Meet Cannes-winning Egyptian film director Omar El-Zohairy

Meet Cannes-winning Egyptian film director Omar El-Zohairy
Omar El-Zohairy accepted the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critic’s Week for his first feature film “Feathers.” (Supplied)
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Updated 21 August 2021

Meet Cannes-winning Egyptian film director Omar El-Zohairy

Meet Cannes-winning Egyptian film director Omar El-Zohairy
  • El-Zohairy’s debut feature ‘Feathers’ won the Grand Prize at the festival’s Critics Week

DUBAI: When Omar El-Zohairy stood on stage at the Cannes Film Festival last month, accepting the Grand Prize at the fest’s Critic’s Week for his first feature film “Feathers,” it was one of the proudest moments in Egyptian cinema’s storied history. In that instant, a singular filmmaker gained the international recognition that the country’s most popular art form has rarely gotten, for a film like no other.

“I was honestly so surprised,” El-Zohairy tells Arab News. “Egyptian cinema never gets big awards like this in Cannes. They’ve always respected Egyptian cinema, but they don’t give us awards. It was really overwhelming for me. It took me time to realize what's happening. It was kind of a dream.”

For El-Zohairy, what allowed that moment to happen was not his years of striving for validation. In fact, it was the opposite. El-Zohairy reached this moment because he finally stopped assessing his entire self-worth by his art, and finally learned to trust his gut.




“Feathers” is a black comedy. (Supplied)

“In the past, I was putting too much pressure on myself. I was trying to use my films as an evidence to myself that if I make a good film, this means I'm a good person. Now I'm the opposite. I have my own personal life, and films are just part of my life. I’m finally ready to express myself freely,” he explains.

This is not the first time that El-Zohairy has caught the eye of the world’s most prestigious film festival. In 2014, his second short film “The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometre 375,” — which he affectionately calls “the one with the long title” — was the first Egyptian film to be selected for the Cinéfondation competition, and while his talent was clear, deep down he did not believe he was yet capable of creating a great feature. He decided the only way to move forward was to stop worrying about whether he could or couldn’t, and instead rely on his instincts like never before. 

“I said to myself, ‘When the first idea comes to my mind that my intuition tells me is a good idea, I will make it work,’” he says.




“Feathers” uses the absurdity of El-Zohairy’s original idea to provide an entry way into the very real suffering of women in rural parts of Egypt. (Supplied)

That idea, when it came, was simple, although he did not completely understand why he was drawn to it. 

“The image that came to my head was of a woman whose husband becomes a chicken. She suffered a lot, and when he comes back, she kills him.”

That’s the basic premise of “Feathers,” a black comedy that uses the absurdity of El-Zohairy’s original idea to provide an entry way into the very real suffering of women in rural parts of Egypt. 




El-Zohairy is part of a generation of Egyptian filmmakers who are building a community and a financial support system that is giving them the courage to find their own voices.(Supplied)

The film has a visual sense all its own, a tone and candor that signal the emergence of a great new stylist, all combined with the dramatic accuracy of cinema verité that only amateur actors can deliver. 

To add to that realism, El-Zohairy didn’t even give his actors a full script. That was partly a deliberate choice by the director, but partly it was down to necessity.

“Some of the actors in the film can’t read,” he explains. “They are not educated. The main actress (Demyana Nassar) doesn't know how to read or write, as she's from a very remote village where they don’t go to school. But this was a choice too, because I didn’t want them to be actors, I wanted them to be themselves.”




The film has a visual sense all its own, a tone and candor that signal the emergence of a great new stylist, all combined with the dramatic accuracy of cinema verité that only amateur actors can deliver. (Supplied)

Like many regional filmmakers, El-Zohairy was first inspired by the films of legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, who died 13 years ago. But El-Zohairy believes that the reason that the filmmakers who followed in his footsteps rarely reached the same heights is that they were not trying to be themselves — they were trying to be Chahine, often to please hypothetical audiences from abroad.

“Chahine had his own identity, but people just tried to copy his identity rather than learn from it,” El-Zohairy says. “We tried to please the West with works that are not original. We were stuck in a place where we were not clear about who we are and what we want to do. It was not cinema.”

There are many exceptions to that rule — El-Zohairy cites several filmmakers he feels may have deserved the platform he’s currently getting just as much as he does, including Osama Fawzy, an unheralded, iconoclastic filmmaker who died in 2019 at the age of 58. But there is definitely something different about this moment. 




Like many regional filmmakers, El-Zohairy was first inspired by the films of legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, who died 13 years ago. (Supplied)

El-Zohairy is part of a generation of Egyptian filmmakers — bolstered by producers such as Mohamed Hefzy of the Cairo-based production company Film Clinic and platforms such as Cannes — who are building a community and a financial support system that is giving them the courage to find their own voices, perhaps leading Egypt into a new golden age of filmmaking.

