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
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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.

 


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

Ithra announces 3 Saudi films, training programs to elevate local talent
Updated 5 sec ago

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.


Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet
Updated 08 December 2021

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

Lebanese-led Monot proves cult status on Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet

DUBAI: Helmed by Lebanese designer Eli Mizrahi, New York-based label Monot is proving once again that it is one of the hottest fashion brands on the scene at the moment, with a number of international celebrities hitting the Red Sea International Film Festival red carpet in sleek Monot looks. 

Models took to the red carpet — and an afterparty — in Jeddah this week wearing a variety of designs by Mizrahi, including French actress Tina Kunakey, part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik, Russian beauty Irina Shayk and South African model Candice Swanepoel.

Swanepoel brought her A-game to the red carpet on the festival’s opening night wearing an all-white look by Monot. The figure-hugging gown featured a dramatic asymmetrical train.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by irinashayk (@irinashayk)

Meanwhile, Saudi-Pakistani-Lithuanian-Australian star Shaik showed off a striking black number by Monot, complete with sheer draped material and glittering black sequins running across the length of the column gown. 

Shayk also opted for an all-black, figure-hugging look which was backless — adding to the sartorial drama of the dress. 

For her part, Kunakey donned a skin-tight black gown by the label — with a peek-a-boo cut out at the back — for a post-red carpet party.

Mizrahi is no stranger to star power and made headlines in 2020 when he enlisted the likes of British supermodel Kate Moss, Italian star Mariacarla Boscono, British model Jourdan Dunn, US celebrity Amber Valletta and China’s Xiao Wen to star in a Monot campaign shot in Saudi Arabia.

The models wore black and white flowy dresses as they walked and danced against the Kingdom’s cultural and heritage site of AlUla in the campaign. 

Mizrahi launched his brand in 2019 and debuted with “Collection Zero” in September in Paris that year. 

In March 2020, the entrepreneur-turned-designer presented his Fall/Winter 2020 pieces – from his first full collection for Monot – at Paris Fashion Week. The designer’s timeless creations were inspired by artist Lucio Fontana and architect Eero Saarinen.

The label has quickly gone on to garner a legion of celebrity fans, with US Olympian Simone Biles, model Kendall Jenner, Brazilian influencer Camila Coelho and US model Emily Ratajkowski donning Monot looks this year. 


Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself
Updated 08 December 2021

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself

Hany Abu-Assad’s ‘Huda’s Salon’ continues director’s tradition of challenging himself
  • Tense drama, set in occupied Palestine, screens at the Red Sea International Film Festival

LONDON: If a story makes Hany Abu-Assad wake up in the middle of the night, it’s fair to say it’s probably one worth telling. The Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated director recalls waking up at 4 a.m. and spending the next four hours writing out the idea for what would become “Huda’s Salon” — a tense, spy drama that will open the Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 6 — after a conversation with his wife and long-time producing partner, Amira Diab.

“I had this story about a salon that was recruiting Palestinian girls to work for the occupation’s secret service by putting them in a shameful situation and blackmailing them,” Abu-Assad told Arab News.

“Huda’s Salon” is the taut, character-driven story of Reem, a young mother who visits a Bethlehem business for a haircut and winds up trapped by the salon’s owner, Huda, unless she agrees to spy for the occupation. (Supplied)

“It was in the newspapers, and I was struck by it. It stayed in my mind. Two years ago, my wife wanted to explore something about women in Palestine, and I told her about this idea,” he recalled. “She asked me what the story was, and I didn’t know. So, we slept on it. Then I woke up at 4 a.m. and started to write. During the night, my head must have been working on it.”

“Huda’s Salon” is the taut, character-driven story of Reem, a young mother who visits a Bethlehem business for a haircut and winds up trapped by the salon’s owner, Huda, unless she agrees to spy for the occupation. At the same time, Abu-Assad’s film focuses on Huda’s interrogation by Hasan, who begins to comprehend the gravity of the impossible situation faced by a woman equally trapped by the shame of her past actions.

Abu-Assad is a director equally at home with documentary, biographical and fiction moviemaking, but “Huda’s Salon,” he explained, could only have been made as a story. 

Abu-Assad is a director equally at home with documentary, biographical and fiction moviemaking, but “Huda’s Salon,” he explained, could only have been made as a story. (Supplied) 

“A documentary would have been impossible. I don’t think victims would want to talk to me because of the troubles they would still face if they did so. And, for sure, the secret service isn’t going to talk about it,” he explained. “In fact, one of the only victims who came forward, 15 or 20 years ago, wrote a letter and then committed suicide. So, a fictional story was the only way.

“But the way I shot the film was like a documentary,” he continued. “Most of the scenes are in one shot, where the audience feels like they are trapped in the same time and place as the characters. We walk with the characters, we sit with them. When there are no edits, you are living at the same time as them, second by second. You are almost a mirror for them. And it’s shot with a handheld, too, which adds to that impression.”

In order to pull off such a feat, Abu-Assad needed actors he could trust to control the scenes, who were capable of driving the story for the audience to follow. To that end, the director wrote the parts for actors he had worked with before: Maisa Abd Elhadi (Reem), Manal Awad (Huda) and Ali Suliman (Hasan).

“Huda’s Salon” was suitably new, challenging and scary for Abu-Assad. (Supplied)

“I called them all after I had the story but before I started the script,” he explained. “I told them the idea and that I wouldn’t write it unless they participated — especially Maisa, because she needed to be vulnerable, not only physically but emotionally. You need brave actors to do that.”

