Lebanese director Mounia Akl’s silver-screen success story

Lebanese director Mounia Akl  has been praised by critics for her debut feature film. (Supplied)
Lebanese director Mounia Akl has been praised by critics for her debut feature film. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 October 2021

Lebanese director Mounia Akl’s silver-screen success story

Lebanese director Mounia Akl  has been praised by critics for her debut feature film. (Supplied)

CAIRO: “Why am I obsessed with trash?” asks Mounia Akl with a laugh. “Actually, it’s funny because I have been called ‘the trash director’ by friends. But I think ‘Submarine,’ for me, was a stepping stone to ‘Costa Brava.’ So it’s not like I’ve been obsessed with trash all my life. It’s just that ‘Submarine’ was a fragment of ‘Costa Brava’ in many ways.”

The Lebanese director is sitting quietly in a corner of the TU Berlin Campus El Gouna, patiently discussing her debut feature, “Costa Brava, Lebanon.” At the film’s core is Lebanon’s trash crisis — a toxic and tragic disaster that has laid bare the fissures in Lebanese society. It’s a topic Akl knows only too well, having covered similar ground in her award-winning short, “Submarine,” and protested during the country’s 2015 trash crisis.   




Mounia Akl. (Supplied)

“It was the first time that I felt like I belonged to a movement, because that movement was leaderless in a way,” says Akl of the protests. “I grew up after the civil war in a country where you only matter when you’re following a certain person or a certain political party. And I don’t. I never felt like I belonged to that world. At the time of the garbage crisis I remember it felt like the streets belonged to my generation. The crisis also felt like it was a great metaphor for everything that was wrong about the country. It was not just an environmental disaster that transformed our city. It was all linked to political corruption.”

Into this world of activism Akl has thrown her fascination with family. In “Costa Brava,” that family consists of former political activists Walid (Saleh Bakri) and Souraya (Nadine Labaki) and their children Tala (Nadia Charbel) and Rim (Geana and Ceana Restom). Together they live a life of splendid isolation in the mountains overlooking Beirut, having escaped the city’s toxic pollution to enjoy an eco-conscious, self-sufficient existence. Living with this quirky, free-spirited family is Walid’s ageing mother, Zeina (Liliane Chacar Khoury). 




The film stars Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki. (Supplied)

However, their utopian dreams are shattered when the construction of an illegal landfill site on a hill bordering their property brings the country’s trash crisis to their doorstep. It is an act of environmental vandalism that will soon cause familial fault lines to appear.   

“I’ve always been obsessed with family and how, by observing the structure of a family, you can understand the cracks in a society,” says Akl, who co-wrote the film with Clara Roquet. “Growing up, I always thought that it was because of Lebanon that my parents were fighting. I was convinced that there was a relationship between the outside pressure that they felt and the fact that my parents had moments of vulnerability. So I wanted to make a movie about that friction. About how outside pressure in Lebanon leads to people not having the time to exist or to take care of themselves, which brings out our own demons because we’re always in a state of crisis.”

Filmed over 36 days in November and December last year and produced by Abbout Productions, “Costa Brava” had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September and won the NETPAC Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival soon after. It would go on to pick up the audience award at the BFI London Film Festival, but it was arguably in Egypt that the film began to gather serious momentum. The movie not only won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Debut Film at the El Gouna Film Festival earlier this month, but the inaugural El Gouna Green Star Award for sustainability. In doing so, it catapulted Akl and the film’s young stars into the regional spotlight.  

“It’s been a very heartwarming few months because I feel like we’ve been receiving a lot of open-hearted reactions from audiences,” says Akl, who cast her close friend, Yumna Marwan, as Walid’s sister Alia. “Being in London was quite emotional for me because not only was the room filled with an international audience that was very moved by the film, but also a lot of Lebanese expats who felt they really related to some of the struggles that the characters go through. And that’s something that has been very heartwarming — seeing how different people, whether in Venice, London, Toronto, or here in Egypt, react to the film. Because I feel that in each country people relate to a different character for different reasons.”