These filmmakers, however, are not turning their backs on the past. El-Zohairy is keenly aware that when he is able to let go of his anxieties and rely on his intuition, the voice deep inside himself — the voice he calls his own — is an Egyptian voice, shaped by other powerful Egyptian voices who may not have had the same freedoms he is finding. 

“When I got this award, I said to the audience, ‘Go (see our films),’ because Egyptian cinema deserves to be discovered. I am a product of our cinema, I like our cinema, I have always watched everything I could. I learned the tools in our own film schools. I know this culture, and, my film is really full of Egyptian culture. It’s Egyptian deep down in its bones. But as much as we honor the past, there really is something happening now, in such a good way.”

As El-Zohairy takes the lessons that he’s learned with “Feathers” and applies them to his next feature, which is currently in the planning stages, he’s equally focused on making sure his lessons are learned by others too. What El-Zohairy wants is a generation of Egyptian filmmakers who trust themselves, with as many diverse and varied voices as possible.

“I don't want to help from a technical point of view, because they can learn that stuff on YouTube. What I really want is to influence others so that they can make their own films with the same idea of intuition. I want to give them some hope and say, ‘Guys, you don't need to stress.’ There are a lot of talented people, but they are not ready enough to express their ideas because they are shy, or they are not confident,” he says. “This is what I want to help them overcome, just like I did.”


Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs
Updated 21 May 2022

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

Part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid to drop NFTs

DUBAI: Palestinian-Dutch supermodel Bella Hadid is entering the metaverse world.

The catwalk star announced this week on Instagram that she will be selling non-fungible tokens called CY-B3LLA that “serve as a passport to this new world.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music and more. They are bought and sold online, usually with cryptocurrency.

Hadid told her 52.1 million followers that each NFT features “different and unique 3D scans of me, thought up with you in mind, that will be utilized around the world; designed to encourage travel, community, growth, fantasy and human interactions.”

The model said that in the coming months, the project will allow collectors to go to real locations and events around the world, where they can meet her.


Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend
Updated 21 May 2022

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

Sustainable label Glossy Lounge takes cues from loungewear trend

DUBAI: Loungewear has become a wardrobe staple, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is something British entrepreneur Natasha Zaki is looking to capitalize on with her chic new range of comfortable clothing.

Post-pandemic life acted as a creative catalyst for the Dubai-based businesswoman who took advantage of the explosion in loungewear’s popularity to launch her own brand, Glossy Lounge, which is available in Saudi Arabia. 

The clothing label, which she launched earlier this year, is Zaki’s second business venture. She also has an eco-friendly beauty brand, Glossy Makeup, which is available at 50 retail stores globally.

“I always wanted to start another brand alongside my beauty brand,” the makeup artist told Arab News. 

“There is always room for elevated athleisure,” added Zaki, explaining that the items her brand sells are “chic, fun and trendy” but can also be worn for working out. 

Glossy Lounge offers hoodies, jackets, jumpers, T-shirts, leggings, shorts, sweatpants, bodysuits and underwear in an array of different colors for men, women and children. 

Her label has so far received the likes of regional it-girls including Kuwaiti social media star Fouz Al-Fahad, Egyptian actress Asallah Kamel and Lebanese fashion influencer Mayada Sleiman, to name a few. 

According to her website, Zaki works with sustainable fabrics such as “organic cotton, bamboo and recycled polyester.”

Contrary to what one might think, the founder said that creating eco-friendly products is not “very challenging.” 

“A lot of factories offer sustainable fabrics and solutions,” she said. “We source sustainable fabric and biodegradable trims pretty easily. Sourcing the best fabrics for our customers’ comfort while taking care of our environment is one of my top priorities with Glossy Lounge.”

Just last month, Glossy Lounge partnered with Dubai’s non-profit organization Emirates Nature-WWF. Every purchase from the loungewear brand will support mangrove and conservation efforts in the UAE, according to the fashion and beauty enthusiast. 

“I personally wanted to give back to the Emirates, and as a nature lover we decided to partner with Emirates Nature,” Zaki said. “The pandemic was a time of self-reflection for many of us, reminding us of the importance of giving back and preserving our dear planet.”


Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
Updated 21 May 2022

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon

Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
  • New York-based architects WORKac were approached in 2018 to design Beirut’s new art museum 
  • BeMA will stand on what was once the “green line” dividing the Lebanese capital during the civil war

DUBAI: For many Lebanese, the past can be a painful subject. A civil war destroyed large swaths of the country between 1975 and 1990. The postwar period has been marked by sectarian strife and government dysfunction.

