Dystopian new movie ‘Costa Brava’ is Lebanese director’s ‘love letter to Beirut’

The film centers on the free-spirited Badri family. (Supplied)
The film centers on the free-spirited Badri family. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 September 2021

Dystopian new movie ‘Costa Brava’ is Lebanese director’s ‘love letter to Beirut’

The film centers on the free-spirited Badri family. (Supplied)
  • Mounia Akl’s ‘Costa Brava’ portrays Lebanon’s multiple crises through a family’s shattered dreams

DUBAI: A busy traffic scene in downtown Beirut set to the backdrop of the crumbling silos destroyed in last year’s devastating port explosion tells the tale of a city fighting to get through another day.

Life is anything but normal in the bustling Mediterranean city, and from the dockyard debris a crane lifts a foreboding large statue onto a truck as people hurl curses toward it.

The statue is transported into the Lebanese mountains to be placed among piles of trash at a new landfill site that surrounds the home of the Badri family.

This is the opening scene of Lebanese director Mounia Akl’s first fiction-feature film, “Costa Brava,” which premiered on Sept. 5 at the Venice Film Festival. The film also segues from Akl’s acclaimed 2015 short movie “Submarine” about Lebanon’s 2015 garbage crisis and the corruption behind it.




The film follows a family who move out of Beirut. (Supplied)

The opening images, with the sinister Beirut port silos lurking in the background, were not at first intended to be included in her film — a script she began writing four years ago. The 32-year-old filmmaker’s haunting and upsetting feature was originally meant to depict a dystopian Lebanon in 2030 at its worst.

“I tried to imagine this dystopian future where none of our problems had been solved and the country was an extreme version of itself,” she told Arab News.

“It was somehow a way for me to imagine the worst for myself in the same way you sometimes want to explore your trauma in a cathartic way. It was a way for me to imagine the worst in my mind as a way of avoiding the worst happening in my mind and in life.”

But Lebanon’s crises deepened as Akl and her team got closer to shooting the movie. “The reality of Lebanon became more tragic and more dystopian than even the dystopia that I imagined in 2030,” she said.

In the film, the now trash-filled surroundings of Lebanon’s “Costa Brava” had meant to be the free-spirted Badri family’s getaway utopia from the pollution and social unrest of Beirut. But their dreams were trashed when construction of a landfill site started next door to the family’s home.

Walid, played by Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, tired from a life of activism and protest, decided to move there with his feisty singer wife Souraya, played by Nadine Labaki — the award-winning Lebanese actor, writer, and also director of “Capernaum” — their adolescent daughter Tala (Nadia Charbel), Walid’s determined and spirited mother Zeina (Liliane Chacar Khoury), and nine-year-old Rim, the couple’s youngest daughter.




Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri plays Walid and Lebanese star Nadine Labaki plays his wife, Souraya. (Supplied)

Rim’s charming presence and ignorance of life outside of the Badri family’s once idyllic home is a joyful encounter in this otherwise bleak flick.

Costa Brava is an actual landfill in Lebanon that opened in April 2016 as one of two sites advertised by the Lebanese government as a solution to the eight-month trash crisis the country had experienced the year before. However, within two weeks of its opening, residents and activists launched protests at the site demanding its closure.

While devoid of a tight plot, the characters in Akl’s debut feature illustrate Lebanon’s present dark reality — economic and political crises described by the World Bank as the worst in modern history.

But not much of a plot is needed, as the psychological trauma and constant threat of doom are all experiences that Akl, and her cast, have experienced. And while the idea of piles of trash encroaching on a family’s residence seems outrageous enough to be pure fiction, it is close to home and a literal reality for many Lebanese.

Akl’s “Costa Brava” acts as a metaphor for Lebanon’s current predicament.

Her crew produced the movie against all the odds, and she adapted the script for the film to be set a few years after the Aug. 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion, instead of in 2030.

Akl and her team were together in their office when the Beirut blast took place. They had planned to start the film shoot in one month.

She said: “In a split second our lives completely changed from having creative meaning to looking for each other amidst the rubble; no one spoke about the film for two months. We were all grieving for our city.

“When we met again, we decided to move forward to exist because existing is now a form of resistance in Lebanon,” she added.

Other challenges arose. Some of the production money could not be accessed at the bank but Akl’s crew decided to press ahead despite some still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and injuries from the explosion.

“The film itself became a form of group therapy that we all needed — it was a moment of unity and creativity for us to feel like they haven’t taken everything from us,” she said.

Akl pointed out that “Costa Brava” represented “a love letter to Beirut.” She added: “I made a film about a family living in the mountains and it is set in the mountains, but the film is about Beirut.”

As the Badri family encounters more agony, Souraya leaves to go back to Beirut while Walid stays behind. The young Rim wants her family to be together again and decides to go to the Lebanese capital and see the world for herself. She smiles when her father agrees to take her but as they travel to the city Rim grows increasingly confused about what she will discover there.

