DUBAI: Since its inception, only 11 Arab films have been nominated for the Best International Feature Film – formerly known as the Best Foreign Language Film – at the Oscars.
But now, there has been an explosion of Arab films emerging from the Middle East and North Africa that highlight the region’s diversity and creativity.
At the Academy Awards, set to take place on March 27 2022, a handful of Arab films have been submitted to contend in the Best International Feature Film category. The films hail from across MENA territories, from Saudi Arabia and Lebanon to Algeria and Morocco.
With a little over two months left before the five candidates for Best International Feature Film are announced in February, read on for all of the Arab films vying for an Oscar at the 94th Academy Awards.
“The Tambour of Retribution” (Saudi Arabia)
Saudi director Abdulaziz Al-Shallahi’s film tells the coming of age of Dyle, son of Sayyaf, who refuses to take over his father’s profession: An executioner. The feature film was chosen by the Saudi Film Commission, and was nominated by the Saudi Academy Awards Committee.
Directed by Egyptian filmmaker Ayten Amin, this drama explores how social media affects the lives of young girls approaching adulthood.
Directed by Mohamed Diab (“Clash”, “678”) the film revolves around Amira, a 17-year-old Palestinian who has lived her life believing she was conceived with the smuggled bodily fluid of a Palestinian prisoner serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail.
“Casablanca Beats” (Morocco)
The film 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.
“The Stranger” (Palestine)
Palestinian director Ameer Fakher Eldin’s debut feature is about an unlicensed doctor who encounters a wounded man in the war in Syria.
The Djafer Gacem-directed 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.
“Golden Butterfly” (Tunisia)
Directed by Tunisian filmmaker Abdelhamid Bouchnak, this drama tells the story of Moez, a policeman who meets a little boy with whom he embarks on a journey that is part fantasy and part reality.
Local mercenaries are ruthlessly hunting down migrants at the Turkish-Bulgarian border in Iraqi director Haider Rashid’s drama, which is the country’s first Oscar submission in two years.
“Costa Brava, Lebanon” (Lebanon)
Director Mounia Akl’s impassioned debut starring actors Nadine Labaki and Saleh Bakri is set amid a raging climate crisis in near-future Lebanon.
Lebanese-Australian model Jessica Kahawaty explores Saudi Arabia
Updated 05 December 2021
DUBAI: Australian-Lebanese model, entrepreneur and influencer Jessica Kahawaty is treating her one million Instagram fans to a tour of Saudi Arabia.
This week, the model hopped between Riyadh and Jeddah, with a pitstop in the Saudi desert, for a number of events.
She hit the ground running in Riyadh with a visit to the Times Square entertainment destination in the capital and stopped off at the Echo Beauty department store and the We Cre8 department store in The Boulevard.
“Riyadh. Wow. What a welcome. Thank you #VedaHolding a pioneer in entrepreneurship in concepts like @wecre8.sa and @echobeauty.sa, for your hospitality and thank you to the people of Riyadh who found me in a quick and quiet visit to Times Square late last night after the desert and gave me the funnest welcome ever!!! Can’t wait for what’s to come soon Saudi (sic),” Kahawaty posted on Instagram alongside a carousel of images and videos of her visit.
For the occasion, she showed off a dazzling pink dress by Miu Miu.
Before her 3 a.m. trip to the mall, Kahawaty enjoyed a traditional dinner in the desert and shared a cozy-looking carousel of photos in which she can be seen enjoying kabsa in a desert camp complete with a roaring fire.
In Jeddah, Kahawaty received a warm welcome as she arrived to stay with Saudi designer Arwa Al-Banawi before the pair enjoyed a spread of pastries and homemade goodies.
When she’s not jetting around the world, the Dubai-based 32-year-old can be found setting up charitable endeavors — evidenced most recently in her online fundraiser to support those struggling in Lebanon amid the country’s shortage of fuel, medical supplies and food in August.
“My name is Jessica Kahawaty and I, like many Lebanese expats, feel helpless watching my country and people drown in despair,” she wrote at the time.
Kahawaty said that money raised was distributed among nonprofit organizations that she personally vetted, individual families and students.
Review: Final episodes of ‘Money Heist’ are emotional and action-packed
Updated 04 December 2021
CHENNAI: A runaway hit, the last five episodes of Spanish series “Money Heist,” created by Alex Pina, were just released on Netflix to international fanfare.
Readers be warned, this review contains spoilers for the first part of season five, which was released three months ago.
Audiences were left on a cliff hanger, with the shocking death of Tokyo (Ursula Corbero) and the emotional run continues in the second part of the season, with the Professor (played by Alvaro Morte) displaying heightened sadness, triumph and nerves in the final episode.
With Tokyo’s death, the Professor is shattered and loses his grip on the situation, which opens him up to risks from all angles. Of particular interest is the developing relationship between detective Alicia Sierra (Najwa Nimri) and the Professor, all with Sierra’s newborn baby in tow. Featuring a newborn innocent in the heady mix of precarious action ups the ante and introduces a heightened level of risk for audiences who will no doubt watch with bated breath.
