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.


Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen
Updated 36 sec ago

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

Beyonce poses in heels by Arab designer Andrea Wazen

DUBAI: US superstar Beyonce is the latest A-list celebrity to step out wearing Lebanese footwear designer Andrea Wazen’s creations. 

The singer, songwriter and actress, who celebrated her 40th birthday earlier this month, shared a series of images on Instagram on Thursday championing Wazen’s Dassy PVC pumps, transparent pointy-toed heels with white detailing.

In the pictures, the “Crazy in Love” singer modeled a glittering green cocktail dress with floral appliqués by renowned Italian luxury label Dolce & Gabbana. 

She had her hair in a slicked-back ponytail.

The “Crazy in Love” singer modeled a glittering green cocktail dress with floral appliqués by renowned Italian luxury label Dolce & Gabbana. (Supplied)

The pictures showed Beyonce vacationing with her husband, US rapper Jay Z.

It’s no secret that Wazen is one of the most in-demand footwear designers today. The Lebanese designer launched her namesake label in Beirut in 2013 and has since gone on to grab the attention of world-famous superstars. 

Her strappy sandals, leather boots and tulle-ruffled slingbacks have been spotted on a broad spectrum of stars that include Hailey Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, Addison Rae, Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and more.


Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats
Updated 24 September 2021

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats

Princess Reema hopes global walkathon will raise awareness of plight of big cats
  • Global ‘Catwalk’ scheduled for November will ‘form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles’

DUBAI: In an effort to raise awareness of endangered big cats and their ecosystems, the US-based independent non-profit foundation Catmosphere is hosting a worldwide ‘Catwalk’ on November 6 in a bid to get people moving and simultaneously benefit the world’s big cats.

Catmosphere was launched in July by Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, who is on a mission to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of big cats. Catmosphere aims to magnify the efforts of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted to the conservation of 40 species of wild cats.

“Catmosphere is a catalyst for change. Its campaigns and activations are (intended) to build momentum globally around big cat conservation,” Princess Reema told Arab News. “I first understood the threat to the future of big cats when I learned about Panthera’s work in Saudi Arabia with the Royal Commission of AlUla, where they are researching the status of the Arabian leopard in the Kingdom with a view to forging a path for its recovery in the region.”

Catmosphere aims to magnify the efforts of Panthera, the only organization in the world devoted to the conservation of 40 species of wild cats. (Shutterstock)

Many species of big cats are now facing extinction. Catmosphere focuses on Panthera’s conservation efforts covering seven big cat species: Tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, pumas, leopards, and snow leopards.

“The future of big cats is under threat, primarily due to diminishing habitats,” Princess Reema said. “Accordingly, Catwalk is striving for a healthy habitat for big cats, and healthy habitats start at home. A healthy and active lifestyle helps us respect our own bodies, and engaging with our environment gives us an appreciation for the fundamental role it plays in all of life. Catwalk invites us all to ignite physical movement locally, and in doing so trigger the big cat conservation movement globally.”

Princess Reema, who sits on the boards of both the Catmosphere foundation and Panthera’s Conservation Council, is actively involved in Catwalk as part of the leadership team.

Many species of big cats are now facing extinction. (Shutterstock)

It hopes to rally supporters around the world to take part in the global, mass-participation seven-kilometer walk on Nov. 6.

The event is open to everyone and can be completed in whatever way works best for the participant, wherever they are in the world. What is unique about the event is its link between building awareness about big cats, the environment and the importance of one’s own health, wellbeing and physical fitness.

“The global mass-participation activity aims to form a bridge between cat conservation, the environment, and active lifestyles, and brings together my own past experiences in campaign curation,” Princess Reema said. “I’m excited to work with different stakeholders all around the globe to map a path for scalable, inclusive campaign delivery that demonstrates how igniting a movement locally can result in meaningful change, ensuring the wellbeing and continuation of big cat populations globally.”

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud is on a mission to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of big cats. (AFP)

Princess Reema stressed that the pandemic has impacted the world’s experience of both wildlife and community.

