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

 Co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival discusses second edition 
Shahnaz Dulaimy is the co-founder of the Independent Iraqi Film Festival. (Supplied)
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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.”


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 19 sec ago

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.