At its close, “Costa Brava” trails off similar to Lebanon’s current fate: An unfinished story of woe tinged ever so slightly with hope.


US actress Yara Shahidi to guide young filmmakers in new role with Ghetto Film School

Actress Yara Shahidi has been announced as the Ghetto Film School’s Dell XPS International Thesis Advisor. (File/ Getty Images)
Actress Yara Shahidi has been announced as the Ghetto Film School’s Dell XPS International Thesis Advisor. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 17 October 2021

US actress Yara Shahidi to guide young filmmakers in new role with Ghetto Film School

Actress Yara Shahidi has been announced as the Ghetto Film School’s Dell XPS International Thesis Advisor. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: Actress Yara Shahidi has announced that she is joining hands with the US-based Ghetto Film School as the organization’s new international thesis advisor.

The 21-year-old star of hit TV show “Grown-ish,” who is also a student at Harvard University, will be on hand to guide students who are based in New York, Los Angeles, and London through the educational program.

During the 30-month program, students will research the cinematography and culture of a specific country and will complete a script based on their findings.

Shahidi, whose father is US-Iranian, shared the announcement via a previously recorded video message that was aired during the nonprofit’s fall benefit, which was held in Los Angeles late last week.

“When I think of the impact of Ghetto Film School, I reflect on my own career. Here I sit before you, not only as an actress but as a producer, as a director, an advocate, an entrepreneur and so much more,” she said in a pre-recorded message.

“And the reason why I know all of this is possible is precisely because of one thing, which is opportunity. The opportunities that have been given to me by people within my support network who actively believed in me, who invested in me and were ready to see me to my next step and my next evolution.

“It is surreal at the age of 21 to be able to partake in any work that is seen as helping to (make) this industry more equitable,” she said in a statement reported by People magazine. “I know the stories of our Brown and Black filmmakers are stories that are necessary on screen, and not just from an artistic standpoint, but from a point of being cultural disruptors who are guiding us to new futures.”

The star went on to explain a little bit about her role as the Dell XPS International Thesis Advisor. There will be roughly 30 fellows in each location and Shahidi will be on hand for advice as they write, shoot, and edit their project.

“Being an international thesis advisor basically means that I’m helping in this process, giving my expertise where possible, being of service where possible,” she said, according to Yahoo News.

In April, Shahidi announced she is developing a new television series via her production company, 7th Sun Productions. The part-Middle Eastern star is set to executive produce and develop an on-screen adaptation of Cole Brown’s critically-acclaimed debut book “Greyboy: Finding Blackness in a White World,” alongside her mother and business partner Keri Shahidi and Brown for ABC Signature.


Architect sheds light on Expo 2020 Dubai’s ‘monument to the living’

The monument is located at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Jubilee Park. (Supplied)
The monument is located at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Jubilee Park. (Supplied)
Updated 17 October 2021

Architect sheds light on Expo 2020 Dubai’s ‘monument to the living’

The monument is located at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Jubilee Park. (Supplied)

DUBAI: It took more than 200,000 workers and 240 million hours of combined labor to bring the vast Expo 2020 Dubai site to life.

Now, to express thanks to the workforce, a colonnade of 38 columns has been installed at the site’s Jubilee Park, with individual worker’s names carved in stone.

Reem Al-Hashimi, Expo 2020 Dubai’s director-general, had the idea for the Workers’ Monument and asked London-based architect Asif Khan to design the project.

“It’s such a powerful form of recognition, positive energy and kindness. It’s a very human statement, and a reminder that human beings are at the heart of what has been achieved,” Khan told Arab News.

The monument is located at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Jubilee Park. (Supplied)


 “In general, the people who build all these projects that transform the world and our culture are rarely thanked or, if they are, it’s in an impersonal, general way,” he said.

“What we forget when people are working on projects is that their family and friends are part of the process. They make sacrifices.”

Khan, who also designed the Expo’s massive entry portals, met many of the workers on site during the past five years.

“They are from every corner of the world, especially South Asia, and they all got on together,” he recalled.

However, detailing the tribute was no easy task, with spreadsheets that listed hundreds of names — a challenge that Khan saw as a “fascinating anthropological study.”

Duplicate names, alternative spellings, and names that ranged between one and five words were all honored in the final structure. Each circular, two-meter-high column, made of Omani limestone, is like “a book in a library,” where individual workers can find their name.

“When I first visited the site, it was desert. Through the works of these people — brick by brick, centimeter by centimeter — this site was transformed,” Khan said.

“They are like magicians who changed the state of matter.”

The celebratory Dubai tribute is believed to be the first of its kind, with similar monuments traditionally associated with solemnity and loss.

“It’s a monument to the living. In our research, we found no monument of this scale which names every worker individually,” Khan said. “I hope it’s the beginning of being thankful, globally.”

