ROME: A movie by Egyptian director Mohamed Diab was among the top award winners at the 27th edition of the prestigious MedFilm Festival in Rome.
The drama “Amira,” set to the background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, scooped the Amore and Psyche special gong, the Amnesty International human rights award, and also gained a special mention from a jury composed of Rome university students.
Forty-three-year-old Diab’s film tells the story of Amira, 17, and her search for identity. The Palestinian teenager’s world is turned upside down when she learns that the man she grew up idolizing was not her real father.
Meanwhile, the festival’s artistic expression award for best director went to Karim Ainouz, a Brazilian director with Algerian heritage, for “Mariner of the Mountains.” The film is based on a trip he took in January 2019 from Marseille to visit Algeria for the first time and follows an intimate journey through space and time.
A special award was given to Tunisian Leyla Bouzid for the flick “A Tale of love and Desire,” and the latter also secured the Valentina Pedicini award — given in memory of the Italian screenwriter and director who died last year — and the PiuCulture award.
The jury for the international short film competition — composed of 13 students from film schools in Mediterranean countries and three inmates of Rome’s Rebibbia prison — awarded the Methexis prize to Moroccan director Said Hamich’s “The Departure,” that was also crowned best short movie by the students.
Hamich’s drama focuses on the social impact of immigration, an issue rarely out of the headlines in Mediterranean countries.
The Cervantes Rome prize for the most creative short film went to “Holy Son” by French screenwriter Aliosha Massine. In it, the daily routines of a young couple are disrupted by some shocking news, with a strange dream appearing to herald a terrible and, at the same time, wonderful truth.
Special mentions were given to “Have a Nice Dog!,” by Syrian filmmaker Jalal Maghout, for the fantastic dialogue of a man trapped by the war in Damascus with his pet dog, and “Haut les Coeurs” by Adrian Moyse Dullin of France, a story about two teenager brothers who regularly humiliate one another on social media.
The MedFilm Festival, which draws to a close on Sunday, was opened with the screening of “A Tale of Love and Desire,” a story centered on 18-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin Ahmed’s love for Farah, a young Tunisian who has just arrived in Paris.
“The meeting with Farah crystallizes with the discovery of the ancient Arabic love poem and comes to question Ahmed about his identity,” Bouzid told a press conference.
Supermodel Irina Shayk has starring role in Saudi-Iraqi singer’s new music video
Updated 17 May 2022
DUBAI: Russian supermodel Irina Shayk got a starring role in Iraqi-Saudi singer Majid Al-Muhandis’ latest music video. The former Victoria’s Secret angel appeared in the Arab hitmaker’s clip for his newest song “Waareftek” (“I Knew You”) from his 2022 album of the same name. Shayk stars as the singer’s love interest in the five-minute-long clip, which he teased to his 2.4 million Instagram followers this week —and social media users can’t seem to get enough.
“We are in the timeline in which Irina Shayk stars in a Majid Al-Muhandis music video, and that’s impeccable,” wrote one user on Twitter.
Another Twitter user quipped: “Let’s take a break from politics. How old were you when you found out that an Iraqi singer named Majid Al-Muhandis made a video clip with the one and only Irina Shayk!?”
A month ago, Shayk took to Instagram to share a sneak peek of the unreleased music video by way of a still from the clip displayed on a video camera. “UAE for 24 hours,” she captioned the carousel of images, that also included a snap of an Emirates airline first class cabin and a behind-the-scenes snap of her on set.
The lyrics for “Waareftek” were written by the Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment in Saudi Arabia, Turki Al-Sheikh.
It is not the first time that the now-36-year-old model has starred in a music video.
Shayk famously appeared in rapper Kanye West’s music video for “Power” that was filmed 11 years ago.
In the footage released in the summer of 2010, Shayk is seen sitting on a throne in front of West as he raps.
Al-Muhandis and West are far from the first musicians to spice up their visuals with the addition of a runway star.
George Michael’s “Freedom! ‘90” featured the top supermodels of the noughties, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington lip-synching along to the ballad.
In 2015, Taylor Swift enlisted a supermodel girl gang that included Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne, Karlie Kloss, Martha Hunt and more to star in her “Bad Blood” video.