In the final episodes, the Professor also sees his reasoning questioned by some members of the gang, including Rio (Miguel Herran) who harbors doubts about the morality of stealing gold from the country’s reserves.
On the opposing side, Colonel Tamayo (Fernando Cayo) lost many of his men when he attempted to storm the bank, but is undeterred. He has made his life's mission to get the Professor and his group down on their knees and will stoop low to achieve this, as we come to see.
“Money Heist” is gripping to the core, and we are so taken in by what is happening on screen that we are willing not only to forgive the misdeeds of the robbers, but also cheer them on. The emotional notes in the final episodes make it all the more magnetically appealing, and allow audiences to wave off the artistic liberties taken by the director with regards to some of the less than believable scenes.
A particularly noteworthy focus of the latest run is Berlin (Pedro Alonso), whose life is revealed through flashbacks that make up a marvelous character study.
Audiences will be relieved to find a lot of questions are answered, and due the way it ends this global phenomenon is sure to be remembered for a long time.
DUBAI: Friends and fans flooded US-Iraqi beauty mogul Mona Kattan’s Instagram account on Saturday, after the Huda Beauty global president announced her engagement to Dubai-based businessman Hassan El-Amin.
“Forever Ever,” Kattan captioned a carousel of images posted late on Friday night, showing the Kayali fragrance founder posing with a diamond ring on her finger and alongside her soon-to-be husband.
Influencers, beauty entrepreneurs and celebrities took to Kattan’s comments section to send their well wishes.
A post shared by Mona Kattan (@monakattan“Congrats baby, (you) deserve the world,” doctor and influencer Sarah Al-Madani commented, while Faryal Makhdoom, wife of British boxing star Amir Khan, wrote “congrats cutie.”
According to El-Amin’s LinkedIn account, he is the head of facultative at Middle East and Africa at Aon Reinsurance Solutions and relocated to Dubai after studying at Cass Business School in London and graduating with a Masters of Science.
It seems Kattan’s new fiancé is as family-focused as she is — he even runs an Instagram account together with his two siblings called @the.elamins.
The siblings feature heavily in the carousel of images shared by Kattan, with snaps including both Sally and Ahmed El-Amin.
With a background in graphic design and illustrating, Sally boasts a portfolio of clients that includes Huda Beauty, leading some to speculate that she could be the link between the loved-up couple.
The good news tops off a busy year for Kattan, who, alongside her sister Huda, announced a number of new investments and initiatives in 2021.
In the summer, the sister duo announced Ketish as the first brand to be launched by Huda Beauty Angels — which falls under HB Investments, their venture capital firm. Ketish, a feminine care label, is spearheaded by Eman Abbass, a former Huda Beauty product developer.
Since then, Mona has focused heavily on the sisters’ fragrance range, Kayali, of which she is the founder and creative head.
The latest Kayali product was launched this week and is called Eden Juicy Apple — a “playful, vibrant and super juicy” scent that is based on “crisp and juicy red apples, sweet berries and fresh floral notes,” according to the brand.
In October, Kayali won the coveted Niche Product of the Year prize at the Beautyworld Middle East Awards for its Sweet Diamond Pink Pepper fragrance.
What We Are Reading Today: The Government of Emergency
Updated 04 December 2021
Authors: Stephen J. Collier & Andrew Lakoff
From pandemic disease, to the disasters associated with global warming, to cyberattacks, today we face an increasing array of catastrophic threats. It is striking that, despite the diversity of these threats, experts and officials approach them in common terms — as future events that threaten to disrupt the vital, vulnerable systems upon which modern life depends.
The Government of Emergency tells the story of how this now taken-for-granted way of understanding and managing emergencies arose. Amid the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, an array of experts and officials working in obscure government offices developed a new understanding of the nation as a complex of vital, vulnerable systems. They invented technical and administrative devices to mitigate the nation’s vulnerability, and organized a distinctive form of emergency government that would make it possible to prepare for and manage potentially catastrophic events.
Misk Art Week showcases artists from Saudi Arabia and international community
For its fifth year, Misk Art Institute’s annual event features several exhibitions exploring the nature of identity
Updated 03 December 2021
Rebecca Anne Proctor
RIYADH: Inside Riyadh’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall, multimedia artworks are displayed across the venue’s two floors on the theme of Takween, which means “form” in Arabic, and its relation to one’s identity.
As part of Misk Art Week’s fifth outing, taking place until Dec. 5, artists from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, North Africa and the wider international community present art that questions identity — specifically how an individual’s social, historical and cultural origins influence their past, present and future.
From video works produced with AI to paintings, textile-based art and installations, the art on show aims, according to the Misk Art Institute, to offer a “critical platform for the creative community,” fostering cultural dialogue and intellectual exchange.
As visitors enter the hall, they are confronted by two dark figures by Saudi artist Filwa Nazer, made of black polyethylene industrial netting and titled The Other is Another Body (2021). The figures seem to guard the vibrantly colored wool-weave tapestry work hanging on a wall between them, titled Palm (1985), by American artist Sheila Hicks.