According to the World Health Organization, 24 percent of all human deaths are attributable to environmental factors. A quarter of the world’s population is at risk due to insufficient exercise in increasingly sedentary societies. Big cats are even more dependent on their environments than humans.

Panthera has warned that important species are threatened by habitat loss, and that the tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah have lost between 65 percent and 96 percent of their historical numbers.

The seven-kilometer walk will take place on Nov. 6. (Supplied)

“The reality of the pandemic and the experience that the whole world has just had of separation and isolation from human communities due to COVID-19 is very much what was done to the big cats when we cut off their territorial corridors and isolated them from their natural habitats in nature,” Princess Reema said.

“Just as we have seen that impact on us, imagine what that impact has been on them. Catwalk is hoping to highlight a very simple fact: That our collective wellbeing is interconnected, and so it is incumbent on all of us to operate through empathy and provide spaces that we as humans would want to live and thrive in, and ensure the same for big cats,” she added.

As Princess Reema underlines, given the challenges presented by the pandemic over the past 18 months, now is the time to reassess our relationship with nature and as well as that “between a healthy person and a healthy environment, to showcase the potential that each of us has to ensure a healthy future for big cats, too.”


Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 

 Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 
Updated 24 September 2021

Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 

 Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 
  • ‘We have other stories to tell besides chaos,’ says Shahnaz Dulaimy

DUBAI: When Iraqi film editor Shahnaz Dulaimy was a university student, an academic counsellor advised her to pursue heavyweight majors such as economics and business management — the kind of thing a typical family would approve of — and not her desired option, film. 

Instead, Dulaimy, who was raised in Jordan, did the complete opposite. She moved to Rome, where classic movies including “La Dolce Vita” and “Roman Holiday” were shot, and studied film history and production. 

“There’s such a stigma around (working in creative sectors),” she tells Arab News. “When you hear people talking about actors and actresses, for example, they make it sound like such a demeaning job. But, at the same time, everyone sits in front of the TV, watching the latest TV series or films. There’s still this (disparaging attitude) towards the film industry. Luckily, there are more people pushing it, but I don’t think it’s 100 percent where it needs to be.”

Dulaimy was raised in Jordan. (Supplied)

In London, where she now lives, she co-founded the Independent Iraqi Film Festival along with like-minded cinema-loving Iraqis. The volunteer-run, online event launched last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and notched up around 5,000 views. Dulaimy calls it a “passion project,” highlighting talent from emerging and established Iraqi filmmakers. 

“We wanted to see films that reflect us and our identity. Iraqi cinema is generally underrepresented on the international circuit,” she says. “What we had aimed to do is to provide a platform dedicated to showcasing Iraqi films.” 

The organizers of the IIFF were so overwhelmed by support from both viewers and filmmakers that they decided to go for a second run. Between October 1 and 7, the IIFF will present a curated program of 15 feature films and a series of talks featuring three well-known industry figures: American-Iraqi visual artist Michael Rakowitz, Iraqi actress and director Zahraa Ghandour, and Iraqi set designer Mohammed Khalid. 

Among the featured films this year is “Iraqi Women: Voices from Exile,” made in the 1990s by London-based director Maysoon Pachachi. (Supplied)

This time around, more than 90 film submissions were received, which made Dulaimy and her colleagues realize more than ever the responsibility they bear. “I think it shifted from being just a passion project to more of a duty towards the Iraqi community in Iraq and the diaspora,” she says. 

To make the festival as accessible as possible, all its offerings will be freely available for streaming worldwide and subtitled in English. The filmmakers did not have to pay any submission fee either. 

“The moment you ask people to pay, there’s a wall. You’re kind of blocking people, you’re blocking talent,” she says. The selected independent films, created by both men and women who live inside and outside of the country, reflect the diversity of Iraqi society, as well as the struggles people encounter and their hopes and dreams. There is a particular focus on telling the stories of the marginalized — specifically women and minorities. 

