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.

 


Actors Mona Zaki, Aseel Omran jet to Cannes for festival closing 

Actors Mona Zaki, Aseel Omran jet to Cannes for festival closing 
Updated 28 May 2022

Actors Mona Zaki, Aseel Omran jet to Cannes for festival closing 

Actors Mona Zaki, Aseel Omran jet to Cannes for festival closing 

DUBAI: A handful of Arab celebrities have been spotted at the 75th Cannes Film Festival since organizers rolled out the red carpet on May 17. 

As the festival comes to an end, the red carpet played host to two more stars from the region: Egyptian actress Mona Zaki and Saudi singer, TV presenter and actress Aseel Omran.

The stars attended the screening of French screenwriter Leonor Serraille’s second feature, “Mother And Son (Un Petit Frere),” championing celebrity-loved Arab designers. 

Zaki stepped out wearing a form-fitting black gown from Lebanese designer Georges Hobeika’s fall/winter 2022-2023 collection. The dress, with a low back, featured geometric crystal detailing. 

Omran, the Khobar-born star, opted for a fully embroidered dress from US superstar Jennifer Lopez’s favorite designer Zuhair Murad.  

The blue floor-length flowing dress is off-the-shoulder and featured feather-detailing.  

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Aseel | أسيل (@aseel)

The stars are both brand ambassadors for the cosmetics company L’Oreal Paris, which they were representing at the film festival. 

“So excited to be @festivaldecannes with @lorealparis,” wrote Zaki to her 7.4 million followers. 

In March, Omran was named as the first Middle East ambassador for French luxury label Dior. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Aseel | أسيل (@aseel)

The songstress, known for her roles in TV shows including Netflix’s “Black Crows,” “Qabel Lil Kaser” and “Harun Al-Rashid,” rose to fame following her participation in reality TV shows “Gulf Stars” and “Hiya wa Huwa.”

The 32-year-old musician and fashion star has also partnered with other international brands including Italian luxury fashion house Bulgari.

Meanwhile, Zaki, 45, is a renowned Egyptian actress who started her career at the age of 16. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Aseel | أسيل (@aseel)

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One of her most recent films is the action-thriller “The Spider,” which is currently in theaters in the Middle East. She stars alongside Egyptian actor Ahmed El-Sakka. 

The actress also starred in the Arabic remake of the hit Italian feature “Perfect Strangers,” which was released on Netflix in January. 

The Cannes Film Festival was also attended by Palestinian-Dutch model Bella Hadid, part-Saudi catwalk star Shanina Shaik, Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi and Tunisian-French model Sonia Ben Ammar, to name a few. 


US-Egyptian designer Jacquie Aiche talks new collection, working with Sofia Richie

US-Egyptian designer Jacquie Aiche talks new collection, working with Sofia Richie
Updated 28 May 2022

US-Egyptian designer Jacquie Aiche talks new collection, working with Sofia Richie

US-Egyptian designer Jacquie Aiche talks new collection, working with Sofia Richie

DUBAI: Celebrity-loved jewelry label Jacquie Aiche’s recently released collection, “Divine Rising,” is all about summer loving — and the part-Egyptian designer behind the brand spoke to Arab News about the inspiration behind the line. 

Inspired by “Mother Earth,” the designer, who was born to an Egyptian father and an Indigenous American mother, explained that the new release celebrates the creative energy drawn from new beginnings.

“It seems as if everything around us is going through an incredible period of rebirth and transformation, so I wanted to honor this sense of renewal, and the beautiful, wild nature it carries,” the designer said. 

For this collection, the jeweler tapped US model Sofia Richie to front her campaign.  

The 23-year-old It-girl posed in the brand’s diamond-encrusted body chains, bracelets, earrings and rings which were designed and handcrafted in Aiche’s studio.

“Sofia radiates such a natural, ethereal glow and was an absolute dream to work with,” said Aiche. “Her energy made the jewels shine even brighter.”

For Aiche, jewelry is “everything” — it is much more than just adornment. “It speaks to the soul. It is a form of self-expression, a way of deep healing and a talisman of personal meaning,” she explained. 

The designer’s main goal with her brand, she said, is to create pieces that carry “special, transformative energy” that brighten up her customers. I want to spread the love I feel daily,” she said. 

Aiche launched her eponymous label from her garage in 2008. 

When she first began making jewelry, she would design pieces anonymously and sell them in her boutique, she said.

“At that time, fine jewelry was so traditional but I wanted to create pieces that felt special, spiritual and personal,” she said. “I felt so connected to the healing power of precious stones and wanted to share that energy with the world. When I saw how women responded to my pieces, I knew I was on the right path since the brand has taken a life of its own.”

She has since amassed an impressive celebrity client list that includes Hailey Bieber, Usher, Rihanna, Jada Pinkett Smith and Blake Lively.

“I have such a strong, beautiful tribe, who have all sort of organically found and gravitated towards my designs. I love that about life, the unknown and the unexpected,” she said. 


Dig in: Fast food spots to try in Saudi Arabia

Dig in: Fast food spots to try in Saudi Arabia
Updated 28 May 2022

Dig in: Fast food spots to try in Saudi Arabia

Dig in: Fast food spots to try in Saudi Arabia

From international hotspots to homegrown eateries, these restaurants in Saudi Arabia are so much more than your basic fast food joints. 

