JEDDAH: “It was a huge honor for the film to come here in particular, because this is the heartland of Islamic tradition,” Egyptian-American filmmaker and journalist Dina Amer said of having her film “You Resemble Me” screen during the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah, where it won the Audience Award.
“My film, which I have made as a practicing Muslim woman, is to show that Islam is a beautiful religion and that these actions that have been done in the name of Islam have nothing to do with our beautiful faith. And so I felt like this was the perfect place for the film to be embraced.”
The Arab premiere of the film at the festival followed its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and screenings at several other international festivals, including in Brazil, Germany and Spain, where it picked up four awards.
The film, directed and co-written by Amer, is inspired by the true story of Hasna Ait Boulahcen, a young woman who, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, was named as Europe’s “first female suicide bomber.”
Several actors portray Boulahcen during the course of this experimental film, including Amer herself, reflecting the character’s sense of fractured identity as she searches for something she can do to make her feel that she belongs. Renowned American filmmakers Spike Lee and Spike Jonze are credited as executive producers on the film.
Speaking about winning the Audience Award, Amer told Arab News: “I felt so proud to be on stage and to say those words. It is time for us, as Muslims, to reclaim the narrative on our faith. The West doesn’t get to say what Islam is, we get to say what Islam is, and Islam is a beautiful religion
“To see the film celebrated here, in the womb of Islam, was like a dream come true.”
She added that she hopes her film will help to change attitudes and make people think about the ways in which the world tackles extremism and terrorism.
“This film is intended to offer solutions that are more human-based, other than policing or militarization, because that’s how France, or the rest of the world in the West, has dealt with it,” Amer said.
“But we need to look at it from a human perspective and see that at the core, these are people that need psychological support and help.”
Amer said that she hopes that the inaugural RSIFF, which concluded on Wednesday, will serve as a springboard for Saudi talent.
“The whole world should be celebrating this festival,” she said. “It is an artistic opening in Saudi Arabia and I am happy that Saudi voices and Saudi talent can be elevated and able to have a spotlight on them and to create and produce their work on a global level.
“This is something that everyone should be celebrating. I feel like I’m witnessing something historic, and I feel like this is just the beginning.”
Why Beirut Museum of Art project is a beacon of hope in crisis-plagued Lebanon
New York-based architects WORKac were approached in 2018 to design Beirut’s new art museum
BeMA will stand on what was once the “green line” dividing the Lebanese capital during the civil war
Updated 21 May 2022
DUBAI: For many Lebanese, the past can be a painful subject. A civil war destroyed large swaths of the country between 1975 and 1990. The postwar period has been marked by sectarian strife and government dysfunction.
But in spite of the traumas of recent decades, Lebanon remains a land of immense cultural wealth, with a rich history reflected in its architectural, cultural and anthropological heritage.
This is why the Beirut Museum of Art, or BeMA, which is due to open in 2026, has been billed as a “beacon of hope” in a country beset by political paralysis, economic decline and a worsening humanitarian crisis.
When Sandra Abou Nader and Rita Nammour launched the museum project, their goal was to showcase the wide diversity of Lebanese art and provide facilities for education, digitization, restoration, storage and artist-in-residency programs.
“They realized that there was, in fact, very little visibility for the Lebanese artistic scene, within the country and abroad, and for Lebanese artists, whether modern or contemporary,” BeMA’s art consultant, Juliana Khalaf, told Arab News.
About 700 works of art will be on display at the new venue, drawn from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture’s collection of more than 2,000 pieces, the bulk of which have been in storage for decades.
“We are going to be housing this very important collection,” said Khalaf. “We call it the national collection and it belongs to the public. It’s our role to make it, for the very first time, accessible. It’s never been seen before.”
The artworks, created by more than 200 artists and dating from the late-19th century to the present day, tell the story of this small Mediterranean country from its renaissance era and independence to the civil war period and beyond.
The collection includes pieces by Lebanese American writer, poet and visual artist Kahlil Gibran and his mentor, the influential late-Ottoman-era master Daoud Corm, who was renowned for his sophisticated portraiture and still-life painting.
Works by pioneers of Lebanese modernism, such as Helen Khal, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Saliba Douaihy, will also feature among the collection, as will several lesser-known 20th-century artists, including Esperance Ghorayeb, who created several rare, abstract compositions in the 1970s.
“The collection is a reminder of the beautiful heritage that we have,” said Khalaf. “It shows us our culture through the eyes of our artists.”
Among the priorities for the BeMA team, in partnership with the Cologne Institute of Conservation Sciences, is the restoration of the collection, which includes several paintings and works on paper that have been damaged by war, neglect, improper storage or simply the passage of time.
Gathering information about the artists and their effects on Lebanon’s artistic heritage is another priority for the BeMA team, and is a task that has proved to be challenging given the dearth of published resources and the means to catalog them.
* International Museum Day, held annual on or around May 18, highlights a specific theme or issue facing museums internationally.
“What was surprising was how little research there is out there and how much we need to do on that front, like getting the right equipment that is not currently available in the country to properly archive books and photography,” said Khalaf.
