Egyptian athletes turn near-death experience into compelling doc that highlights the plight of refugees

Egyptian athletes turn near-death experience into compelling doc that highlights the plight of refugees
“Beyond the Raging Sea” is currently showing in cinemas across the Middle East. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 October 2021

Egyptian athletes turn near-death experience into compelling doc that highlights the plight of refugees

Egyptian athletes turn near-death experience into compelling doc that highlights the plight of refugees
  • In ‘Beyond the Raging Sea,’ Omar Samra and Omar Nour relive their failed attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean

DUBAI: In December 2017, Omar Samra — the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest — and Omar Nour, a renowned Egyptian triathlete, came closer to death than they ever had before.

Their boat, on which they had been rowing across the Atlantic as part of a 4,800-kilometer race, had capsized eight days into their journey. One by one, their precautions and backup plans failed. In the end, it was luck, friendship, and strength of will that enabled them both to survive.

When they were finally saved by the only ship in the vicinity — an experience so difficult that the rescue itself nearly killed them — there was one thing they wanted to do first; before they ate, before they showered, before they finally got some rest, they were desperate for pens and paper. They knew that no matter what happened, the world needed to hear their story.




Their boat, on which they had been rowing across the Atlantic as part of a 4,800-kilometer race, had capsized eight days into their journey. (Supplied)

“We refused to go to sleep until we wrote down everything we could possibly remember. We were so scared that once we went to bed our brains would start to erase the things that were most painful. We bounced back and forth everything we had experienced, every detail, so that we wouldn’t lose any fact of what we had just gone through together,” Nour tells Arab News.

Nearly four years later, their story is finally ready to be shared with the world in the documentary “Beyond the Raging Sea,” currently showing in cinemas across the Middle East. Little did they know that getting their story told would be a journey filled with adversity of its own.

“Omar [Samra] and I didn’t know what we were in for,” says Nour. “When you're an outsider trying to make something, it's very easy to get lost when you don’t understand all the moving pieces. You can become easy prey for people who want to take advantage of you.”




Samra was approached by Puerto Rican-born documentary filmmaker Marco Orsini, who had previously helmed the documentaries “The Reluctant Traveler” (2009) and “Grey Matters” (2014). (Supplied)

For a story so deeply personal, the right partner was essential. Just a month after their journey, Samra was approached by Puerto Rican-born documentary filmmaker Marco Orsini, who had previously helmed the documentaries “The Reluctant Traveler” (2009) and “Gray Matters” (2014).

“I was driven to tell the story of Omar Samra and Omar Nour because their story, frankly, is so compelling. The first time we spoke, I sat there for four hours listening to them each talk about what they had been through, each telling me separately,” says Orsini. “And while they were telling me the story, I — as a director — was getting so excited. Even though I didn’t have much footage, I knew that I didn’t need it. What’s necessary for good storytelling is a good story, and these two not only had a good story, they knew how to tell a good story, each with very different personalities.”

Telling that story was not as straightforward as it seemed, however. Orsini had not only to gain the athletes’ trust, but keep it, balancing the fact that he was telling their deeply personal, traumatic story, with his role as director, which meant the story ultimately became his to shepherd.




For Samra and Nour, one essential element to the story that could never be cut was how reminiscent their story was of the refugee crisis. (Supplied)

“I don’t think they actually realize that it’s my project as well,” says Orsini with a laugh. “They almost lost their lives and they're so connected to it, and while filming them was brilliant, in the editing process we became both friends and enemies at times. They just couldn’t understand why I was cutting out so many things that were important to them. I said, ‘Guys, we have a four-hour story that I need to cut into a watchable film. You have to trust me. You gave me this project. You believed in me. You've got to let me push it all the way to the end.’”

“The storyteller is Marco, we're not the storytellers. It's his story,” says Nour. “That was very hard for Omar and I to come to terms with. Once we did, though, it became very clear there was no better person for the job.”

For Samra and Nour, one essential element to the story that could never be cut was how reminiscent their story was of the refugee crisis. Samra has long been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, so worked tirelessly to get, its refugee program, UNHCR, to sponsor their initial journey and, ultimately, the film, so they could ensure their story turned into something bigger.