Expo may last for only six months, but the overall site and Workers’ Monument are here to stay, according to Khan, “making sure that future generations knew who made it.” 

 


Arab Fashion Council names Barbie as its 2021 Fashion Icon

The Arab Fashion Council has named Mattel doll Barbie as the Fashion Icon 2021. (Supplied)
The Arab Fashion Council has named Mattel doll Barbie as the Fashion Icon 2021. (Supplied)
Updated 17 October 2021

Arab Fashion Council names Barbie as its 2021 Fashion Icon

The Arab Fashion Council has named Mattel doll Barbie as the Fashion Icon 2021. (Supplied)

DUBAI: The Arab Fashion Council has named Mattel doll Barbie as the Fashion Icon 2021.

In a tribute to the much-loved doll, designer Jeremy Scott will present fashion label Moschino’s archive collection inspired by Barbie and receive the Council’s Medal of Honor at the Fashion Icon Awards on Oct. 24 in Dubai.

Lebanese superstar Maya Diab, who was named the first Fashion Icon last year during a digital celebration streamed Beirut, will present the trophy to Kim Culmone, Mattel’s senior vice president of global Barbie design.

Accepting the award on Barbie’s behalf, Culmone said: “Barbie has always been more than a toy, she is an international icon deeply connected to culture. With fashion being a critical component of our brand DNA, we are inspired by the fashion community, and at times, Barbie has even been a source of inspiration for the very same talented community. For Barbie to receive the prestigious Fashion Icon Award 2021 from the Arab Fashion Council is a true honor and I look forward to the privilege of witnessing the incredible talent showing during Arab Fashion Week.”

“A Fashion Icon is a role model that inspires ideology, change and setting trends,” Mohammed Aqra, chief strategy officer of the Arab Fashion Council, said. “Barbie is this Icon that has been and still inspiring generations of children to embrace the best of over 200 careers. In reference to Fashion, Barbie is always a main figure that ignites the sense of creativity and love of fashion from the early journey of designers’ career. For over 60 years Barbie has been inspiring designers from around the globe including legacy creative directors. It is time for Barbie to be named the Fashion Icon in tribute to its lifetime achievement.”


World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet
Updated 16 October 2021

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet

World’s oldest ghost image found on British Museum Babylon tablet
  • Artefact, nearly 3,500 years old, never exhibited as male and female figures so faint
  • Curator: ‘It is a Guinness Book of Records object, because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?’

LONDON: The oldest depiction of a ghost recorded in human history has been discovered at the British Museum.

The image, on an ancient Babylonian clay tablet nearly 3,500 years old — acquired in the 19th century — shows a bearded man being led to the afterlife by a woman, with his hands held out before him, tied together.

Dr. Irving Finkel, curator of the Middle East department at the museum, said the tablet — which has cuneiform text accompanying the image, and which has never been on public display — was meant to help the living remove unwanted spirits by aiding them to settle unfinished business.

The nature of the tablet, Finkel said, had been missed for years because the image of the ghosts is so faint and only visible under certain light, while it is also significantly damaged. 

“You’d probably never give it a second thought because the area where the drawings are looks like it’s got no writing,” he told The Guardian.

“But when you examine it and hold it under a lamp, those figures leap out at you across time in the most startling way. It is a Guinness Book of Records object, because how could anybody have a drawing of a ghost which was older?”


Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)
Updated 16 October 2021

Review: ‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ takes on a gargantuan challenge

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

LONDON: For the most part, British director Orlando von Einsiedel’s new Netflix documentary, “Convergence: Courage in a Crisis,” manages to strike a balance between poignant and harrowing without straying too far into self-indulgence. But only for the most part. The filmmaker, the creative voice behind the excellent “White Helmets” and “Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul,” has created a new documentary that is equal parts loving tribute and critical dissection, as he weaves together a series of different story threads, all following those impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

‘Convergence: Courage in a Crisis’ is now streaming on Netflix. (Supplied)

 

The movie’s subjects are varied and diverse — from a first responder in the Brazilian favelas to a couple under lockdown in Tehran. An expectant mother and father in India tell their story, while a Syrian filmmaker volunteering at a hospital in London is also highlighted, alongside a young driver transporting staff and drugs in Wuhan and a doctor and activist working in Miami. Each story has something unique about it. Von Einsiedel’s greatest creative stroke in this movie is giving his subjects the room to tell their own stories, because each is heartbreaking and life-affirming in its own way.

 

Where the movie gets harder to follow is when the director tries to do too much in too short a time. In less than two hours, we get commentary on governmental mismanagement, the Black Lives Matter movement, institutional racism, nationwide inequality, and a handful of other topics made all the more pressing during the pandemic. There are also tantalizing glimpses inside the World Health Organization, and the Oxford University vaccine development program. But we must make do with just a few minutes of each, before we are whisked off to the next story. There is deep, resonant and powerful storytelling running throughout “Convergence” — if only we were given a little more time to take it all in.