JEDDAH: Jordanian film “Farha” is competing in the Red Sea International Film Festival’s Red Sea Competition section and saw its first screening at the event take place on Wednesday night.
The film opens on a cheerful note that soon turns dark as it rolls along, bringing death, destruction and displacement to the silver screen. Penned and helmed by Darin J. Sallam, it is set in a small village in 1948, the year Israel declared its independence and the Nakba began as Palestinians were driven out of their homes en masse.
It is in this atmosphere that 14-year-old bubbly Farha (Karam Taher) is making plans to begin school. She is certain she can convince her father, Abu Farha (Ashraf Barhom), to let her study, although he wants her to settle down and get married. This passion for education gripped me and the importance of encouraging young girls’ literacy is one of the most compelling themes of the film — even though it is not the main subject matter.
Just when things seem to be going her way, Farha’s village is attacked and her father locks the girl in the family’s cellar saying he will be back soon.
Inspired by real-life incidents, Sallam’s work portrays the violence taking place outside the cellar with Farha watching through a small opening. The film explores the brutality of the soldiers, and also depicts a microcosm of the human will to survive through Farha’s attempts to cling to life in the cellar with no water or food, all while in debilitating fear in this nail-biting film.
We see the human cost of conflict and how emotionally and physically difficult it is to live through such events, all through the experience of one young girl.
First-time actress, Taher carries the work with dedicated brilliance conveying an amazing arc of hope and despair, suffering and joy. Her eyes light up as she watches the birth of a child outside her cellar and the joys of new motherhood, but she pales moments later with the arrival of soldiers. Against all this, Farha’s drive to survive is a lesson in sheer willpower.
The frames are sparse but powerful, with production design by Nasser Zoubi and arresting photography by Rachelle Aoun.
Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
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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.
DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre announced the launch of the Kanz Al-Jeel Award for Nabati poetry at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair this week.
Nabati is a centuries-old form of colloquial poetry that originated as part of the oral traditions of the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Gulf.
According to a statement, the award was launched with the aim of preserving “the traditional heritage of this form of writing for the next generation” and recognizing “scholars and creators whose works highlight the rich history and heritage of Nabati poetry and its inherent values.”
Finalists will compete for a share of a total prize of AED1.5 million (just over $408,000).
During the launch ceremony at the book fair, ALC chairman Ali bin Tamim said, “Today, we celebrate the launch of an exceptional award that brings tremendous value and depth to our cultural scene.
“It derives its name from one of the poems of our founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and reflects his wisdom, passion for poetry, and his vision, which helped cement this literary genre in the hearts and minds of all Emiratis and Arabs,” he continued.
There award is split into six categories: Poetry matching (awarded to a poem that closely matches the rhythm and rhyming pattern of one of Sheikh Zayed’s poems); creative personality; arts; studies and research; poetic publications; and translation.
Nominations, which must come from “academic, research, and cultural institutions, or the higher committee of the award,” can be submitted until July 30.
Nominees are required to have “actively contributed to enriching local and Arabic poetic, critical, or artistic movements,” according to the statement.
Only one entry for one of the categories is allowed per person. Submissions must be in Arabic, except for the translation award, which will be given to poems translated from Arabic into other languages, and the studies and research award, for which submissions can be written in “other living languages.”
‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release
Updated 27 May 2022
DUBAI: Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry took to social media this week to criticize US cable network Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Dubai,” set to premiere on June 1.
Following the trailer release on May 17, Alamry said that the reality TV show does not represent housewives in the UAE.
The three-minute clip, set in the 11th city in the franchise, offers a glimpse of the six cast-members — Caroline Stanbury, Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Sara Al-Madani, Lesa Milan and Nina Ali — at luxurious dinners and lunches, fashion shows, vacations and a wedding.
“From the trailer, (there are) women wearing bikinis on beaches, using the nastiest language you can ever think of and they are representing themselves as gold diggers, trying their best to get money from rich men,” he said in a short Instagram video.
“Now, my wife is a housewife, she does not dress like that in public. She does not speak in that manner, and she has achieved a lot in her life,” he said. “The housewives of my country are our mothers, our sisters (and) our daughters. They are the backbone in helping giving our children the proper upbringing.”