The film downplays what Samra and Nour went through, rather than sensationalizes it. (Supplied)

“I knew there would be some parallels between our crossing the Atlantic and the journey that refugees have to make, but I didn’t know at the time how close they would become,” says Samra. “The adventure really put it all into perspective.”

Because of that, even though so much of the athletes’ story ended up on the cutting-room floor, the final section of the film is dedicated to the tale of a refugee named Louay Alzouki, who tells in painful detail his own harrowing journey to the other side.

If anything, the film downplays what Samra and Nour went through, rather than sensationalizes it. Part of the reason that immediate rescue became so imperative was that Nour is a diabetic, who needs insulin shots to survive — shots that were lost when their boat capsized; although the film never states this explicitly.




Omar Samra is the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest, and Omar Nour is a renowned Egyptian triathlete. (Supplied)

Nour is, by nature, an optimist. (I once went on a camping trip with him in which he was stung by a scorpion, a fact he calmly alluded to with a smile before driving himself to the hospital, with the scorpion held in a cup in his non-driving hand.) So part of the challenge for both men was forcing themselves to relive the traumatic event in a way that was genuine — dropping the smiles that they’ve had to learn to put on in order to turn deep fear and agony into a fun adventure they can talk about at parties.   

And even now the film is out, the story is not over. Both Nour and Samra are fundamentally changed and both are doing their best to keep those changes positive.

“When you come so close to death, you want to make sure that it becomes a blessing,” Samra says. “You want to use it to live your life in a different way. I now make different decisions in my life — in terms of my family, my work, and the intensity of my pursuits. I still probably have a couple of adventures up my sleeve, but I’m not hustling it.

“I want to get back to the reason why I started all of this to begin with, I want it to come from a from a deeper place. If I wake up one day, and I feel that fire inside me again, then for sure I'm going to go after it, but I’m enjoying slowing down and focusing on my family,” he continues. “My wife passed away eight years ago, and I have an eight-year-old daughter. When I almost let go of the ladder, let go of life, during that rescue, she was the one that gave me that final push. She kept me alive. I need to live for her.”


Four Arab films submitted for the 2022 Oscars so far

Four Arab films submitted for the 2022 Oscars so far
“Heliopolis” has been selected for the second time to represent Algeria at the prestigious awards. Supplied
Updated 24 October 2021

Four Arab films submitted for the 2022 Oscars so far

Four Arab films submitted for the 2022 Oscars so far

DUBAI: One of the toughest contests at the Oscars is for the honor of Best International Feature Film. Competing with the best movies from all over the world, it is a tremendous accomplishment to be named one of the five films that make it into the final round — and the process starts by a country submitting its official choice, before the organization behind the Academy Awards whittles down the official selection at a later date.  

Four Arab countries have so far submitted their candidates for the Oscars before the 94th Academy Awards take place on March 27, 2022.

They are “Casablanca Beats” by Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch, Palestinian director Ameer Fakher Eldin’s “The Stranger,” Abdelhamid Bouchnak-directed “Golden Butterfly,” which is Tunisia’s entry, and Algerian director Djafar Gacem’s “Heliopolis.”

“Casablanca Beats” by Moroccan filmmaker Nabil Ayouch. Supplied

A shortlist of 15 finalists will be announced on December 21, with five nominees announced on February 8, 2022.

Meanwhile, "The Gravedigger’s Wife” by Somali-Finnish writer-director Khadar Ayderus has been submitted as Somalia's entry, marking one of many to come from the African continent.

“The Gravedigger’s Wife,” which tells the story of a gravedigger trying to find ways to pay for his sick wife’s treatment, is the first Somali film to be submitted for the Oscars.

“The Gravedigger’s Wife” by Somali-Finnish writer-director Khadar Ayderus. Supplied

As for the Arab submissions so far, Ayouch’s “Casablanca Beats,” which had its world premiere in July, is based on the director’s own childhood experience and was the first fully Moroccan film to compete for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Meanwhile, Eldin’s debut feature is about an unlicensed doctor who encounters a wounded man in the war in Syria. The film won the Edipo Re Award for Inclusion at the Venice Film Festival this year.