Exclusive: Netflix’s Tinder Swindler stars recount transformation from victim to inspiration for women
Norwegian-born Cecilie Fjellhoy and Stockholm native Pernilla Sjoholm to deliver special keynote address at Arab Women Forum
Defrauded by a con artist, they have hit back by speaking up about their experience of romance scams
Updated 17 May 2022
DUBAI: Just swipe left. At least that is what many an indecisive Tinder user may have found themselves doing after the notorious case of the dating app fraudster dubbed the “Tinder Swindler” came to light in an explosive Netflix docu-drama earlier this year.
Despite being defrauded by the conman, Norwegian TV personality Cecilie Fjellhoy and Swedish business owner Pernilla Sjoholm are hitting back by speaking up about their experience.
The women will appear during a special keynote address titled “When women fight back” at the Arab Women Forum, held in partnership with Arab News, at the Palazzo Versace Dubai on May 17.
“It was very traumatic,” Sjoholm told Arab News, reflecting on her experience ahead of Tuesday’s forum appearance. “It wasn’t only about the money you have lost. You have lost the way you viewed yourself, how you viewed everything.
“I used to think about fraud as: ‘Oh my God, who gets defrauded? You must be of lower intelligence or something.’ And I’m very embarrassed to say this today, because of what I lost.
“I was 31 years old, and it was not the way I would have imagined my life to be. To lose everything. You also lose your soul.”
Based on an expose by Verdens Gang, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper known under the abbreviation VG, the program unearthed the story of Israeli national Shimon Hayut, who allegedly posed on the dating app Tinder as Simon Leviev, claiming to be the son of a diamond mogul.
Hayut notoriously charmed women and persuaded them to loan him money, swindling an estimated $10 million from people across the globe.
According to reports, Hayut followed a pattern. After matching with unsuspecting women on Tinder, he would take them on a lavish first date and slowly build up a relationship, all the while dating other women.
Eventually, the fraudster would confide in them that a nefarious set of “enemies” were after him, persuading the women to send him money on the understanding that he would quickly pay them back.
After a nifty piece of counter-swindling by one woman, Ayleen Koeleman, who had been alerted to the con by the expose in VG, Hayut was arrested in 2019 and sentenced to 15 months in prison for fraud in Israel.
However, Hayut served only five months behind bars before being released. He has never been charged for crimes related to Fjellhoy and Sjoholm, and denies their claims of fraud.
And the story does not end there. In a shocking twist, Hayut is now pursuing a Hollywood career, while the women he targeted remain in debt to this day.
“We were very disappointed,” said Sjoholm. “Unfortunately, there is no extradition from Israel to Europe. So he’s still there.
“We don’t think that they handled this case properly and they should have. And, unfortunately, that is the way it happens in a lot of fraud cases. I mean, I just know the numbers in Sweden. They drop 96 percent of all the cases they get, because they have too much.”
Instead of consigning themselves to a life of victimhood, both Sjoholm and Fjellhoy are working to inspire women across the world to identify and fight back against romance scams.
“We have talked about a lot of the shame that surrounds fraud and I think that it’s so important to stand up and say that this could happen to anyone,” said Sjoholm.
“Because it’s so common that fraudsters get away with fraud due to people being scared of sharing their story. So I definitely know that we helped a lot of people and hopefully will help a lot of people in the future as well.”
According to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting center for fraud and cybercrime, the majority of victims of romance fraud are women. Sjoholm believes women are specifically targeted for their perceived emotional vulnerabilities.
“I think that we women are more emotional people,” she said. “These fraudsters work a lot with emotions, because it is a form of emotional abuse.”
The Tinder Swindler case has raised many questions about what responsibility dating apps ought to hold for romance scams and what more they could be doing to safeguard users.
“I don’t feel like there was a lot that the dating app could have done in our case,” said Fjellhoy, also speaking to Arab News ahead of the forum.
“I feel like just doing proper identity checks so you can’t catfish someone, for example. We see that they have some, but I feel like fraud is much larger than just what happens on the dating app. They take you away from the dating app. It’s just one avenue of many that fraudsters are using.”
Beyond dating apps tightening their safeguards, there have also been calls to improve awareness in schools so that young people are better equipped to spot catfishing — the use of fake accounts to lure victims — and romance scams.
“If you’re going to educate young people, maybe teach them more about what kind of different people exist in the world,” said Fjellhoy.