“Yes, we are a tolerant country, but that does not mean that others can walk all over our morals and values,” Alamry said. “That series does not represent the real housewives of Dubai.”
Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
The pavilion showcases the country’s cultural power during ongoing political and economic crises
Updated 27 May 2022
Rebecca Anne Proctor
VENICE: Inside an amply lit space in the Arsenale, one of the most prominent exhibition areas at the Venice Biennale, multimedia installations in Lebanon’s pavilion depict the beauty and chaos that has befallen the country after several years of economic and political crises.
There’s Ayman Baalbaki’s arresting 2021 work “Janus Gate” — a two-sided installation (named for the Roman god of beginnings, endings, transitions and time, usually depicted with two faces) covered in the artist’s abstract expressionist brushstrokes, which underlines the idea of a fragmented city. The vibrant front is typical of Baalbaki’s expressionistic painting style; it features the media panels placed on construction sites depicting an artist’s rendition of what the building will look like decorated with neon lights and spray-paint, imposing the lively chaos of the capital city’s present onto corporate promises of a brighter future.
Walk through a doorway to the back side and the visitor is confronted by a dimly lit olive-green monochrome recreation of a watchman’s hut, with a washing line and small table outside. From inside the hut comes a red light showing, Baalbaki explains, “the heat of a living creature.” The olive-green is a deliberate reference to the military, and how the civil wars in Lebanon and Syria turned civilians into soldiers. The red light alludes to the thermal signatures visible through night-vision scopes.
Baalbaki’s installation, like Janus, combines the past, present and future. It gracefully depicts the stoicism and resilience of the average citizen in the face of chaos.
Across from it, a haunting split-screen movie by Lebanese-French filmmaker and artist Danielle Arbid titled “Allô Chéri” (2022) plays. It is shot from inside a car driving through Beirut. The soundtrack is a woman narrating how she is constantly chasing money. That woman is Arbid’s mother.
Arbid was born in Lebanon in 1970. She moved to Paris aged 17. In 1997, she directed her first film. Since then, she has alternated between fiction, first-person documentaries, and video essays, and works as a photographer. Her work has won numerous awards and been the subject of several retrospectives.
For “Allô Chéri,” Arbid installed a recording device in her mother’s mobile phone (with her mother’s consent) and soon discovered that her mother was running her own banking system — a result of Lebanon’s financial collapse and the need for the people to access money through other means than the official economic system.
“I discovered my mother’s turbulent financial life,” Arbid told Arab News. “Secrets of debts that she hid from us, but that we (guessed at), because she was very stressed during this period. My mother’s life resembles the economic life of Lebanon today.”
The film also shows Arbid’s mother wandering the streets of Beirut. Like those around her, she looks for answers and clings on to hope, but clearly carries with her the despair and weight of the tragedies that have befallen her city.
“Allô Chéri” is one of a series of nine films that Arbid has been working on for several years titled “My Lebanese Family.” Each family member has a film focused on them, each in a different genre.
Lebanon’s participation at the 59th Venice Biennale is only the second in its history, and considering all that has transpired in the country, exhibiting in Venice is a feat that goes against all odds.
The pavilion was inaugurated one month before the Lebanese went to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections — ones which resulted in victory for some opposition candidates, spelling momentary celebration for those hoping for change. A desire and commitment to change and to Lebanese heritage and culture can similarly be felt in Venice — but through art.
The Lebanese state provided no money to stage the show; it was entirely privately funded by generous Lebanese art collectors and patrons.
“The private sector wanted to make sure that Lebanon was well-represented,” Lebanese art collector and patron Basel Dalloul, one of the pavilion’s funders, told Arab News. “The exhibition does represent Beirut’s contemporary art movement. It portrays a commentary on the two sides of Beirut echoing the ancient Roman god of Janus and his two two-faces.”
The Lebanese Visual Art Association (LVAA) organized the Lebanese Pavilion under the patronage of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, who mandated Nada Ghandour to curate the show. The two artists — Arbid and Baalbaki — were chosen to provide two different but connected viewpoints on contemporary Beirut. Arbid has witnessed her country’s travails from the diaspora, whereas Baalbaki lives and works in Beirut.
“This year, the Lebanese Pavilion comes to life in spite of the extremely challenging times that Lebanon is going through, and the political, economic, and social turmoil that the Lebanese are facing,” Ghandour told Arab News. “By placing the Lebanese Pavilion in the Arsenale, I wanted to show that Lebanon still exists on the world art map and also to send a strong message to artists in Lebanon to encourage and motivate them; to show them that there is support for them, and also promote Lebanon’s contemporary art scene, an important sector for the country.
“The exhibition invites viewers on a symbolic journey into our contemporary world through a theme, a city, and two artists who maintain a political and aesthetic dialogue from a distance, by presenting artworks which are so far and yet so close,” she continued.
Paris-based Lebanese architect Aline Asmar d’Amman, who designed the pavilion.
“My first intuition was to express a powerful message of hope and unity from Lebanon to the world,” d’Amman told Arab News. “The circular brutalist egg-shaped envelope is a symbolic gesture, a tribute to the cinema of Joseph Karam in Beirut and the experimental theater by Oscar Niemeyer in Tripoli, both monuments that became ruins during the civil war. The structure is open like an oculus, revealing the magnificent wooden framework of the Arsenal. Ayman’s monumental sculptural installation and Danielle’s energetic images travelling through the streets of Beirut, framed in the circle, incarnate the dialogue and the deep plunge into our beloved city.”
Through their artworks, those two artists poignantly — and at times painfully — relay the beauty and decay of the city of Beirut and life as they once knew it in Lebanon.
Baalbaki, born in 1975 — the year the Lebanese Civil War started — has long been one of Lebanon’s most acclaimed artists, known for his work that focuses on political and social issues relating to Lebanon and the Arab world, particularly the conflicts that have ravaged the region.
“The city of Beirut for me is just as Foucault says: ‘A heterochronic space,’ meaning within one space there are several other spaces — utopian and real at the same time,” Baalbaki explained. “You feel like Beirut stretches forward and backward. Janus has two heads: one head faces backwards and another forward. He symbolizes the beginning and the end of time. And, with time, there is a promise of the future.”
‘Weapons of Mass Hilarity’ comedy show fires up again
Updated 27 May 2022
DUBAI: Born in the UK to a Palestinian father and an Iraqi mother, Jenan Younis is a colorectal surgeon by day and a stand-up comedian by night.
“I think I see creativity as escapism,” Younis told Arab News. “I like being able to switch off and do something completely different and be someone completely different.”
Comedy is just as much a calling for Younis as medicine. From telling jokes in her living room to her childhood friends, she is now the founder of a unique festival called “Weapons of Mass Hilarity,” which began in 2017.
Its seventh iteration will take place between June 2 and 4 in London and will be a showcase for comics of South-West Asian and North African origins, whom Jenan feels are under-represented in Britain’s alternative-comedy scene.
“I’ve been searching online to see if this has been done before and I can’t find anything in the UK, not even in Europe. . . I think this is going to be a first and hopefully not the last,” she said.
The featured comedians will take on a variety of topics, from the personal to the political. “One thing that I used to worry about is that the title’s quite an outdated political reference, but when I think about it, it’s just as relevant now as it was when that expression first came out,” she said.
The upcoming edition will feature Irish-Palestinian and British-Surinamese duo Shirley & Shirley, Egyptian-American entertainer Maria Shehata, Iraqi-Syrian performer and writer Yasmeen Audisho Ghrawi, and Younis. The festival’s founder believes that comedy can help soften the edges when speaking about serious matters, like war and identity.
“That’s something I’m exploring with a new show that I’m writing at the moment: How do you present difficult topics in a way that doesn’t sound like you want to preach your opinion? I think the one thing that I’m trying to do is find those themes in my own personal experiences every day and present that in my comedy,” said Younis. “I think people are much more likely to listen to something if they think it’s a personal story and you can subliminally get your point of view across.”