“Golden Butterfly” is the Tunisian filmmaker’s third feature.

As for Gacem’s “Heliopolis,” it has been selected for the second time to represent Algeria at the prestigious awards, after its nomination was withdrawn last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. the Algerian drama is based on the real-life events of May 8, 1945, where French colonial forces attacked thousands of Algerians in the city of Guelma (called Heliopolis in ancient times). If “Heliopolis” is selected, it would be Algeria’s first entry since Costa-Gavras’s 1970 film “Z,” which was also the first Arab film to win an Academy Award.

 


Your guide to the 2021 RUSH Festival in Riyadh

Your guide to the 2021 RUSH Festival in Riyadh
Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News
Updated 24 October 2021

Your guide to the 2021 RUSH Festival in Riyadh

Your guide to the 2021 RUSH Festival in Riyadh

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s inaugural gaming and esports extravaganza, RUSH Festival, is currently underway in Riyadh. The five-day event, which wraps up on Oct. 26 as part of Riyadh Season 2021, is not short on entertainment.

Enjoy games

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

Video game lovers can compete in more than 18 different gaming tournaments, including Tekken 7, Peggy, Overwatch, FIFA 2022, Call of Duty and many more.

Dress up

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

Visitors are encouraged to dress up as their favorite video game or anime characters. Fans of the fictional universe who registered for the cosplay contest will compete for “best costume” and stand to win a grand prize of $18,662.

Shop

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

You can buy a souvenir for yourself or your loved ones from the many pop-up shops dotted throughout the venue.

Eat local

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

If you’re looking to fuel up, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes to pick and choose from, including local eateries such as Ahal Al-Deera.

Live Music

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

Catch live performances from a lineup of Saudi Arabia-based DJs, including DJ Vegas, DJ Bassel and DJ Memo Max, who will be setting the mood throughout the esports event.

Discover the latest in tech

Photo by Huda Bashatah/Arab News

Explore the latest in gaming technology, with hyper-realistic virtual reality games, mobile games and more.


Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada
The singer wore a jumpsuit designed by Osman Yousefzada. Instagram
Updated 24 October 2021

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

DUBAI: US singer Chloe Bailey turned Atlanta’s State Farm Arena into her own personal runway this week as she was spotted sitting courtside with rapper Gunna at the Hawks vs. Mavericks basketball game. For the game, the 23-year-old brought her signature style to the arena.

Bailey has a penchant for curve-hugging designs and is often spotted wearing form-fitting dresses, two-pieces and bodysuits on stage, on the red carpet or simply out and about. The game was no different.

Chloe Bailey and Gunna at the Hawks vs. Mavericks basketball game in Atlanta. Getty Images

The hitmaker offered a stylish masterclass on courtside dressing wearing an abstract blue jumpsuit from British-Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada’s Osman Studios, styled by Nikki Cortez. The eye-catching bodysuit was a collaboration with print artist Alex Beattie.  

The British designer who was born to Pakistani and Afghani immigrants has had his tailored pieces worn by the likes of American singers Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. In addition to his celebrity-loved eponymous label, that launched in 2008, Yousefzada is also known for his multi-disciplinary artwork.

He often combines his love of fashion and art in his garments by collaborating with various artists such as Asif Khan, Celia Hempton, Christodolous Panayiotou and more.

Bailey accessorized the artsy look with a Gucci belt, black heels and hoop earrings. All together, the look was ready for a red carpet or fashion show appearance.

The singer wore a jumpsuit designed by Osman Yousefzada. Instagram   

The “Have Mercy” singer was also seen in the outfit earlier in the day when she greeted fans outside an appearance at Spelman College.

“I was so happy to speak with you beautiful ladies,” she wrote on Twitter.

Bailey’s courtside appearance with Gunna had fans wondering whether a romance or a possible collaboration is in the works.

The duo, who were sitting side-by-side, were put up on the Jumbotron and eventually their rumored romance became a trending topic on social media.

Ahead of their courtside appearance together, the “Drip Too Hard” rapper previously took to his Instagram to gush over Bailey, reposting her performance of “Have Mercy” at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Neither Bailey or Gunna have commented on the rumors. 