Much of the film’s success lies in its intimate portrayal of a family in crisis, but also in its two youngest and brightest stars. When Akl walked on stage to collect the first of the film’s two awards at El Gouna with Marwan and producer Myriam Sassine, it was the Restom sisters who stole the show. Seemingly unfazed by the cinematic spotlight, the twins were a highlight of the festival, with their charismatic and captivating portrayal of Rim (they took it in turns to play different scenes) integral to the film’s lovingly eccentric core.

“I remember seeing a video of this kid and I fell in love with her,” recalls Akl, who had already watched more than 100 other videos before casting the sisters. “Then the casting director told me there was another one and that they were twins. So I brought them both to the casting session thinking one of them would be Rim, but both of them were so great. Each of them had a trait of the character that the other didn’t. One of them was very emotional and hyper-empathetic and was like a 70-year-old person in a seven-year-old body. The other one was like this wild child Mowgli from ‘Jungle Book.’ So I divided the scenes between the two and it was a practical decision because one would get tired and we’d cast the other the next day.”

Filming was by no means easy. The August 4 explosion derailed the film’s production schedule and traumatized many in the crew, while the pandemic and the country’s deep economic crisis piled the challenges high. Such was Lebanon’s plight that the original idea of setting the film in a dystopian future was removed as reality caught up with the film’s production. In addition, green measures were implemented to create sustainability on set. That meant recycling, saving water and electricity, and reducing carbon emissions. It also meant utilizing special effects to create a landfill on an otherwise green mountainside. 

“I don’t think filmmakers should have messages in their films, but raise questions,” says Akl. “The most important thing for me is that some characters in this film are in agreement with each other that things need to change. That’s something that was important for me. Because when you believe you can change, then maybe there’s a bit of hope.”


Actress Kosar Ali hits British Fashion Awards red carpet

Actress Kosar Ali hits British Fashion Awards red carpet
Actress Kosar Ali wearing Richard Quinn at the 2021 British Fashion Awards. Getty images
Updated 30 November 2021

Actress Kosar Ali hits British Fashion Awards red carpet

Actress Kosar Ali hits British Fashion Awards red carpet

DUBAI: Some of fashion’s biggest names gathered on the steps of London’s Royal Albert Hall for the 2021 British Fashion Awards in truly spectacular style.

Presented by the British Fashion Council alongside TikTok, and hosted by US actor Billy Porter, the annual awards ceremony was not short of glamor and glitz.

Among the celebrity guests in attendance was British-Somali actress Kosar Ali, who made an entrance wrapped in a floral Richard Quinn fall 2021 ready-to-wear kaftan. The Bafta-nominated teen star of “Rocks” paired the look with a matching headwrap and black gloves.

Actress Kosar Ali wearing Richard Quinn at the 2021 British Fashion Awards. Getty images

Somali boxer Ramla Ali arrived on the red carpet looking elegant in a gold gown accessorized with matching gold hoop earrings.

Also at the awards ceremony was part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik who championed Arab talent by way of a white, form-fitting sequin gown from Kuwaiti couturier Yousef Al-Jasmi.

Fashion aside, the British Fashion Council’s usually glitzy annual awards honored a host of prominent industry names in somber style following the death of Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh on Nov. 28.

The 2021 ceremony saw Kim Jones win designer of the year for Dior Men and Fendi, and Tommy Hilfiger lauded with the outstanding achievement accolade.

Ramla Ali poses at the 2021 British Fashion Awards. Getty Images

Meanwhile, British designer Stella McCartney and editor-in-chief of British Vogue, Edward Enninful, were among 15 recognized as leaders of change.

But the event was overshadowed by the passing of Abloh, who died aged 41 after battling cancer for several years.

Louis Vuitton’s trailblazing head of menswear, and the first black artistic director at a major French luxury label, was also named a leader of change and eulogized throughout the evening.

A minute’s silence was observed at the beginning of the show in memory of the late founder of brand Off-White and DJ, before British actor Idris Elba recited the Maya Angelou poem, “When Great Trees Fall.”

US actress Demi Moore, Indian actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and British rapper Kano were among the presenters.

Nominees and winners were voted for by an international panel of industry experts of more than 1,000 people, with two general awards and four special recognition awards handed out alongside the 15 leaders of change gongs.


Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah
The film will close out the festival’s inaugural edition on Dec. 15 ahead of its theatrical release on the 24th. Supplied
Updated 29 November 2021

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

Star-studded Indian film ‘83’ to have world premiere during Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah

DUBAI: “’83,” a film directed by Indian filmmaker Kabir Khan will have its world premiere at the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival, set to take place from Dec. 16-15 in Jeddah.

The film will close out the festival’s inaugural edition on Dec. 15 ahead of its theatrical release on the 24th.

The premiere will be attended by cast and crew, including the director and Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, the captain of the 1983 World Cup-winning team, Kapil Dev, alongside Mohinder Amarnath, vice captain of the team and legendary cricketeer Kris Srikkanth.

“83” tells the true story of Indian athlete Kapil Dev (Singh) who led the country’s cricket team to its first-ever World Cup victory in 1983. Supplied

“I’m beyond excited to unveil “’83” at the Red Sea International Film Festival, the opening of cinemas in Saudi Arabia is a fantastic opportunity for filmmakers in India and across the world,” Khan said in a statement. “To go on this journey, and to bring the story to screen with legends, Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and cricket icon Kapil Dev was like winning the world cup for me.”

Starring Ranveer Singh, “83” tells the true story of Indian athlete Kapil Dev (Singh) who led the country’s cricket team to its first-ever World Cup victory in 1983 at the Lord’s Cricket Ground in London against the West Indies.  

According to a release, actors trained for months with the real cricketeers they were portraying in order to understand the nuances of the bat-and-ball game that originated in east England.

Edouard Waintrop, Artistic Director of the film festival said: “‘83 is such a monumental film that will capture the public imagination, in Jeddah and across the world. A true celebration of one of the greatest underdog stories in international sporting history, it continues to inspire generations of young people, and the incredible Hindi-language film is sure to do the same. We are thrilled to host the cast and crew, as well sporting icon Kapil Dev at the Red Sea International Film Festival for one of the most anticipated films of the year.”

 


Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh
Gigi Hadid was among the many people who paid tribute to the late designer on Instagram. File/Instagram
Updated 29 November 2021

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

Part-Arab models pay tribute to late fashion designer Virgil Abloh

DUBAI: Tributes from the Arab world, as well as part-Arab models, have poured in after it was announced on Sunday that Virgil Abloh, the US-Ghanaian founder of Off-White and the Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton, has died at 41.

He was privately battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma.

Despite his private battle with the illness, Abloh continued his creative pursuits. Earlier this month, he attended the opening of his retrospective exhibition “Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech,” in Doha. He was also due to present a runway show of his Spring 2022 collection in Miami for Art Basel.

Undeniably one of the most influential fashion designers of his era, the multi-hyphenate will also be remembered well beyond fashion, leaving a considerable impact on many people who had the opportunity to work with him or get to know him on a personal level.

Following the news of his death, a huge number of celebrities, fans and industry insiders took to social media to pay tribute to the designer.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

Bella Hadid wrote on Instagram: “I’m at a loss .. He was someone to everyone. That was the magic power he held. He made every person he came across feel special in whatever way he possibly could. Even when the world felt sad, he brought laughter and color and beauty. The way he made a positive impact on anything he touched, and always pushed for his culture/the world is the reason why he was an angel on earth and one to so many. The most beautiful warrior soul. I can’t believe this.”

She added: “You broke boundaries and made everything your own. You shared your love infinitely. The way your brain worked was beyond anything, and the way you did every single thing in life for your family, friends and for the better… We’re going to miss you a lot V. You really saw me and supported me on every level. As you did to so many of us. An ethereal light. You always inspired to keep pushing, work hard and be kind. No matter what. I’m thinking about, sending love and prayers to his beautiful Shannon, their kids, and the rest of the Abloh family. I’m devastated. You will be so missed and cherished V. FOR INFINITY… Fly high my Libra brother. I know you’re watching over the world now. I love you for life.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid)

Her older sister Gigi also took to the photo-sharing platform to pay homage to the designer, writing that she is “heartbroken by the loss of my dear friend and a friend to the world.”

She said: “He was 1 of 1. His kindness and energetic generosity left a lasting impression on every life he touched— he made everyone feel seen and special. He will be deeply missed, cherished and celebrated by me and all the people and industries that have been lucky enough to work around and know the true supernova behind this man. I picture him now like our Mickey Mouse... forever with us, forever adored, forever magical, forever guiding us with that special Virgil FUN; I’m sure that’s how he wanted to be remembered, but still it will never be the same without him in the room. You will continue to inspire me every day, V. I feel blessed and honored by every moment. Rest Easy, my friend. You are so loved. You were the difference. As we always said… ‘See you somewhere, soon’.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

Jordanian-Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, who was in Doha with Abloh for the Fashion Trust Arabia only a couple of weeks ago, revealed that she sat in shock for hours following the news.

“I love you Virg. I sat in shock for the past hours because we spoke yesterday. I simply can’t use the past tense to describe you. Extraordinary spirits like yours rarely bless this Earth. A man with a mission who gave hope, dreams and tools to succeed to an entire new generation,” she wrote on Instagram.

“I told someone recently ‘Virgil is great…at everything.’ Because I don’t know how else to describe someone as multi-hyphenate, kind, talented, hard-working, humble, sweet and inspirational as you are. We were working on giving the world a project, we were having fun. Nobody made me want to dance like you. You’re probably redesigning the gates of Heaven right now. I’m praying for your family. Rest in Power King.”

Also honoring the late designer was part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik who reposted the news of Abloh’s passing on her Instagram Stories and captioned it: “My heart. Rest easy Virgil,” alongside the broken-hearted and dove emojis.

“Shocked and heartbroken,” said Lebanese model and humanitarian Jessica Kahawaty. “We just saw you in Qatar. No one knows the battles people fight behind closed doors. May you Rest In Peace.”

Lebanese fashion influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen also took the opportunity to remember Abloh by reposting one of his quotes on her Instagram Stories that read: “Life is so short you can’t even waste a day subscribing to what someone thinks you can do versus knowing what you can do.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by @virgilabloh

“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend,” said a statement on his Instagram account posted on Sunday. “He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues.

“He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture,” the statement reads. “Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered. Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, “Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,” believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.”


Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai
Lindsay Lohan and Bader Shammas are engaged. File/Instagram
Updated 28 November 2021

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

Actress Lindsay Lohan gets engaged to financier Bader Shammas in Dubai

DUBAI: Congratulations are in order for Lindsay Lohan. The Dubai-based actress has just announced her engagement to her partner Bader Shammas.

The Hollywood star shared the news with her 9.7 million Instagram followers, posting a series of coupled-up snaps that showed off her diamond engagement ring.

Lohan, 35, wrote: “My love. My life. My family. My future.”

The actress and financier were first spotted together at a music festival in Dubai shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020.

In May 2020 The “Mean Girls” star’s mother Dina Lohan spoke of Shammas, saying: “Lindsay is dating a wonderful guy right now, but that’s neither here nor there. When she’s ready to talk about her personal life, she will.”

Lohan was previously engaged to Russian businessman Egor Tarabasov but the pair split in 2016.

In addition to planning a wedding, the actress has plenty to look forward to.

The “Freaky Friday” star, who made a return to acting, is currently filming a new project for Netflix. The movie is untitled at the moment but is a Christmas romantic comedy, in which Lohan stars as a “spoiled hotel heiress” with amnesia. The upcoming film is expected to release in 2022.

She also recently inked a deal for a new podcast which, she told Deadline, will give listeners “a chance to experience a never-before-seen side” of her and will “share her authentic voice.


What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy
Updated 28 November 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

What We Are Reading Today: The Lessons of Tragedy

Authors: Hal Brands and Charles Edel

Today, after more than seventy years of great‑power peace and a quarter‑century of unrivaled global leadership, Americans have lost their sense of tragedy. They have forgotten that the descent into violence and war has been all too common throughout human history. This amnesia has become most pronounced just as Americans and the global order they created are coming under graver threat than at any time in decades.
In this book, Hal Brands and Charles Edel argue that a tragic sensibility is necessary if America and its allies are to address the dangers that menace the international order today, according to a review on goodreads.com.