‘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)
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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.


Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh
Updated 09 December 2021

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

Tuwaiq Sculptural Symposium reflects Vision 2030 aim to transform Riyadh

RIYADH: Two sculptures glisten in the sunlight in an outdoor space in JAX, the recently developed creative district in the industrial zone of Diriyah, just outside of Riyadh. They are part of the third Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium held under the theme of The Poetics of Space, which featured 20 works by Saudi and international artists focusing largely on the interplay between light and shadow.

Some of the large abstract sculptures appear to undulate like waves with their curvaceous forms while others challenge the surrounding desert landscape with their bold geometric forms. Saudi artist Wafa Al-Qunibit’s work Allah is representative of her desire to speak to both the Saudi and international community through intersecting and overlapping circles carved into marble depicting the name of God in Arabic. Karin van Ommeren’s Awareness Stone was created to symbolize eternity through a composition that has no beginning or end.

The 20 sculptors were chosen out of 418 applicants from 71 countries. The selected artists came to Riyadh, where they all created their works over a period of three weeks from Nov. 15 until Dec. 5 from giant blocks of black and white pearl marble imported from Oman. The resulting works are exhibited on site in JAX for four days until Dec.10.

What was crucial to the initiative was the element of cultural exchange — uniting artists from around the world in Riyadh through creative dialogue with the end goal of beautifying the city of Riyadh.

HIGHLIGHT

Artists Anna Korver, Haider Alawi Al-Alawi and Kim De Ruysscher announced as winners of the 2021 symposium

The symposium was organized by Riyadh Art, dubbed as one of the world’s largest public art projects of its kind. It is also one of Riyadh’s four megaprojects launched by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, on March 19, 2019. An integral component of Saudi Vision 2030, its mission is to transform Riyadh into a sustainable and environmentally friendly city.

“We tried to update the project this year to make it bigger and more international through workshops and panels and educational programs,” Sarah Alruwayti, architectural project advisor at The Royal Commission for Riyadh City responsible for Riyadh Art, told Arab News. “We aim to create a cultural platform not only for visitors but also for sculptors from around the world to engage with each other. We need to get our talents out into the world and the rest of the world needs to learn about us more.”

“We have 12 projects under Riyadh Art, of which two are annual and 10 are permanent, all of which add a lot of value to the economy and society as they focus on developing roads and bridges and they all encompass art,” Alruwayti said. “The projects work to beautify Riyadh—Riyadh is already beautiful but we are working to add more artistry to the city reflecting Vision 2030’s aims to transform the city into a gallery with no walls.”

Ali Jabbar, the curator of the Tuwaiq International Sculpture Symposium, founded the event three years ago in cooperation with the Saudi Ministry of Culture. The first and second symposia, in 2019 and 2020, were held in Riyadh’s diplomatic quarter.

This year marks the first time that the symposium takes place under the umbrella of Riyadh Art. Jabbar, with the help of five heads of international museums, including Eike Dieter Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and Cristiana Collu, the director of Rome’s Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, chose the final selection of 20 sculptors.

“The Tuwaiq symposium is the largest one in the world now in terms of organization, size and quality of sculptures and their artistic and technical value,” Jabbar said. “It has placed the Saudi sculpture scene in the world map.”

The winners of the competition were announced on Dec. 7. First prize was awarded to New Zealand artist Anna Korver for her artwork entitled The Lighthouses triptych, which fused abstract geometrical forms with multiple cultural associations, suggesting female figures. Second prize went to Haider Alawi Al-Alawi of Saudi Arabia for his approach in depicting the landscape through a fusion of abstraction and figuration. His sculpture entitled Beauty evokes the Saudi landscape, featuring the sun, wind and sand. Third prize went to the Belgian Kim De Ruysscher for his Unseen, depicting a figurative form covered in what appears to be a kind of drapery, exploring the concepts of illusion and perception.

The next Tuwaiq Sculpture Symposium will take place in 2022.


Red Sea Film Festival a ‘breakthrough’ for Arab and international films, says Jack Lang

Red Sea Film Festival a ‘breakthrough’ for Arab and international films, says Jack Lang
Updated 58 min 5 sec ago

Red Sea Film Festival a ‘breakthrough’ for Arab and international films, says Jack Lang

Red Sea Film Festival a ‘breakthrough’ for Arab and international films, says Jack Lang
  • According to the Arab World Institute president: ‘A real cultural revolution is underway in Saudi Arabia — it is extraordinary’

JEDDAH: The enthusiasm of Jack Lang, president of the Arab World Institute in Paris, is contagious as he shares his thoughts about the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival with Arab News en Francais.