“Iraq is not a one-layered country,” notes Dulaimy. “It’s a multi-dimensional, multi-textured culture. You’ve got everyone from the Kurds in northern Iraq to the Assyrians and Yazidis. It’s so important that everyone gets an equal voice. Iraqis are not just Arabic-speaking, Baghdad-born-and-raised Arabs.” Among the featured films this year is “Iraqi Women: Voices from Exile,” made in the 1990s by London-based director Maysoon Pachachi, and Ali Raheem’s 2015 documentary “Balanja,” about four Kurdish people overcoming the pains of the past. 

Over the past couple of decades, the image the outside world has of Iraq has been one of warfare, terror, and destruction. But, Dulaimy points out, Iraq has much more to offer to the world. 

“Iraq is not just a war-torn zone, where people are struggling on a daily basis. We have other stories to tell besides the political disarray and chaos. I think we’re ready to move on from that, we don’t want to keep playing the victims. I feel the time for us to move on is now,” she says. “I hope audiences also take into consideration how difficult it is to shoot a film. You’re not going to see a polished, dazzling film. What you’re going to see is raw, social, realist films. I just want people to go into the festival with open eyes and ears.”


REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 
Updated 24 September 2021

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

REVIEW: ‘My Heroes Were Cowboys’  — a moving and elegant tribute to the art of horse training and one of its masters 

DUBAI: Growing up in a rural town in Australia, Robin Wiltshire was, in his own words, “the runt of the litter.” His authoritarian grandfather said he would never amount to anything, and Wiltshire — unable to read and write aged 10 — believed him. His grandfather was wrong, though. Wiltshire is now one of the most respected horse trainers in the world, and has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. 

The new short Netflix documentary “My Heroes Were Cowboys” tells how Wiltshire — inspired by a love of Westerns and a fascination with horses — moved to the US in the Seventies, dreaming of working with animals on movie sets. His timing was not great. “Star Wars” had just come out and Westerns were rapidly going out of fashion. However, Wiltshire found a home in Wyoming (director Tyler Greco shows, through sweeping panoramas of breathtaking landscape, why Wiltshire was so struck by Wyoming’s beauty), and began working with horses. In his understated drawl, Wiltshire explains how his third horse, Juniper, “changed my life completely” and briefly breaks down when describing his friend’s death. 

Wiltshire’s big break came with a commercial for Marlboro cigarettes, and he has gone on to work on countless advertising campaigns, TV shows and movies. But “My Heroes Were Cowboys” spends little time celebrating Wiltshire’s showbiz career and connections. Instead, it focuses on Wiltshire’s lifetime spent building an unparalleled understanding of horses. And the horses are its real stars.

Greco captures their majesty, grace and intelligence with the same empathy Wiltshire uses to build his relationships with animals that often arrive at his ranch traumatized and distressed. Wiltshire uses no physical coercion; he simply allows the animals to be themselves and shows them he can be trusted. They repay his trust by allowing themselves to be directed by him.

This beautifully shot doc packs more into its 27-minute runtime than many feature films manage in a couple of hours. It’s a triumph of storytelling and a tribute to the bond of unquestioning love that can exist between humans and animals when the latter are treated with the respect they deserve.


What We Are Reading Today: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record
Updated 23 September 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

What We Are Reading Today: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

Author: Errol Fuller

A photograph of an extinct animal evokes a greater feeling of loss than any painting ever could. Often black and white or tinted sepia, these remarkable images have been taken mainly in zoos or wildlife parks, and in some cases depict the last known individual of the species.
Lost Animals is a unique photographic record of extinction, presented by a world authority on vanished animals. Richly illustrated throughout, this handsome book features photographs dating from around 1870 to as recently as 2004, the year that witnessed the demise of the Hawaiian Po’ouli. From a mother Thylacine and her pups to birds such as the Heath Hen and the Carolina Parakeet, Errol Fuller tells the story of each animal, explains why it became extinct, and discusses the circumstances surrounding the photography.
Covering 28 extinct species, Lost Animals includes familiar examples like the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, and one of the last Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, photographed as it peers quizzically at the hat of one of the biologists who has just ringed it.