Saudi Arabia lifts the curtain on the future of film

Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 07 December 2021

Saudi Arabia lifts the curtain on the future of film

Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
  • Saudi festival-goers are donning VR headsets for a cinema experience like no other

JEDDAH: Ever wondered what the future of storytelling looks like?

Saudi audiences are about to find out, thanks to Red Sea: Immersive, a program of virtual reality experiences organized as part of the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival, which is running until Dec. 15 at Jeddah’s newly opened creative complex Hayy Jameel.

Audiences will don virtual reality headsets and step into the shoes of a character as they journey through a 360-degree story world that draws on the skills of theater directors, filmmakers and architects — and even gamers.

Red Sea: Immersive features a selection from award-winning international artists and directors that will appeal to all types of audiences, with documentaries, animations and interactive narratives, as well as games, art and virtual world explorations.




Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Hayy Jameel, which includes galleries, art and design studios and the Kingdom’s first arthouse cinema, is an ideal venue for the VR program.

In collaboration with Art Jameel, Red Sea: Immersive will showcase 21 programs, including ground-breaking VR works produced in 2021 by directors and artists from the UK, France, Taiwan, the US, Germany and Denmark.

A competition for the Golden Yusr Immersive Award, including a cash prize of $10,000, will be judged by an all-female jury led by US multimedia artist Laurie Anderson.

Liz Rosenthal, curator of Red Sea: Immersive, told Arab News that the program aims to show Saudi directors, artists, illustrators and audiences that virtual reality is a unique new platform to create stories, produce art and build story worlds.

“The program will be inspiring because it’s really about using new tools to tell stories. So, I’m really hoping the selection that we show is going to be an inspiration to artists,” Rosenthal, who also curated Venice VR at the Venice International Film Festival, said.

While people in Saudi Arabia are familiar with flat-screen media, such as film, television and social media, “the 360 VR experience will give them a chance to visit new worlds,” she said.

“I’m really excited about showing them emotions, stories and how you can enter into a story world in a 360-degree spatial way. It’s powerful,” Rosenthal said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Audiences will don virtual reality headsets and step into the shoes of a character as they journey through a 360-degree story world that draws on the skills of theater directors, filmmakers and architects — and even gamers.

• Red Sea: Immersive features a selection from award-winning international artists and directors that will appeal to all types of audiences.

The VR experiences include “Anandala,” “End of Night,” “Genesis,” “Glimpse,” “Goliath: Playing with Reality,” “Kusunda,” “Laika,” “Lavrynthos,” “Le Bal De Paris De Blanca Li,” “Marco and Polo Go Round,” “Reeducated,” “Samsara (Lun Hui),” and “The Sick Rose.”

VR projects are very different to filmmaking, Rosenthal said.

“Filmmaking is about the flat screen. It’s about a director and an editor, deciding where you cut each scene, whether there’s a long shot or a wide shot, or a close-up. But in VR there’s agency for the viewer because you’re in a 360-degree environment, and can interact with characters and the story. It is a very different medium to filmmaking.”

She added: “It involves many different disciplines, and so filmmaking is a very important part of it, but it’s going to be exciting how filmmakers work with other people from other disciplines to create these experiences.”

Each experience features an artificial world and various formats such as animation, documentaries, love stories, abstract art, and journeys through place, time and emotions.

Viewers in some experiences can become involved in real-time performance, using game engine controllers to play an interactive role in helping a character.

Rosenthal said: “Red Sea: Immersive has selected the best virtual reality projects of the past two years. I’ve done a competition section with 13 projects, but I also wanted to show that there are many different genres and subject matters that can be covered with virtual reality tools. So, it’s really a wide selection.”

She added: “I selected around eight other experiences that were produced in 2020. And there are some of my favorite experiences that have been shown and won awards at different festivals. But the competition section is all about the projects that have been produced in 2021. So, we have, for example, three projects that were the main award winners at the Venice Film Festival.”

According to Rosenthal, using a technology such as VR requires skills in a range of areas, such as games design, architecture and spatial design.

The real-time interaction experience “Glimpse” is a collaboration between a game designer and a film director.

“Benjamin Cleary, the director of ‘Glimpse,’ has previously won an Oscar for a short film, while his co-director, Michael O’Connor, is more involved in the games world and used to work at Sega, the video-game company. So, you need a knowledge of game engines, and you need to be able to direct and tell the story like a filmmaker,” Rosenthal said.

“We hope that this is going to be an inspiration to different creators, storytellers and filmmakers. But what’s really new about virtual reality is that it really brings together different artistic mediums,” she added.

The Hayy Jameel venue has 14 booths where the audience can book a one-hour slot to watch any of the 21 projects. Longer bookings to cover most of the projects are also available.

The inaugural edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival will support emerging talents and bring the best in Arab and world cinema to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jeddah Old Town until Dec. 15, 2021.

 


Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show
Updated 28 January 2022

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

RIYADH: Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana staged its Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections on Thursday against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla.

The heritage site, situated in the northeast of the Kingdom, played host to the fashion house’s haute couture. 

The models walked the runway in luxurious gowns in almost every color you could think of, from vibrant gold — that blended smoothly with the historical location — to eye-catching hot-pink designs.

The show launched with a voluminous princess-inspired dress. Italian duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana embellished rich fabrics such as duchesse satin, velvet, organza and chiffon with sequins and beads. 

The collection also featured glitzy designs for men.   

The fashion show took place alongside the Ikmah Fashion Cavalry Show, which was conceived and produced by Balich Wonder Studio. It wowed guests with a full parade of 12 Arabian horses sporting customized horse accessories and attire.

High-end jewelry is also part of the AlUla Moments festival season.

The event featured fashion bloggers and entrepreneurs from around the region, including Emirati host and actress Mahira Abdel Aziz, Saudi fashion designer Tamaraah Al-Gabaani, Saudi author Marriam Mossalli, fashion stylist Hala Al-Harithy and social media influencer Lama Alakeel.

Each of the celebrities took to Instagram to share clips from the show with their thousands of followers. “What an amazing experience,” wrote Mossalli on the social media app following the event. 

Dolce & Gabbana will also exhibit its one-of-a-kind collection in Maraya, the famed mirrored structure. The exhibition will be open to the public from Jan. 28- 31. Not only will guests have the opportunity to visit the exclusive space but they will also have the chance to be fitted by the Italian label’s master tailer and shop pieces from the collection.

The designer duo presented their label’s Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections in Venice in August. Meanwhile, in 2020, the fashion house unveiled their Alta Moda couture offerings via a digital show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’
Updated 28 January 2022

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

DUBAI: A haunting piano melody blends seamlessly with rhythmic beats and Arabic rap on the new single “See Beyond” — a collaboration between Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad and music and theater production duo Sisters Grimm.

The song, released last week, celebrates diversity and peaceful co-existence, according to its creators.

“Initially the song was supposed to be classical and theatrical, (but then we brought in) the flavor of the Egyptian streets. The rap was in sync with the energy of the diversity we see around us,” says Gad. “It’s been a crazy project, I loved it.”

Sister Grimm — composer and painter Ella Spira and ballerina Pietra De Mello Pittman — are based in the UK and the UAE, and “See Beyond” was recorded in their studio in Dubai. The song, co-written by Gad and Spira, urges people to look beyond cultural boundaries and accept everyone’s individuality.

The accompanying video features excerpts from Sister Grimm’s film “Daughters of the Wind,” in which Pittman portrays a modern Emirati woman in a ballet performance which is the perfect foil to Gad’s high-energy rap.

“Every element of the song happened so organically that it blossomed like a bud,” says Spira. “The recording happened as we wrote it together in our creative studio space. The filming process followed a similar route. I think that is why the piece has that fresh raw edge.”

One of the objectives for the artists was to break down barriers around cultural conflicts and bridge the gap between Western and Arabic music. The video shows the protagonist’s place of work, and how she battles with her colleagues — fighting to gain respect for her ideas.

“We wanted to show that we can find a way to coexist and recognize our differences. Through ‘See Beyond’ we also hope to play a part in (preparing the ground) for more international art to be produced here. There is great potential for artists and art produced across the Middle East to (seep) into the global music and art scenes more prominently,” says Pittman.


Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
Updated 28 January 2022

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
  • Ramallah Art Fair runs until February 15

Saher Nassar — ‘The Eternal’

Nassar worked as an illustrator and graphic designer before starting his career as an artist, and those influences remain clear in his work, particularly in his pop-art pieces. In “The Eternal,” Nassar represents the iconic symbol of Palestine, Handala. Originally created by the late political cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, Handala is a 10-year-old boy, usually pictured from behind, with his arms crossed behind his back. The image has grown to be a widely used representative of Palestine and its people, symbolizing resistance to — and rejection of — the occupation. Nassar, however, tackles it somewhat differently, with a knowing twist.

Alaa Attoun — ‘Scene 1’

In the works he has provided for this show, Attoun moves away from the emotionally charged hyperrealist pencil drawings for which he is arguably best known into performance photography — which seems in many ways like a natural progression. For this series, titled “Scene,” Attoun visited three locations in Jerusalem where Palestinian families have been displaced from their homes to stage his surreal, theatrical shots.

Alaa Albaba — ‘The Camp III’

Albaba is well-known for works depicting the lives of refugees and refugee camps. For example, the show brochure explains: “During his residency in Borj Alshamali Refugee Camp in Lebanon, he produced sketches and murals about the Houla massacre in Syria based on real stories.” And his Fish Path project consisted of 18 murals in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan which used fish “as a representation of Palestinian refugees who are longing to return to their villages next to the sea.” Albaba resides in the Alamari Refugee Camp in Ramallah, where he has established an artist’s studio. His work for this show focuses on that camp’s sprawl, and contrasts it with the modern residential and commercial areas that surround it.

Fouad Agbaria — ‘Resisting Decomposition III’

The Palestinian landscape is “the most prominent theme in this show,” according to organizers Zawyeh Gallery. Fouad Agbaria’s impressionistic series “Resisting Decomposition” is just one example, and the works also tackle another prominent theme, resistance, through symbols including the cactus and the olive tree. Using such plants also references the deep-rooted connection that so many Palestinians have to their homeland.

Khaled Hourani — ‘Manaakh’

Hourani — a native of Hebron — is a well-respected figure in the Palestinian art scene, for his work as a curator and writer as well as for his award-winning art. As a former general director of the Fine Arts Department in the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, his inclusion in the art fair shows the organizer’s commitment to including up-and-coming artists alongside their more-established counterparts. In “Manaakh,” the brochure explains, Hourani “wanted to highlight the threat of global warming” and “showcases the world hanging by a thread, mimicking the fragility of a Christmas ornament.”

Ruba Salameh – ‘Creatures of Regression II’

Salameh was born in Nazareth in 1985. Throughout her career, she has used a variety of mediums to address “questions of land, geographies, displacement, nationalism and in-between temporalities in an attempt to contemplate … daily life, which in many cases leads to a state of dystopia, using cynicism and irony as tools.” Her “Creatures of Regression” series, from which this work is taken, is “inspired by her psychoanalytic observation on children’s behavior, (particularly) displaying jealousy towards younger siblings,” the organizers say.


Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
Updated 27 January 2022

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
  • Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations
  • Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities

CAIRO: The 53rd Cairo International Book Fair kicked off on Thursday, with Greece the guest of honor and 1,063 Egyptian, Arab and foreign publishers and agencies from 51 countries taking part.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly inaugurated the exhibition, which will continue until Feb. 7 under the slogan “Egypt’s identity: Culture and the question of the future.”

The late writer Yahya Haqqi is the main personality of this year’s book fair, which comprises five halls and 879 pavilions, and includes discussion sessions and workshops. 

Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities.

Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts said more than 600 books and publications by Algerian publishing houses are featuring in the exhibition, as are seven writers and poets.

Oman is participating with publications aimed at introducing the country’s culture and highlighting its intellectual production.

The exhibition has a hall dedicated to children’s books and activities, with the works of the late author, translator and publisher Abdel Tawab Youssef at the fore.

The Arab Publishers Association will hold its general assembly on the sidelines of the fair on Sunday, including the election of a new board of directors.

The exhibition had earlier announced the creation of an award for best Arab publisher, and the raising of the financial value of its annual awards in the fields of story, novel, poetry, literary criticism and human studies.


Grace Kelly's granddaughter appears on horseback for Chanel

Grace Kelly's granddaughter appears on horseback for Chanel
Charlotte Casiraghi, the granddaughter of Princess Grace Kelly, appear atop an actual racing horse. Getty
Updated 27 January 2022

Grace Kelly's granddaughter appears on horseback for Chanel

Grace Kelly's granddaughter appears on horseback for Chanel

PARIS: Huge spinning wheels, “floating” wooden blocks and suspended geometric shapes hovered over a surreal mini golf course Tuesday at Chanel’s remarkable couture show.
Even Pharrell Williams, who is no stranger to elaborate sets, had to take a moment to take stock, before posing beside a white, three-meter (yard) tire.
This sublime, avant-garde decor was the work of Xavier Veilhan and marked the first time in its history that Chanel has entrusted a contemporary artist for staging.
The equestrian photos handed out to guests as they filtered in were a hint of what was to come. But no one quite expected Charlotte Casiraghi, the daughter of Caroline of Monaco and the granddaughter of Princess Grace Kelly, to appear out of nowhere atop an actual racing horse.

Getty Images

The beautiful beast and its VIP rider, in a black Chanel tweed sequined jacket of course, began the show to a symphony of gasps and clopping hooves around the Grand Palais Ephemere’s auditorium as celebrity guests snapped pictures.
The horse seemed to enjoy its 15 minutes of fame, trotting by with ease, snaking in and out of the 1920s and 30s constructivist installations and by sand and imitation grass, before breaking out into a canter around the set.
Virginie Viard, Chanel's designer, said the art backdrop was not just decor, but the collection’s creative starting block.
“These geometric shapes made me want contrasts, a great lightness and a lot of freshness: ethereal dresses that float as if suspended,” she said.
Thus Chanel produced a relatively pared down aesthetic for spring with matching tweeds, minimalist touches, clean curved peplums and lots of white. A split leg on heavy three-quarter length skirts was this season’s big theme, creating a silhouette with lots of swag as the models walked.
A pink tweed jacket with white stripes possessed beautiful loose proportions, which perfectly captured the spirit of pared down femininity. It was the best piece in the show. Yet the 47-look collection at times seemed to fall victim to its own restraint, seeming to lack vibrancy.