But in spite of the traumas of recent decades, Lebanon remains a land of immense cultural wealth, with a rich history reflected in its architectural, cultural and anthropological heritage.

This is why the Beirut Museum of Art, or BeMA, which is due to open in 2026, has been billed as a “beacon of hope” in a country beset by political paralysis, economic decline and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

When Sandra Abou Nader and Rita Nammour launched the museum project, their goal was to showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and artist-in-residency programs.

“They realized that there was, in fact, very little visibility for the Lebanese artistic scene, within the country and abroad, and for Lebanese artists, whether modern or contemporary,” BeMA’s art consultant, Juliana Khalaf, told Arab News.

Compuer-generated views of BeMA. Described as a 'vertical sculpture garden,' it will feature three gallery floors that borrow elements from local art deco designs. (Supplied/WORKac)

About 700 works of art will be on display at the new venue, drawn from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s collection of more than 2,000 pieces, the bulk of which have been in storage for decades.

“We are going to be housing this very important collection,” said Khalaf. “We call it the national collection and it belongs to the public. It’s our role to make it, for the very first time, accessible. It’s never been seen before.”

The artworks, created by more than 200 artists and dating from the late-19th century to the present day, tell the story of this small Mediterranean country from its renaissance era and independence to the civil war period and beyond.

The collection includes pieces by Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran and his mentor, the influential late-Ottoman-era master Daoud Corm, who was renowned for his sophisticated portraiture and still-life painting.

Works by pioneers of Lebanese modernism, such as Helen Khal, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Saliba Douaihy, will also feature among the collection, as will several lesser-known 20th-century artists, including Esperance Ghorayeb, who created several rare, abstract compositions in the 1970s.

“The collection is a reminder of the beautiful heritage that we have,” said Khalaf. “It shows us our culture through the eyes of our artists.”

Among the priorities for the BeMA team, in partnership with the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, is the restoration of the collection, which includes several paintings and works on paper that have been damaged by war, neglect, improper storage or simply the passage of time.

Gathering information about the artists and their effects on Lebanon’s artistic heritage is another priority for the BeMA team, and is a task that has proved to be challenging given the dearth of published resources and the means to catalog them.

FASTFACT

* International Museum Day, held annual on or around May 18, highlights a specific theme or issue facing museums internationally.

“What was surprising was how little research there is out there and how much we need to do on that front, like getting the right equipment that is not currently available in the country to properly archive books and photography,” said Khalaf.

In 2018, the BeMA team approached WORKac, an architectural firm based in New York, for ideas about the new venue. Co-founded by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, a Lebanese-born architect and former dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, WORKac has designed museums in California, Texas, New York and Florida.

For Andraos, who left Lebanon at the age of three, the chance to design a home for Beirut’s artistic heritage is particularly special.

“I think it’s a very personal project for everyone involved,” she told Arab News. “Everybody put their heart and soul into this idea that Beirut really needed a museum to house the national collection.

“For me, personally, I have a great attachment to Beirut, to its history, as well as architecturally, artistically and intellectually.”

"Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope, it's almost like a resistance to collapse," says Amale Andraos, the Lebanese-born architect and co-founder of architecture firm WORKac. (Supplied)

Given the country’s troubled past and complex identity, Andraos believes the museum’s collection will prove valuable in helping Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from past traumas.

“It’s an archive that we need to go back to, to understand who we are and how we move forward,” she said.

After the project was approved by city authorities, the first stone was laid at the site of the new museum in February. The initial phase requires Andraos and her team to examine the site for archaeological remains.

When complete, the museum will feature three gallery floors that borrow aesthetic elements from local Art Deco urban design. It has been described as an “open museum” and a “vertical sculpture garden,” owing to its cubic facade which will be embellished with bursts of greenery from top to bottom.

Andraos admits she was initially skeptical about the project. Lebanon is in the throes of multiple crises, including a financial collapse. Beirut, the capital, is yet to recover from the devastating blast at the city’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, when a warehouse filled with highly explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire and detonated, leveling an entire district.

All of this, combined with the additional economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused thousands of young Lebanese to move abroad in search of work and respite from the seemingly endless litany of crises.

Lebanon is experiencing financial collapse, economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mass unemployment and hunger, increasing poverty and government dysfunction. (AFP)

For some people in the country, though, it is precisely because of these issues that a museum celebrating Lebanon’s cultural achievements is needed, perhaps now more than ever.

“When I recently presented the museum to a member of the BeMA board, I said: ‘This is probably the worst time for a museum,’ and he said: ‘This is the most important time for a museum because we need culture, education and ideas,’” said Andraos.

“When people are hungry, it’s like art versus food — but art is also food, in some ways, for the spirit and the mind.

“Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope and the country needs to build its institutions. It’s almost like a resistance to collapse. We have a history that is worth valuing, rereading, and a culture that we need to preserve and build on.”

This is not to say that the project was welcomed by everyone at the beginning.

“There’s no large public attendance of museums; it’s something that really needs to be developed,” Khalaf said. “In that respect, people felt like it was an unnecessary project.

“But now that people actually see that it’s a serious project and is happening, the attitude has changed. People say there’s something to look forward to.”

To date, about 70 percent of funding for the project has been allocated and a public appeal will soon be launched to make up any shortfall. Entry to the museum will be free.

Located in the leafy, upmarket, residential Badaro district in the heart of Beirut, known for its early-20th-century, art deco-influenced buildings, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that separated the east and west of the capital during the civil war.

“What’s nice about it now is that it might become the ‘museum mile,’ because there’s the National Museum, BeMA, Mim Museum, and if you just go further down, you’ll actually get to the Sursock Museum,” said Khalaf.

“It changes the perspective from a war-torn Beirut to a culturally alive Beirut.” 

__________

Twitter: @artprojectdxb

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Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival
Updated 20 May 2022

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival

Fatima Albanawi stuns in Rami Kadi gown at Cannes Film Festival
  • Cartier’s Middle East ambassador among many stars seen wearing creations by Arab designers

DUBAI: Saudi filmmaker and actress Fatima Albanawi turned heads this week wearing a Rami Kadi gown at the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

The custom-made outfit by the Lebanese couturier comprised a pink holographic dress and a sheer cape with thread detailing.

With the help of Saudi stylist Rawan Kattoa, Albanawi accessorized her look with jewelry from Cartier. The star was announced as the French fashion house’s Middle East ambassador in June last year.

“Back at it, this time in the one and only @festivaldecannes and I am happy to say the vibe and energy of this one is spectacular,” Albanawi wrote on Instagram.

The actress rose to fame in 2016 for her role in the award-winning movie “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also the Saudi Arabian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards.

Albanawi’s other credits include playing a Parisian actress from the ’70s in the film “Roll’em” and a selfish theater superstar in the “Bashar” series. She also appeared in the Netflix series “Paranormal.”

She was not the only star at Cannes to step out in a Kali creation.

On Thursday, the designer shared a picture of German model Ann-Sophie Thieme wearing a bright green gown embroidered with crystals against a tulle frill cape as she attended the screening of US filmmaker James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.”

The festival, which runs until May 28, also saw several Hollywood celebrities and international models stepping out in showstopping gowns by Arab designers like Elie Saab, Nicolas Jebran, Tony Ward, Zuhair Murad and Atelier Zuhra.

French model Amandine Petit, Danish catwalk star Josephine Skriver and Indian actress Hina Khan wore colorful royal gowns by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.

Other Arab celebrities, including Lebanese reality TV star Alice Abdelaziz and French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar, were also spotted on the red carpet this week.


Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise
Updated 20 May 2022

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise

LOS ANGELES: “Top Gun: Maverick” takes audiences back to the danger zone with more high-flying action and the return of US actor Tom Cruise to his 1986 star-making role.

Similar to the pilots it showcases, critics are calling the movie the best of the best and an exceptional successor to the original.

In an interview with Arab News, American actor Jon Hamm, who joined the cast as Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, said that the team working on the movie had “tremendous respect for the original and a real deep desire to make a second chapter of the story that’s just as compelling as the first.”

Hamm recalled watching the first film when he was 15 years old. “I remember immediately after seeing it, I wanted to see it again.”

After decades of avoiding promotion, Navy test pilot “Maverick” Mitchell is ordered to train a squad of young Top Gun pilots.

Cruise and the cast of newcomers bring charm and emotion to the film particularly in the strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster, the son of his late best friend.

The actors in the movie credited Cruise’s well-established career saying that his 40-year experience helped them shoot the flick smoothly.

Actor Glen Powell, who stars as Lt. “Hangman” Seresin, said: “Tom Cruise put together our entire flight training program based on his experience on the first movie.

“So, the first movie they threw actors up there trying to get shots, but the problem is they’re vomiting and passing out and they’re just limp dolls in the back of a plane. So, you can’t use any of that footage.

“That’s only something Tom Cruise can ask for after a 40-year career of doing it at the highest level, so we get to look cool in the back of these F-18s,” Powell added.

Actor Miles Teller, who plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, said: “What an audience has been feeling for two hours, he can sum up in one look, and that is something that Tom really is a master of.

“He’s just been doing it at such a high level for such a long time and so I would just find myself sitting back and watching him,” Teller added.

“Top Gun: Maverick” premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, where Tom Cruise was lauded with a surprise Palme d’Or.

The movie will be released in Saudi Arabia on May 26.