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


Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos
Updated 25 May 2022

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos

Protect role of ethics in AI future, UAE minister tells Davos
  • As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society

LONDON: The future of the artificial intelligence sector could be threatened by ignorance in decision-making processes, the UAE minister for AI, digital economy and remote work applications has said.

Speaking at a panel session titled “Responsible AI for Societal Gains” at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday, Omar Sultan Al-Olama said: “We (in the UAE) have signed a strategic agreement with the University of Oxford to send government officials, CTOs and directors to school for an eight-month course to understand what the ethics of AI are, understand good uses of AI and the value of AI.”

He added: “People who are going to be pressing the button on whether to deploy AI or not are people who usually have no idea what ethics mean, what the repercussions are and what the long term implications of these technologies are.”

The session was moderated by Kriss Deiglmeier, chief social impact officer at Splunk.

As a leading country in artificial intelligence, the UAE is working on integrating AI in all sectors of the economy and society.

Al-Olama gave the example of the UAE’s successful vaccine rollout to show how the proper use of AI could produce positive results.

He said that in order to develop AI solutions to problems and improve quality of life, technology should be deployed more often in government “to tailor the government service and make it more proactive rather than reactive.”

Al-Olama stressed the need to form an incentive alignment between all governments to solve problems. “Let’s align the incentives. If we do that, we’re going to have people looking at actual AI solutions that change the world for everyone.”

The panel also featured global AI experts, including Stuart Russell, professor of computer science in UC Berkeley; Joanna Shields, CEO of BenevolentAI; and Vilas Dhar, president and trustee of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.


WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated
Updated 25 May 2022

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated

WEF panel discusses what the metaverse is and how it can be regulated
  • Three-dimensional, borderless world holds as many opportunities as challenges, Davos forum hears
  • For Meta’s chief product officer Chris Cox, the metaverse is the “next chapter, the next evolution of the internet except it’s the part where it gets less flat”

DAVOS: The metaverse is the new buzzword, but what is it?

Experts at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos convened in a panel titled “Shaping a Shared Future: Making the Metaverse” to discuss what the metaverse is, how to build it and, most importantly, how to regulate it.

For Meta’s chief product officer Chris Cox, the metaverse is the “next chapter, the next evolution of the internet except it’s the part where it gets less flat.” It is a way of describing the internet’s transition into a three-dimensional environment, he said.

On the other hand, “For me, the metaverse was this idea of a place that was somehow simulated on computers that were connected by the internet,” said Philip Rosedale co-founder of High Fidelity and founder of Second Life, a metaverse that allows people to create avatars of themselves and lead a “second life” in the virtual world.

Much of the metaverse’s perception seems to be centered around virtual reality. But, truly, the metaverse is “a seamless integration of your digital and physical worlds,” said Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap.

That sentiment was echoed by Omar Sultan Al-Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications, Office of the Prime Minister of the UAE.

“We can (now) imagine a new paradigm between the virtual and the physical, which is augmented reality and create a bridge that we could never have imagined in the past,” he said.

The metaverse’s ambition to be a borderless, unifying space for people around the world makes it particularly challenging to regulate, given that every country has its own rules.

“There are different types of risks that we need to pay attention to,” said Al-Olama.

Some of the risks relate to financial transactions or scams that exist between the physical and virtual worlds, while others are more extreme, such as violence in the metaverse, which can be even more terrifying than violent content that currently exists in the digital space.

Al-Olama added that there needs to be a nongovernmental body, such as the UN, that sets standards.

Cox agreed, saying: “We’re already managing, as are most internet companies, the reality that you want companies to have their own community standards, but (we) also recognize that that exists in tension with national laws and in some cases, as we’re beginning to see, state laws.”

With most things in life, be it work or university, people receive some sort of orientation. However, that has never been the case with the internet, Al-Olama said.

“There needs to be a way for us to orient people” on how to use the internet, and this should be part of a child’s basic education in every school in the world, he said.

“Certain business models made sense for the internet and social media. For the metaverse, we need to actually take them to the next level.”


MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA
Updated 25 May 2022

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA

MBC Group, BitOasis partner to launch crypto education across MENA
  • UAE-based BitOasis has become the region’s largest crypto trading platform, recording over $4 billion in trading volume to date
  • As part of the partnership, BitOasis will launch region-wide crypto education initiatives that will be featured across MBC Group’s portfolio of TV channels and digital platforms

DUBAI: MBC Group has signed a strategic partnership with crypto-asset trading platform and virtual asset service provider BitOasis to drive customer awareness and adoption.