The close-up, often claustrophobic nature of the movie is a world away from Abu-Assad’s previous film, 2017’s “The Mountain Between Us” starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet. But it is in line with his commitment to selecting projects that challenge — and scare — him.

“This is why I love it. Without challenge, I can’t do this job. It’s hard, but I’ve always challenged myself to go to extremes and discover new things. I don’t want to do another version of previous films ‘Paradise Now’ or ‘Omar.’ I have to come up with something new, and I might fail, but at least I will learn.”

“Huda’s Salon” was suitably new, challenging and scary for Abu-Assad.

Caption

“To do an entire movie in two locations, with three characters, almost always in one shot, with a handheld — which I’d never done before — was certainly a learning process. You have no idea if it’s going to work, if a shot will work in favor of the story or of the characters,” he said. “But otherwise, you work on automatic pilot. You know what’s going to happen because you’ve done it before, and you know what mistakes you’ve made, so you don’t make them again. It becomes boring.”

Up next for Abu-Assad — and part of the reason for his involvement in the Red Sea International Film Festival — is a desire to continue challenging himself and learning.

“For the last eight years, I have been working with my wife, and we’re excited to explore working in the Arab World, in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to widen our borders beyond Palestine. We have several ideas, and we want to explore them with producers from the Arab World. I can’t wait.”


VOX Cinemas bringing Saudi stories to film

A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus,  at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 08 December 2021

VOX Cinemas bringing Saudi stories to film

A Saudi cinema-goer has her temperature taken as she wears a colored face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus,  at VOX Cinema hall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, June 26, 2020. (AP)
  • Majid Al Futtaim backing new wave of talent, KSA chief says

JEDDAH: With more than 130 films set to be screened at the Red Sea International Film Festival, VOX Cinemas are on a mission to support and promote local films the best way they can.

The Red Sea International Film Festival kicked off its festivities at Jeddah’s UNESCO World Heritage Site old town, Al-Balad, on Dec. 6. It will run until Dec. 15, in partnership with VOX Cinemas and others.

VOX Cinemas will screen 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages. The content was produced by established and emerging talent, with fans, film enthusiasts, filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films.

A slate of new Saudi films — 27 from an exciting wave of Saudi filmmakers — will be shown alongside the best of contemporary international cinema.

“We’re very proud to be partners of this festival, especially since this has been the first international Red Sea Film Festival taking place in Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Toni El Massih, managing director of VOX Cinemas, told Arab News.

RSIFF is a significant breakthrough for the whole industry, exhibitors, distributors and producers, he said. “This platform will help future filmmakers and storytellers know that this country is so full and rich in culture and storytelling. This is the exact platform that is needed for the talent to come across and present their project,” he added.

HIGHLIGHT

VOX Cinemas will screen 138 feature films and shorts from 67 countries in 34 languages. The content was produced by established and emerging talent, with fans, film enthusiasts, filmmakers and actors in attendance for many of the films.

On tour to the main VOX Cinema sites in Al-Balad that have been constructed to screen RSIFF films, Arab News spoke to Mohamed Al-Hashemi, KSA chief of Majid Al Futtaim. He said: “The Red Sea Film Festival is a statement for the Kingdom. There were no cinemas prior to April 2018, however, customers enjoyed the set of experiences as soon as they opened.

“With life coming back to normal after the COVID-19 period, the Red Sea Film Festival is a statement from the Kingdom to the world that Saudi Arabia will be a major player when it comes to local content production, demand for international content, and most importantly, demand for exhibitions as well, when it comes to the best of the best that can be offered to consumers.”

With movie theaters in more than six cities across the Kingdom in over 15 locations, VOX Cinemas operates 154 screens in Saudi Arabia. “We are considered to be the largest cinema exhibitors in the Kingdom in terms of site numbers and screen counts,” Al-Hashemi said.

Why is the screen count so important?

“The screen basically is the only platform where people can showcase local content producers on the big screen. With more big screens, more local content will be produced for the local market and the regional market, and hopefully Saudi as well to the international market,” Al-Hashemi said.

“The RSIFF is where the Kingdom can act as a local content producer and where we can bring out the folded and untold stories of this beautiful company, to the customers within Saudi,” he added.

On Dec. 6. during the inaugural red-carpet event, VOX Cinemas announced an ambitious initiative that aims to foster homegrown talent and showcase untold stories on the big screen.

A plan was made to boost regional film production and develop 25 Arabic films in the next five years.

El Massih said that many of these films would be from Saudi Arabia, with Saudi talent working as directors, producers and actors. There will also be films coming out of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Speaking on the genres of the future films, he said: “The genre that we are focusing on and that has proven to work best is the comedy-drama. This is the sort of film that we’ll be working toward.”

As part of the initiative, VOX Cinemas will continue to support the next generation of homegrown content developers and provide resources for emerging filmmakers to bring their scripts to screen.

“This platform will search and scout for talent. It’ll be the same case later in the UAE and in other festivals that are taking place across the region.

“Accordingly, we’ll start putting a team together, building screening and writing rooms, getting stories from each of the different regions together, and then we’ll take that forward and then do the necessary films that we’ll see on the big screen,” El Massih said.

“Majid Al Futtaim has been very active in the region since 1999, starting off with exhibition, and then elevating our activities into film distribution, and recently in film production.”

Being a main contributor and partner of RSIFF is “huge,” he added, saying that such an opportunity will support emerging talent.

El Massih said: “This is the perfect platform for us to be participating and searching for the emerging talent and filmmakers that we can bring on board.”