Kingdom’s pavilion at Expo 2020 brings together industry experts for first Saudi Salon

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)
Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)
Updated 24 October 2021

Kingdom’s pavilion at Expo 2020 brings together industry experts for first Saudi Salon

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai brought together creative experts for the first session of the “Saudi Salon” late last week.

Organizers brought together a panel of experts on Thursday to discuss the role of creative industries in facilitating cultural transformation.

The discussion was held in the Palm Garden inside the Kingdom’s pavilion and moderated by Yasser Al-Saqqaf. Participants included Robert Frith from the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), Francesca Hegyi from the Edinburgh International Festival, Sarah Al-Omran, deputy director of Art Jameel, Nora Al-Dabal from the Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate and Robert Bock, a representative of the MDLBEAST festival in the Kingdom.

At the beginning of the session, Frith discussed the role that creative industries play in changing societies. He said that Ithra has managed to have a positive impact on Saudi society since its inauguration in 2016 and has also succeeded in adapting to changes around it

For her part, Hegyi emphasized that culture and creativity are the mirror of society and therefore they play an important role in facilitating change in societies in general. She added: “I think this indicates the type of change that can be brought out within societies. For this change to happen, they need to ratify a set of special policies and laws that can speed up the process.”

As for Al-Dabal, she reviewed the experience of AlUla Governorate, saying: “We are all aware of the deep history that AlUla holds and the different civilizations and cultures it has witnessed throughout history. I believe that the qualitative leap that this historical site is currently witnessing shows the impact of the creative industries and their ability to change a society. She also noted the importance of partnerships in creative industries, saying: “Such partnerships are important, as they work to stimulate cooperation on one hand and on the other, contribute to deepening the effects that creative industries have on society”.

Bock, meanwhile, stressed “the power of creative industries and their ability to sharpen the human mind,” saying: “We cannot deny that the Kingdom has witnessed, in recent years, a qualitative leap in the cultural sector, which allowed the creative industries to develop faster and stronger. This created new platforms and partnerships allowing creative talents to reach out to the community and introduce themselves to it.”


‘Feathers’: Award-winning Egyptian film is dark and brilliant

The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)
The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2021

‘Feathers’: Award-winning Egyptian film is dark and brilliant

The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: Omar El-Zohairy’s debut Egyptian work, “Feathers,” was both lauded and lambasted. Despite its big win at Cannes Critics Week with a Grand Prize and the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the recent El Gouna Film Festival, it was viewed as offensive to the country by some. Some Egyptian directors and actors, including Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi, walked out of the screening last week, claiming it portrayed Egypt in a negative light.  

Be that as it may, “Feathers” is an absurdist drama that presents a disturbing cocktail of magic, mystery and madness, weaving its plot through acutely sparse frames. A story of a meek wife (Demyana Nassar) and a horridly domineering husband (Samy Bassiouny) with three very young children, she is portrayed as subdued and slavish.

Listless to the point of looking terribly unhappy, she faintly sparkles when he decides to organize a magic show to celebrate his son’s fourth birthday. It ends in a disaster when the magician turns the husband into a chicken, but fails to transform him back to his original self. The wife is left with a bird that she feeds and nurses. It is only after her back-breaking search to find the magician, all the while struggling to earn a pittance to buy food for her family, that the director lets us into a horrible truth and its repercussions. 

Similar to somber, straight-faced Finnish helmer Aki Kaurismaki’s work, “Feathers” is shot in greys and dull lighting. The tonal mix establishes the stark reality of a woman who eventually graduates from utter passivity to surprising dominance. The drab looking buildings, the exposed pipelines and the family’s bare and dingy home, filmed with incisive camerawork by Kamal Samy, add to the sheer helplessness of the wife. But the script is engrossing, with a narrative that is dark, hiding an unbelievable piece of information, which when it comes will throw you off guard. 

The movie works as a brutal look at patriarchy, though this is handled with admirable restraint in the screenplay, co-written by El-Zohairy and Ahmed Amer. With the woman’s attitude changing so subtly, the drama underplays the climax. It is not really about revenge but about discovering one’s self-respect.