“We’re witnessing the fast speed at which our region is embracing and adopting the blockchain and Web 3 technologies. Seeing as how cryptocurrencies are essential to this ecosystem, we see this partnership as a natural progression as we usher in this new era,” said Fadel Zahreddine, group director of emerging media at MBC Group.

UAE-based BitOasis has become the region’s largest crypto trading platform, recording over $4 billion in trading volume to date. As part of the partnership, BitOasis will launch region-wide crypto education initiatives that will be featured across MBC Group’s portfolio of TV channels and digital platforms.

The MENAT region’s cryptocurrency market grew by 1500 percent between July 2020 and June 2021, according to The Chainalysis 2021 Geography of Cryptocurrency Report. 

“In countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, crypto assets are steadily going mainstream due to early adoption by tech-savvy Millennial and Gen Z retail investors, but a massive majority across the region still do not have a good understanding of this emerging asset class,” explained Ola Doudin, CEO and co-founder of BitOasis.

For example, 18 percent of Saudi residents are currently trading in crypto while 21 percent in the UAE intend to invest in it in the next year, according to a YouGov survey.

Doudin said that the company has an “obligation” to address the gap by ramping up efforts “to ensure consumers are aware and educated about investing in crypto across our region whilst offering the simplest and most accessible way to invest.”

“Our goal is to bridge the crypto knowledge gap, and our partnership with MBC will help us realize this goal,” said Srinu Chowhan, vice president of marketing and growth at BitOasis.

He added: “BitOasis’s crypto awareness initiatives will help demystify blockchain and crypto assets, and MBC’s media platforms will play a key role in ensuring this educational content reaches across the region.”  


TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative
Updated 25 May 2022

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative

TikTok partners with INJAZ for its Future Jobs Initiative
  • Program aims to prepare young people for jobs in emerging industries

DUBAI: TikTok has partnered with INJAZ, the non-profit organization for education and training in workforce readiness, financial literacy and entrepreneurship across the Arab world.

The partnership, which was launched today, aims to raise awareness of the Future Jobs Initiative program. The collaboration will see TikTok leverage its community to empower the region’s youth by preparing them for future jobs in the fields of artificial intelligence, product development, green economy, and people and culture, among others.

“At TikTok, we aim to help communities thrive and inspire the new generation of entrepreneurs and changemakers to be active and pursue their dreams,” said Talal Al-Fayez, head of public policy, TikTok, Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

“Through our partnership with INJAZ, we are able to do so in a tangible way by bringing more awareness to the jobs of the future, encouraging youth to explore these growing and lucrative fields,” he added.

The short-form video platform has brought together experts from companies such as Microsoft, McKinsey and MetLife to create a series of informative and easily digestible videos that will be available on TikTok.

These experts will share their personal journeys and insights, aiming to inspire young people to pursue future jobs that are currently growing in demand.

Fifty-one percent of MENA youth feel that they lack the work experience necessary to find employment. Yet, by 2040, an estimated 127 million young Arabs are expected to join the MENA workforce, according to a recent study conducted in collaboration with Oliver Wyman, said Akef Al-Aqrabawi, president and CEO, INJAZ Al-Arab.

The non-profit is “committed to enabling the next generation of entrepreneurs,” and the partnership with TikTok will enable INJAZ “to connect directly with today’s youth, providing them with the knowledge needed to navigate their futures,” he added.


BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’
Updated 25 May 2022

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

BBC News channel apologizes after calling Manchester United ‘rubbish’

DUBAI: The BBC has issued an apology after a message appeared on the news channel’s ticker that read “Manchester United are rubbish.”

The text appeared at the bottom of the screen during a tennis update on Tuesday morning. Later the same day, BBC News presenter Annita McVeigh apologized for the error.

“I hope that Manchester United fans weren’t offended by it,” McVeigh said. She explained that the error occurred because someone behind the scenes was learning how to use the ticker.

“They were just writing random things, not in earnest,” she added.

That does appear to be the case as the ticker also featured the text “Weather rain everywhere.”

The incident and the apology have gone viral on social media, with many users commenting on how the BBC only apologized to the fans and not to the club itself.