Q&A: Carla DiBello talks Maskoon, Red Sea Film Festival and Saudi Arabia’s ventures into film

Q&A: Carla DiBello talks Maskoon, Red Sea Film Festival and Saudi Arabia’s ventures into film
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Updated 04 April 2022

Q&A: Carla DiBello talks Maskoon, Red Sea Film Festival and Saudi Arabia’s ventures into film

Q&A: Carla DiBello talks Maskoon, Red Sea Film Festival and Saudi Arabia’s ventures into film
  • Arab News speaks to Maskoon producer Carla DiBello on the upcoming short film at the Red Sea International Film Festival

Arab News

How would this film starring an American in Saudi Arabia differ from any other of the types of films that are usually set with a Western protagonist inside an Arab or Middle Eastern country?

Carla DiBello  

How is it different? First of all, Paris Verra she's an aspiring actress. She's lived in LA for many years and she's been living in Saudi for the last two years. And how it's different, I would just say it's more just kind of showing people the relatability. We have our first-time Saudi director, Lina Malaika, who we've been mentoring for the last few years, collaborating with David Darg, who's an Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning director. And this is a project that we've been speaking about for a while. We've always wanted to do something in Al-Balad (in Saudi Arabia) as nothing really has ever been filmed there.

Arab News

What would you say about the location that gives it its unique filmability?

Carla DiBello  

I think the history behind it is so special. You know, being in this historical district, which is also the same place that the first ever Red Sea Film Festival is taking place in. And it's just something so magnetic about the area. So, just being able to showcase this to the world. It's kind of the old and new in Jeddah to kind of see what that contrast is. I mean, you have Formula One, where people got to really experience the corniche, and the beach and the water. But you also have this contrast of Al-Balad with so much history.

Arab News

What can you tell me about working with the Saudi director and working with the Saudi assistant directors, let's say, or crew on the ground?

Carla DiBello  

So I mean, this is something we've been really passionate about for the last probably four and a half years. So we found the first-ever Formula E documentary and Diriyah. And our structure has really been, you know, handpicking young Saudi filmmakers and young Saudi creatives to come on board with our team, which is experienced producers and directors, and really we need them and they need us. So, it's always been a very productive collaboration. Lina, specifically, we have been working with her for the last three and a half years, just kind of teaching her the business, and she's been working closely with our director. So for her, to be able to give her the ability to let this run its course, has been just exciting to watch, because she has the tools now and the experience from our Western crew in the US. So I think this is just the, you know, the beginning of a new era of how well foreign productions work with Saudi productions, crews.

Arab News

Why choose a thriller film in the beginning, rather than a different genre?

Carla DiBello  

You know, I think I think a lot of stuff that we've been doing in the Kingdom has been very, you know, documentary style. We've worked a lot with all the different ministries, from Ministry of Sports to Ministry of Culture, and we really wanted to, you know, kind of have something diversified where we can show another side of Saudi and these very rich stories that exist that maybe the outside world doesn't know about. So we're launching a platform at the end of the month called Arabia+, which will be Middle East stories told in English to a global audience. And I feel like with the 2030 vision and everything that's being developed, and how closed off the Kingdom has been for so long, it's really a great opportunity to use this platform to showcase rich stories that people don't really know exist, like Maskoon playing on the beliefs of the djinn.There's so many books around it and about it, but people from my world or coming from the UK or the US wouldn't really know these stories existed. So they are filming a lot of productions now in Saudi, which is great. But I think we're at a point now where we want to really develop homegrown stories, and work with local talent to really showcase that we have our own stories. I've been here for so long, and I've been coming to the Kingdom since 2013, and I've lived, obviously, in Dubai for the last eight years and a lot of times we bring out these huge Hollywood, big-budget productions but there's really no story about the actual location.

Arab News

Where would you kind of source these stories? Are these people who have written scripts or short narratives that you can adopt?

Carla DiBello  

What we've been doing, which is maybe not the regular way to go about it where a normal production company would actually go and source different scripts. And, you know, I think it's just been us working so well with local young filmmakers and hearing it from them, how they grew up, certain beliefs that took place in different areas. I mean, we were filming in Abha, Khamis Mushait, Rijal Almaa, all these remote places that even Saudis have never visited. So I think in every place we've been, whether it's with a tour guide, or a young kid that lives there, or a young filmmaker that we're working with, or someone on our crew, that we're really learning these stories firsthand that are actually authentic, and we just help them develop it.

 

 

Arab News

What can you tell me about the atmosphere at the first ever Red Sea Film Festival?

Carla DiBello  

Well the atmosphere was, I mean, it was definitely history in the making. I think Saudi, as a country, should be very proud. I don't think I've personally ever visited - and I've been to a lot of film festivals -  and it really reminded me of Cannes Film Festival like back in 2008. You know, where everything was just so glamorous, and that old Hollywood feeling, which I feel certain festivals have kind of shifted a bit but I think they really did a good job at getting the right people, showcasing their work and just the area alone was a historical moment. Even pulling up to the red carpet and seeing all the - before you enter Al-Balad, seeing all the old shops, where some of these these workers - because we've actually gone in and spoken to them before, have been here for 20, 30, 40 years. And for them, to be able to see limousines and black cars and women in gowns and red carpets and flashes going off which is probably like nobody could have imagined it.

Arab News

What can you tell me about what's next after Maskoon?