Fatburger 

Besides their juicy burgers, foodies in Riyadh can dig into the signature fat and skinny fries alongside Fatburger’s beef that is freshly ground and grilled to perfection.

Hamburgini

Hamburgini has sharing packages at affordable prices that will make for a great after-pool meal with your family and friends this summer.

Century Burger

Hungry fans can choose from toppings galore at this burger joint. It is also known for its colored, flavored buns like the black garlic and pink spicy bread. 

Section-B

For all the vegans out there, Section-B has got you covered with their vegan patties and array of plant-based topping options. 

Johnny Rockets 

It’s popular for a reason — the well-known US eatery offers everything from angus beef burgers and tender chicken sandwiches to loaded hotdogs.

Buffalo’s Express 

Love chicken wings? This restaurant boasts traditional and boneless wings slathered in an array of sauces, from honey garlic to Asian sesame and fired up BBQ sauce. 

Jan Burger

Crispy tenders, curly fries, grilled burgers and delicious sauces – Jan Burger has it all. Whether you are on a health kick or in the mood for fried goodies, this spot has something for everyone. 


Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
Updated 27 May 2022

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
  • "What is at stake in this trial is a man's good name," Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star said
  • Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence

FAIRFAX, United States: A lawyer for actor Johnny Depp urged a jury on Friday to find his ex-wife Amber Heard guilty of defamation over domestic abuse allegations and give him his “life back.”
“What is at stake in this trial is a man’s good name,” Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, said in closing arguments in Fairfax County Circuit Court near the US capital.
“We ask you to give Mr.Depp his life back, to tell the world that Mr.Depp is not the abuser Miss Heard said he is and to hold Miss Heard accountable for her lies,” Vasquez said.
“The evidence shown in this trial has shown that Miss Heard is the abuser,” she added. “She was violent, she was abusive and she was cruel.”
Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence between the couple.
Judge Penney Azcarate will give the case over to the seven-person jury Friday afternoon. The panel will be off over the weekend and on Monday, a public holiday, and resume deliberations on Tuesday.
The 58-year-old Depp filed a defamation suit against Heard in Virginia over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The Texas-born Heard, who had a starring role in “Aquaman,” did not name Depp in the piece, but he sued her for implying he was a domestic abuser and is seeking $50 million in damages.
The 36-year-old Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming that she suffered “rampant physical violence and abuse” at his hands.
Dozens of witnesses testified during the trial, including bodyguards, Hollywood executives, agents, entertainment industry experts, psychiatrists, doctors, friends and relatives.
Depp and Heard each spent days on the witness stand during the televised trial which attracted hundreds of fans of the “Pirates” star daily.
Video and audio recordings of heated, profanity-laced arguments between the couple were played for the jury, which was also shown photographs of injuries allegedly suffered by Heard during their volatile relationship.
Hours of testimony featuring medical experts was devoted to a finger injury that Depp suffered while filming an installment of “Pirates” in Australia in March 2015.
Depp claimed the tip of the middle finger on his right hand was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him. Heard said she did not know how the injury occurred.
Both agreed that Depp went on to scrawl messages on walls, lampshades and mirrors using the bloody digit.
Heard said Depp would become a physically and sexually abusive “monster” during alcohol- and drug-fueled binges and resisted her repeated efforts to curb his drinking and drug use.
Heard said Depp had promised to bring her “global humiliation” if she left him, and she has been the target of a vast #JusticeForJohnnyDepp social media campaign.
Depp testified that it has been “brutal” to listen to his ex-wife’s “outlandish” accusations of domestic abuse.
“No human being is perfect, certainly not, none of us, but I have never in my life committed sexual battery, physical abuse,” he said.
Heard, who was married to Depp from 2015 to 2017, obtained a restraining order against him in May 2016, citing domestic violence.
Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee, filed a libel suit in London against the British tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater.” He lost that case in November 2020.
Both sides have claimed damage to their Hollywood careers.
Heard’s legal team presented an entertainment industry expert who estimated that the actress has suffered $45-50 million in lost film and TV roles and endorsements.
An industry expert hired by Depp’s side said the actor has lost millions because of the abuse accusations, including a potential $22.5 million payday for a sixth installment of “Pirates.”


Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
Updated 27 May 2022

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
  • Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai
  • Evidence from an eight-month investigation didn't implicate Khan

NEW DELHI: Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s son was cleared on Friday in a drug case involving a party on a luxury cruise ship, with no evidence showing he possessed banned drugs or was involved in trafficking, India’s narcotics agency said.
Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital. He was released on bail after three weeks.
India’s Narcotics Control Bureau said in a statement Friday that evidence from an eight-month investigation didn’t implicate Khan. However, it pressed charges against 14 other people.
After the raid on the ship, the narcotics agency had said it had evidence in the form of WhatsApp messages showing that Khan was involved in illicit drug dealing.
Mukul Rohatgi, Khan’s lawyer, told reporters Friday that the arrest was “arbitrary” and the agency did not conduct a medical examination to show his client had consumed drugs.
The case was widely covered in India, with fans of Aryan Khan insisting on his innocence while others called for a boycott of his father’s films.
Shah Rukh Khan, 56, is known as the king of Bollywood and is India’s most loved actor. He has starred in more than 105 movies over nearly three decades.
In September last year, the narcotics agency questioned some of Bollywood’s most prominent stars in connection with the death of famous actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput died by suicide and doctors and police ruled out drugs.