“There are some people that don’t have empathy, there are psychopaths and narcissists who will take advantage of your empathy and those types of things. But I think it’s important to not put too much emphasis on us as victims as well.”
Indeed, there is a danger of victim blaming if the responsibility for spotting scammers is placed on users, when the onus ought to be on clamping down on fraudsters.
“We didn’t do anything wrong here,” said Fjellhoy. “And fraud will always happen. But, when fraud happens, how do we, as a society, talk about how to stop it?”
Nevertheless, there are several red flags that dating app users can look out for, says Sjoholm, including “love bombing” — the practice of lavishing someone with attention or affection with a view to influence or manipulate them.
However, Sjoholm believes that the very nature of social media makes it difficult to determine the truth about someone. “When it comes to social media, it is entirely about everyone wanting to show off their best side,” she said.
“Everyone wants to show off the good parts. When it comes to social media, I would say that 95 percent is just fraud in general.”
The mental health repercussions of romance fraud cannot be understated, as victims grapple with both the financial fallout and intense feelings of shame. “Regarding how your mental health is when you realize you’ve been defrauded, I think, for me, why I felt so low that I ended up in a psychiatric ward is that no one took you seriously,” said Fjellhoy.
“And I feel like, for example, you go to the police and they just brush you off. And I tried to contact the banks and they told me: ‘Well, you still need to pay down the loans.’ And you’re still mentally low. It’s double — emotional and economic. You see no way out.”
As a result of her ordeal, Fjellhoy established the Action Reaction Foundation to focus on the mental health challenges of survivors and to lobby for stronger laws as well as policies to protect victims.
One of the lasting effects of the ordeal is an inability to trust others easily. “I’m still having trouble with trust,” said Sjoholm.
“I have more good days than I have bad days. But even on my good days, when someone does something very nice toward me, I can sometimes feel like there’s an agenda behind it. That someone is there to hurt me.
“I can still socialize. I can meet new people, but I’m having a very hard time to really talk to people. I don’t want to take away trust. You should be trusting people, you should be helping people, because that is what makes this world better. But, of course, this has been a tremendous trauma.”
For Fjellhoy, it is also about having trust in the system to protect victims and take their claims seriously.
“That the police will be there to protect you, that if you go to the bank, and you’re saying you’re being defrauded, you can get some peace and quiet to figure things out, that they will give that to us,” said Fjellhoy.
“Just so many things that could have made everything that happened afterward much easier, which would have made the fight easier.”
For others who have fallen victim to romance scams, Fjellhoy’s advice is to speak up.
“Please report it to the police, no matter what,” she said. “We know that it hasn’t gone our way. But they need to know about all cases so they can see how big it actually is.
‘Oussekine’: An immensely sad story of racist brutality
Updated 16 May 2022
CHENNAI: Antoine Chevrollier’s four-part miniseries, “Oussekine,” is a dramatization of a ghastly event that happened one night in the center of Paris.
Malik Oussekine, barely into his twenties, meets a terrible end when policemen on motorcycles chase him into a building and brutally beat him to death. He had no criminal record, no political affiliations or sympathies. But he was an Algerian Muslim.
The series follows the Oussekine family, of a mother and her five children, who had left Algeria and made France their home, soon becoming citizens. They are proud and happy to be French, but are never allowed to forget that they are from another country.
The first episode of “Oussekine” begins on the evening of Dec. 5, 1986. While students are demonstrating on the streets of Paris against the Devaquet law, Malik Oussekine (Sayyid El Alami) is watching a concert by Nina Simone in Saint-Germain-des-Pres. He is excited about it, and before leaving home gently refuses to have the potato wedges his mother, Aicha (Hiam Abbass), has made. He says he would be late for the event and rushes out.
Post-concert, he is walking back home, happy about the entire evening, when he finds himself chased by police officers on motorcycles. He runs away and takes refuge inside a building, but a couple of men in uniform get inside and brutally beat him. Later as the episodes unfold, we learn all about the disillusionment, frustration and anger that are rampant in the force. And Malik was an unfortunate victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The death is revealed in layers over the episodes, each about 60 minutes. Chevrollier packs in enough surprises to keep us glued to our TV sets, but the series does have its weak moments, giving us a feeling that it is not flowing as easily as it ought to be with some flashbacks appearing a bit confusing. The courtroom scenes are often listless, the only dramatic high coming from Malik’s sister, Sarah (Mouna Soualem), who at one point tells the two accused police officers not to dare look her in the eye. Some of the retorts made by the lawyer for the Oussekine family, Georges Kiejman (Kad Merad), are pointed and damning. Is this country not founded on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, he asks.
While Malik’s other siblings, Mohamed, Benamar and Fatna, make little or no impression, it is Sarah who is unforgiving. “Why are the accused not in handcuffs?” she questions the lawyer. Closest to her brother, she is as devastated as her mother, and the two actresses brilliantly convey a sense of immense sadness and helplessness.
Yet, the series does not moralize. Rather, it reminds us that life must continue. Acceptance is perhaps the greatest balm.
British-Moroccan model Nora Attal is Tiffany & Co.’s newest campaign star
Updated 16 May 2022
DUBAI: Luxury jewelry house Tiffany & Co. teamed up with British-Moroccan model Nora Attal for its striking Elsa Peretti Bean Designs collection lensed by fashion photographer Sharif Hamza. In charge of creative direction was Ruba Abu-Nimah.
In the campaign video and photos, Attal is seen wearing dramatic statement pieces from the luxury jewelry brand’s latest offering designed by the late Italian jewelry designer whose creations for Tiffany & Co. are showcased in the collections of several art institutions, including the 20th century collection of the British Museum.
Attal dons hand-carved green jade and 18k gold necklaces and bean-shaped pendants adorned with silk cords, nets and tassels handwoven by artisans in Japan.
Peretti, who died in 2021, created her famous Bean design for Tiffany & Co. in 1974 during her first few years with the house. The jeweler saw the bean, a seed, as a symbol of life’s origins. Over the years, the bean motif has been reimagined at Tiffany & Co., from pendants and clutches to earrings, bracelets and other accessories.
Speaking about the collection, Alexandre Arnault, executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany & Co., said “Elsa Peretti’s legacy in the world of design and fashion cannot be overstated. The reintroduction of Peretti’s ‘Bean’ designs allows us to honor her creative influence using the same materials and forms that you see throughout her design vocabulary to expand on one of her most celebrated collections.”
First photos of Lyna Khoudri in upcoming drama ‘Nos Frangins’ unveiled
Updated 15 May 2022
DUBAI: French film distribution company Le Pacte has unveiled the first look at “Nos Frangins,” or “Our Brothers,” starring French-Algerian actress Lyna Khoudri, ahead of its global premiere at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.
The hotly anticipated new film by three time Oscar-nominated director Rachid Bouchareb is launching in the Cannes Première section and tells the harrowing true story of French-Algerian student Malik Oussekine, who died in police custody in 1986, following several weeks of student protests against a university reform bill.
Khoudri stars in the film alongside a stellar cast that includes fellow French-Algerian actor Reda Kateb, Raphael Personnaz, Samir Guesmi and newcomer Adam Amara.
In the photos, the Algeria-born actress is pictured walking down the street alongside Kateb.
It is not yet known what role the 29-year-old is playing.
It is not the first time that Oussekine’s tragic tale has been adapted for the big screen. The 1995 French film “La Haine,” starring Vincent Cassel, Hubert Koundé and Saïd Taghmaoui, was largely inspired by the case of the 22-year-old student protester who died after being badly beaten by riot police after a mass demonstration in 1986, which he did not take part in.
The story is also being examined in “Oussekine,” a Disney+ series directed by Antoine Chevrollier that follows his family’s fight for justice.
Khoudri made her Cannes Film Festival debut last year during the premiere of Wes Anderson’s 2021 comedy “The French Dispatch” in July.
She is part of an ever-growing list of Arab stars working their way up the Hollywood ladder.
The Venice Film Festival Orizzonti prize winner is set to star in French-Algerian director Mounia Meddour’s new drama “Houria,” and most recently appeared in the period drama “La Place D’Une Autre” and “Haute Couture.”
She is also set to appear in a new two-part adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic French novel “The Three Musketeers,” in which she will star opposite Francois Civil as his love interest Constance D’Artagnan, formerly Bonacieux. In addition, Khoudri is shooting “Novembre,” a Cedric Jimenez-directed thriller about the French anti-terrorism services during the hunt for suspects after the 2015 Paris attacks.