Carla DiBello  

So we have a few things in development. We're starting on a TV series with the Ministry of Culture called “Seven Wonders of Saudi” which we already shot a trailer to. And that's kind of, you know, a very like Anthony Bourdain-style TV series, where we kind of went around to all these different places again, like AlUla, Abha, Rijal Almaa, Al-Souda, and just speaking to the locals. There we went to Farasan Island diving, we met with a woman who's never left Farasan Island and Jizan and cooked for us in her backyard. So we're just really trying to find very authentic, rich stories to tell that have never been told before. And in March, we're planning to shoot the Formula One, again, that's taking place here. And we're really focused on Arabia+, and allowing Arabia+ to be a home for filmmakers in the Middle East to showcase their work to a global audience, as well as creating our own original content of Middle East stories told in English.

 

 

Arab News

Where and when can everyone watch the film?

Carla DiBello  

We'll have it exclusively launching after the premiere on Arabia+, so we'll be in parallel launching Arabia+, and someone can go and watch it there. It's a free streaming platform. So we'll have it there. And we have about three screenings, I believe in Vox Cinemas.

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Tarek Ali Ahmad is the head of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit and a Media Editor. He has covered the October 2019 protests in Lebanon and the country’s 2018 parliamentary elections, as well as the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos in 2020. He holds an MA in Human Rights Law from SOAS, University of London, and a BA in Media and Communication from the American University of Beirut. Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Saudi ministry launches virtual media center for Hajj season 2022

Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
Updated 03 July 2022

Saudi ministry launches virtual media center for Hajj season 2022

Virtual media center. (Shutterstock)
  • The center is a digital platform through which virtual media services are provided to government agencies and the media

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Media has launched the virtual media center for the Hajj season 2022, which aims to unify media efforts and broadcast media content, and showcase the Kingdom’s efforts in serving pilgrims.

The center is a digital platform through which virtual media services are provided to government agencies and the media. The services provided are related to broadcasting Hajj news and programs by uploading news materials, photos and videos in their original quality for the benefit of all media outlets registered with the platform from inside and outside the Kingdom.

The launch of the virtual media center’s work coincides with the start of the tasks of the media operations room, which includes several work teams, including the press conference team that works on the daily briefing of the Hajj season. It also includes the government communication team, the media planning team, the public relations and partnerships team, the content creation team, the design team, the international communication team, and the monitoring and reporting team, with qualified national workers.

Media professionals can enter the virtual media center through the following website: https://vpo.media.gov.sa/Home/Index.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
Updated 02 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
  • "Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” Sanna Irshad Mattoo said
  • She was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason.
In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.
“Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said.
She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally.
There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities.
Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team.
She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.


Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
  • An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday
  • Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting complaints of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February warning to the two companies which air Turkish-language television content online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is German taxpayer-funded and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the reports “with regret.”
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and the press in Turkey continues,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany is in a “regular, critical exchange” with Turkey on the issue.
Asked whether the German government can intervene in this case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle has said it plans to take legal action “and we have to wait for that.”
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website Friday, saying that “no one needs to have uncertainties on the freedom of expression or press, worry unnecessarily or incriminate our Supreme Board that is doing its duties based on legal grounds.”
The RTUK statement added that had the media organizations “acted in line with regulations,” there wouldn’t have been access bans. It also promised to request from the court that the restrictions be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and get licensed.
But Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The RTUK board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s move is based on an August 2019 regulation that says the RTUK would give 72-hour advance notice to unlicensed online media regarding when they had to apply and pay three months of licensing fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against a media organization’s executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the Internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement then.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the US was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the US required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media but had to register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the US Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.


Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints
Updated 01 July 2022

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

BRUSSELS: US online retail giant Amazon has made it easier for users to cancel their subscriptions to its fast shipping club Prime with just two clicks, following complaints from consumer groups, the European Commission said on Friday.
European Consumer Organization (BEUC), the Norwegian Consumer Council and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue took their grievances to the EU executive in April last year.
They said users had to go through numerous hurdles such as complicated navigation menus, skewed wording and confusing choices, to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime.
The company will now allow users to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime with two clicks via a prominent and clear ‘cancel button’, the Commission said.
The changes will apply to all EU websites and for desktop devices, mobiles and tablets with immediate effect.
“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement.


Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
Updated 01 July 2022

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
  • Media watchdog calls on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats
  • Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in the past seven years

OUAGADOUGOU: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats.
Ahmed Newton Barry, a former TV president and ex-editor of L’Evenement newspaper who now works as a current affairs commentator, was targeted in an audio clip circulating among WhatsApp groups, the watchdog said late Thursday.
The speaker in the clip identifies Barry by name, describes him as a “terrorist” and says a hundred people would assault his home.
“We are going to set fire to it and then destroy everything and collect the rubble that is piled up and leave the ground vacant,” the clip says, according to the CPJ.
Barry told the CPJ the threat may be related to comments he made on a TV program in which he described the Malian government as working with Russian mercenaries.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in Johannesburg, urged the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and ensure Barry’s safety.
“The security of journalists in Burkina Faso is tenuous enough without their having to worry about a mob being provoked to attack their homes,” she said.
Local press associations have also condemned the threats and urged the country’s junta-dominated authorities to investigate.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso is in the grip of a nearly seven-year-old crisis sparked by jihadist raiders crossing from neighboring Mali.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced.