first work visitors see is the multimedia “Does Anybody Leave Heaven,” located in the foyer of the museum and comprising a textile-based piece, video, sound and a series of photographs. It was inspired by Ahmed’s return from the US to Egypt in 2014. The work, in the form of an assemblage tapestry (32x10 feet), is made with textile found in Egyptian streets, such as bags, clothing and other items, which have then been printed onto the “flag” in addition to other miscellaneous elements from the US.

In the Ard El Lewa neighborhood, Ahmed lives among Egyptians who have not been able to travel outside of Egypt. “When I tell them I chose to leave the US, they always ask me: ‘Does anybody leave heaven?’” he told Arab News. “The piece looks at the US as an empire and a cultural soft power, which is reflected in the objects accumulated over a period of time in Egypt that have US flags on them.”

Displayed outside the museum is the artist’s 2016 installation “Only Dreamers Leave,” an installation made of 30 sails, first displayed in Dakar, Senegal in 2018 during the Biennale of Contemporary African Art. Incorporated into the sails are 30 flags representing countries — the 28 EU members in addition to Canada and the US. Through this work, Ahmed demonstrates how the fantasies and dreams the countries evoke lure migrants away from their communal homes to other nations. The sails are made from porous and heavy materials associated with domestic and manual labor —jobs that migrants usually obtain as soon as they arrive in their new land.

Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020). Supplied

The exhibition also includes a specially commissioned work for VCU titled “Nobody Knows Anything About Them” (2019). The largest of the chandelier series to date, it is also constructed from found materials. A common practice in Cairo, says Ahmed, is to store unused materials on rooftops, a habit driven by the uncertainty of the future. “People have a tendency to conserve things that would otherwise have been discarded,” he explained.

In another room, works from Ahmed’s masculinity project can be found. These include “Some Parts Seem Forgotten” (2020) and “Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020), works that move from the physicality of the artist’s body to incorporate social and historical frames of reference, largely through the use of archival family photos that span 50 years. The images, the majority of which were taken by Ahmed’s father, show cars, national monuments, military parades, and museums. The photographs date from the Nasser era and map the artist’s father’s trajectory from farm boy in the Nile Delta to banker in the US, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other locations throughout the north and south of Egypt that his many business trips took him to.

Quickly But Carefully Cross To The Other Side” (2020). Supplied

“These works, like the title, aim to show how these macro-politics exist because we are all carrying these legacies with us,” he tells Arab News. “My practice has been to look at myself closely to manifest the discourses that I come across through my art. I am looking at this idea of falsified borders, past and present, and how they negate the idea of division because, in the end, everything in the world is very much interconnected.”

“Ibrahim Ahmed: It Will Always Come Back to You” runs until Nov. 28, 2021.