The works are part of Here, Now, the third in a series of the Misk Art Institute’s annual flagship exhibition, curated this time by British writer and curator Sacha Craddock alongside Misk’s assistant curators, Nora Algosaibi and Alia Ahmad Al-Saud.
The show, which features a mix of emerging and established artists and runs until Jan. 30, 2022, is the first in the Saudi capital to present works by both Saudi and international artists, including ones by well-known Saudi artists such as Manal Al-Dowayan’s abstract black and white work, I am Here (2016), Ayman Yossri Daydban’s Tree House (2019), and Sami Ali AlHossein’s colorful abstract figurative works on canvas. There is also a painting by renowned Sudanese painter Salah Elmur titled The Angry Singer (2015) and delicate floral drawings by Korean artist Young In Hong dating to 2009.
While without an overarching narrative, the show prompts the spectator to question, like the exhibition’s title, “why here and why now?” It encourages the visitor to reflect on the artworks and the nature of identity in a reflective, personal and subjective manner.
Upstairs is Under Construction, an exhibition of Misk Art Grant recipients who hail this year from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria. The grant funds up to SR1 million ($266,632) and has been distributed among the nine participating artists and collectives.
Basma Al-Shathry, lead curator at Misk Art Institute, said: “This year’s Misk Art Grant exhibition, ‘Under Construction,’ explores how identity is perceived as an emblem of growth, continuity and endless iterations of cultural representation throughout history. It has been a delight to bring together artists and designers from both the Middle East and North Africa to address the theme as a process of development, repetition, distortion and incompleteness in a time of synthesis, understanding and promise for the future.”
The works on show also respond to the theme of identity while focusing on how identity can be perceived as a method for growth and renewal, as well as social and historical continuity, via the incorporation of cultural representations throughout history.
One of the most poignant works is by Emirati artist and designer Latifa Saeed’s Sand Room (2021), which presents an assembly of sand-encased glass panels in the form of a cube that one can enter to observe the desert sand sediments that she collected from construction sites around Dubai.
“My research and work is always about transformation, whether it be of a city or of one’s mentality,” Saeed told Arab News. “I began by building an archive of sand from Dubai because the sites from where I collected the sand we cannot visit anymore because they are now construction sites.
Saeed visited development sites in Dubai, and before the construction started she would collect sand from the area and label it accordingly. She now has more than 200 different types of sand from these areas.
“I am archiving, preserving and documenting the Dubai landscape, topography and the material itself,” she said.
Near to Saeed’s mesmerizing room of sand specimens is Emirati artist Afra Al-Dhaheri’s End of a School Braid (2021) — a large installation of twisted and backcombed off-white colored rope that hangs from the ceiling. In this piece Al-Dhaheri examines how hair can be seen as the keeper of memories, preserving not only time but cultural norms and heritage.
Bahraini artist Noor Alwan’s Sacred Spaces (2021), a series of hanging textile-based tapestry works, similarly seeks to preserve personal and collective memories. Growing up, she would watch her grandfather ritually draw hundreds of patterns on paper — a tradition that stemmed from his childhood and that immersed him in a meditative process of repetition. Alwan recalls his trance-like process of art creation and likens it to a shared Arab collective practice — with elements mirroring the mesmerizing geometric forms of Islamic art.
Moving into the rapidly developing digital landscape is an engaging work by Saudi artist Obaid Alsafi, titled Beyond Language (2021), in which a poem by the late revered Saudi poet Muhammad Al-Thubaiti Poetry (1952-2011), titled Salutation to the Master of the Arid Land, is transformed into a video work with sound via artificial intelligence. For the work, which captivates the viewer through its colorful abstract images — some seem like palm trees while others appear to be figures — Alsafi trained the AI through data collection and machine learning to understand poetry and produce visual representations of each verse with accompanying machine-made sound.
“The first form of art in the region and the way we connected with each other was through poetry,” Alsafi, an artist who studied computer science, told Arab News. “Al-Thubaiti, one of Saudi’s pioneer poets, changed the way that poetry was written and read. Everyone sees AI as robotic, but my vision, I want to see how we can make the machine more human so that it understands language, learn and develop artwork depending on the vision of the artist. I believe artists can use AI as a tool to develop their work.”
Lastly, there is the second iteration of works created in the Masaha residency program, located in the basement of the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Arts Hall.
The program, part of Misk Art Institute’s mission to support Saudi and international practitioners across the artistic disciplines in the research and production of new works via mentorship opportunities, can be viewed on the ground floor. Titled HOME: Being and Belonging, the works by 10 visual artists from the UK, Guatemala, Morocco, India, South Korea, and from across Saudi Arabia, examine questions of how an individual and collective sense of belonging and nostalgia for one’s culture and heritage stems from one’s socio-cultural and ethnic background. The works on show explore how our sense of belonging changes and transforms with time.
The residency offers international artists the opportunity to create work on site at Masaha over a three-month cycle. Many of the participating artists are showing their work for the first time in the Kingdom — demonstrating once again Misk Art Institute’s broader aims to expand Saudi Arabia’s cultural landscape through international creative dialogue.