Lang, who also served as minister of culture in his native France in the 1980s and 90s, said that even two years ago he could not have imagined an international film event such as this taking place in Jeddah.

“It was an absurd idea,” he said and yet now “a real cultural revolution is underway in Saudi Arabia” under the direction of the country’s leaders. “It is extraordinary,” he added. In particular, he praised the role Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan has played.

Since cinemas reopened almost three years ago there has been a major cultural renaissance in the Kingdom on all levels, Lang said. He praised the great developments in arts and culture, particularly in film through the launch of the Red Sea Film Festival, which began on Dec. 6 and continues until Dec. 15. Lang said it is an event designed “for Arab cinema” and for international filmmakers to make a breakthrough.

It is also a sign of the winds of change that have been blowing though Saudi Arabia in the past few years, and this is something that is not lost on Lang.

The authorities in the Kingdom understand that “culture, education, knowledge and science” represent the future, he said, and “a source of happiness as well as human and economic development for citizens.”

Support for culture and the arts, in their various forms, has been a significant driver of the longstanding relationship between France and Saudi Arabia. Lang said he is a member of the consultative council to the Royal Commission for AlUla, and that he appreciates the efforts Saudi authorities are making to preserve, renovate and develop this important historical and cultural site not only for Kingdom but for the entire world.
 


GALLERY

Stars shine at RSIFF on the third night of the film festival


“France is very present (in projects in AlUla) and I, myself, am participating in the development of the splendid site” by helping to organize an exhibition on AlUla, he said. “We plan on making the exhibition international” by taking it to Russia, the US and other countries.

“Here in the Kingdom there is ambition, a vision,” Lang added, as he thanked and congratulated the Saudi authorities for all they have done to develop arts and culture.

“There is a freedom to meet one another and to share” in the Saudi Arabia of today, he said. “I am not saying everything is perfect but I have confidence in humanity and in the ability to invent a new society in Jeddah.”


Indian film director honored to be chosen at RSIFF 

Indian film director honored to  be chosen at RSIFF 
Writer-director Nithin Lukose. (Supplied)
Updated 09 December 2021

Indian film director honored to be chosen at RSIFF 

Indian film director honored to  be chosen at RSIFF 

JEDDAH: On the eve of the Arab premiere of his debut feature, “Paka (River of Blood),” which is screening in competition at the Red Sea International Film Festival, writer-director Nithin Lukose spoke of the “honor” of his film being chosen for the event in Jeddah.

“We are honored to be the lone Indian film to be selected for the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival 2021,” he said. “Being selected in the Competition category, among 16 films from around the world, is a dream come true for us.”

“Paka” is the only Indian film in the Malayalam language selected for screening during the festival. It will have its Arab premiere on Dec. 9 at Vox Cinemas Al-Balad at 6:15 p.m. with a second screening at 2:15 p.m. on Dec.12 at the same venue.

The plot of “Paka,” which stars starring Basil Paulose, Vinitha Koshy, Nithin George, Abhilash Nair, Athul John, Jose Kizhakkkan, Mariyakkutty and Joseph Manikkal, revolves around two feuding families and a young couple that tries to overcome their families’ hatred through love. The film is produced by Raj Rachakonda and Anurag Kashyap.

Lukose, who is in Jeddah for the screening of the film, said he hopes Saudis and the Indian diaspora will pack the cinema during the screenings of the film. “It will be highly encouraging for us,” he added.

Sharing his thoughts on his experience of the festival so far, the filmmaker said: “Initially, we didn’t have any clue how the inaugural film festival would be but we were blown away by its scale and grandeur.”

Lukose said his knowledge of Saudi Arabia was limited before the event but he was quickly overwhelmed by the warmth of the greeting he received from the city and its people.

“Apart from the film festival, we were lucky to be given tours of the historic parts of Jeddah, museums and other places,” he said. “This helped us learn more about Saudi Arabia as a country, as well as its culture. The hospitality extended to us is outstanding.

“We hope more beautiful and unique movies will come out of Saudi Arabia that will tell more about its history and rich culture, which the world knows little about.”

The Red Sea International Film Festival, which began on Dec. 6 and continues until Dec. 15, will screen 138 films from 67 countries in 34 languages.


Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent
Updated 09 December 2021

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent
  • ‘Sea of Sands’ and ‘Valley Road’ to release in 2023; ‘Anti-Cinema’ in post production and expected to hit international film fests soon

JEDDAH: The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) discussed its three new films at a press conference at the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival on Wednesday.

The conference was attended by local and international press. The center was represented by Tariq Khawaji, Ithra’s chief librarian and the program’s cultural consultant and supervisor of the reading program, and Majed Samman, Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema, who is also a Saudi filmmaker, producer, actor and editor.

The three movies under the Ithra production banner include a feature film, “Sea of Sands,” by celebrated Egyptian screenwriter and producer Mohamed Hefzy, a leading figure in the industry in the Middle East and Africa who has written, produced and co-produced nearly 40 feature films in Egypt, the US, the UK and the Arab world.

The second film is “Valley Road,” a Saudi film, including its cast, crew, and location. It will be filmed in Faifa and Soudah in the southern region of the Kingdom by the award-winning Saudi independent filmmaker Khalid Fahad.

The third is a feature documentary called “Anti-Cinema,” about the Kingdom’s cinematic heritage, directed by Ali Saeed and Hassan Saeed. “Sea of Sands” and “Valley Road” are both scheduled for release in 2023.

Samman, who is the producer of “Sea of Sands” and “Valley Road,” told Arab News about “Anti-Cinema,” a documentary that brings Saudi Arabia’s film history to the big screen and is a winner of the Ithra Content Commission Initiative, currently in post-production and expected to hit the international film festival circuit soon.

“Anti-Cinema will be the most controversial piece non-Saudi viewers will ever watch. It tells the history of cinema from the 1940s and 1950s all the way until the Red Sea Film Festival today. So, for us, and especially for our era, people will say, oh my god, I remember this, I remember that, it’s very nostalgic.”

He added: “But for the outside world, they would say that they had no idea they have cinemas in Saudi and I had no idea that they were making movies. It’s going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people. So it’s going to be very controversial.”

“The two films that we’re going to premiere in 2023 are the first of many films, and they’re going to be showing the world and Saudi Arabia how quality films are made. And I can’t wait for people to see it.”

We really want to give as much as possible the opportunity for these Saudi filmmakers to join an international film and expose them to the filmmaking process, and that would give them a push so they can decide if they want to be filmmakers or not.

Majed Samman, Ithra’s head of performing arts and cinema

During the conference, Ithra announced the opening of registration for a training program designed to take Saudi’s film industry to the next level.

The program aims to elevate local talent to a higher standard with international appeal. Samman told Arab News: “The program targets Saudi national talents aged 18-year-old and above. We put down eight different categories for them to join us. Participants need to submit their CV; they have to submit their previous work, their portfolio, and then we’re going to have to decide with judges.”

Samman added: “We really want to give as much as possible the opportunity for these Saudi filmmakers to join an international film and expose them to the filmmaking process, and that would give them a push so they can decide if they want to be filmmakers or not.”

The center has also opened registration for “Sea of Sands”’ shadowing program, linked to its strategic commitment to nurture and develop talent across the Kingdom’s creative industries.

Ithra Film Productions has helped dozens of filmmakers bring their dreams to life. One of the largest movie producers in the Kingdom, it has produced 20 films, 15 of which have received local, regional and international awards.

“We have produced more films in Saudi Arabia than any other entity, including 20 films to date for the past three years now, two feature films, and 18 short films. Most of these films are now on Netflix, Shahad and Saudi airlines. We want to continue making films, and mostly independent films, because like I said, we want to do the best-quality films that would cost a very good amount of money.”

Ithra is the Kingdom’s premier cultural and creative destination for talent development and cross-cultural experiences. It is an innovative and interactive public space for workshops, performances, events, exhibitions and experiences.


Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 
Updated 08 December 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

Saudi Arabia’s Desert X AlUla to return for second edition in 2022 

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s site-responsive contemporary art display Desert X AlUla is returning for its second edition in 2022. 

The event, which launched in 2020, will take place from Feb. 11 to March 30, in the Al Mutadil valley, across the Elephant Rock sculpture in AlUla. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. (livingmuseum.com)

Desert X AlUla, which is part of AlUla Arts, will present works by Saudi and international artists. Under the theme of “Sarab,” the exhibition will explore the ideas of a mirage and the desert oasis. 

The list of the artists selected for the exhibition will be announced in January. 

In the 2020 edition, some of the artists that took part in the project were involved in the creation of Desert X installations in California, and they created artworks based on AlUla’s ancient civilizations and sand and rock formations.