In 2018, the BeMA team approached WORKac, an architectural firm based in New York, for ideas about the new venue. Co-founded by Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, a Lebanese-born architect and former dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, WORKac has designed museums in California, Texas, New York and Florida.
For Andraos, who left Lebanon at the age of three, the chance to design a home for Beirut’s artistic heritage is particularly special.
“I think it’s a very personal project for everyone involved,” she told Arab News. “Everybody put their heart and soul into this idea that Beirut really needed a museum to house the national collection.
“For me, personally, I have a great attachment to Beirut, to its history, as well as architecturally, artistically and intellectually.”
Given the country’s troubled past and complex identity, Andraos believes the museum’s collection will prove valuable in helping Lebanon rediscover its sense of self and recover from past traumas.
“It’s an archive that we need to go back to, to understand who we are and how we move forward,” she said.
After the project was approved by city authorities, the first stone was laid at the site of the new museum in February. The initial phase requires Andraos and her team to examine the site for archaeological remains.
When complete, the museum will feature three gallery floors that borrow aesthetic elements from local Art Deco urban design. It has been described as an “open museum” and a “vertical sculpture garden,” owing to its cubic facade which will be embellished with bursts of greenery from top to bottom.
Andraos admits she was initially skeptical about the project. Lebanon is in the throes of multiple crises, including a financial collapse. Beirut, the capital, is yet to recover from the devastating blast at the city’s port on Aug. 4, 2020, when a warehouse filled with highly explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire and detonated, leveling an entire district.
All of this, combined with the additional economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, has caused thousands of young Lebanese to move abroad in search of work and respite from the seemingly endless litany of crises.
For some people in the country, though, it is precisely because of these issues that a museum celebrating Lebanon’s cultural achievements is needed, perhaps now more than ever.
“When I recently presented the museum to a member of the BeMA board, I said: ‘This is probably the worst time for a museum,’ and he said: ‘This is the most important time for a museum because we need culture, education and ideas,’” said Andraos.
“When people are hungry, it’s like art versus food — but art is also food, in some ways, for the spirit and the mind.
“Everyone involved in it sees it as a beacon of hope and the country needs to build its institutions. It’s almost like a resistance to collapse. We have a history that is worth valuing, rereading, and a culture that we need to preserve and build on.”
This is not to say that the project was welcomed by everyone at the beginning.
“There’s no large public attendance of museums; it’s something that really needs to be developed,” Khalaf said. “In that respect, people felt like it was an unnecessary project.
“But now that people actually see that it’s a serious project and is happening, the attitude has changed. People say there’s something to look forward to.”
To date, about 70 percent of funding for the project has been allocated and a public appeal will soon be launched to make up any shortfall. Entry to the museum will be free.
Located in the leafy, upmarket, residential Badaro district in the heart of Beirut, known for its early-20th-century, art deco-influenced buildings, the museum will stand on what was once the “green line” that separated the east and west of the capital during the civil war.
“What’s nice about it now is that it might become the ‘museum mile,’ because there’s the National Museum, BeMA, Mim Museum, and if you just go further down, you’ll actually get to the Sursock Museum,” said Khalaf.
“It changes the perspective from a war-torn Beirut to a culturally alive Beirut.”
“Back at it, this time in the one and only @festivaldecannes and I am happy to say the vibe and energy of this one is spectacular,” Albanawi wrote on Instagram.
The actress rose to fame in 2016 for her role in the award-winning movie “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also the Saudi Arabian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards.
Albanawi’s other credits include playing a Parisian actress from the ’70s in the film “Roll’em” and a selfish theater superstar in the “Bashar” series. She also appeared in the Netflix series “Paranormal.”
She was not the only star at Cannes to step out in a Kali creation.
On Thursday, the designer shared a picture of German model Ann-Sophie Thieme wearing a bright green gown embroidered with crystals against a tulle frill cape as she attended the screening of US filmmaker James Gray’s “Armageddon Time.”
The festival, which runs until May 28, also saw several Hollywood celebrities and international models stepping out in showstopping gowns by Arab designers like Elie Saab, Nicolas Jebran, Tony Ward, Zuhair Murad and Atelier Zuhra.
French model Amandine Petit, Danish catwalk star Josephine Skriver and Indian actress Hina Khan wore colorful royal gowns by Syrian designer Rami Al-Ali.
Other Arab celebrities, including Lebanese reality TV star Alice Abdelaziz and French-Tunisian model, singer and actress Sonia Ben Ammar, were also spotted on the red carpet this week.
Stars of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ discuss Paramount film, working with Tom Cruise
Updated 20 May 2022
LOS ANGELES: “Top Gun: Maverick” takes audiences back to the danger zone with more high-flying action and the return of US actor Tom Cruise to his 1986 star-making role.
Similar to the pilots it showcases, critics are calling the movie the best of the best and an exceptional successor to the original.
In an interview with Arab News, American actor Jon Hamm, who joined the cast as Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, said that the team working on the movie had “tremendous respect for the original and a real deep desire to make a second chapter of the story that’s just as compelling as the first.”
Hamm recalled watching the first film when he was 15 years old. “I remember immediately after seeing it, I wanted to see it again.”
After decades of avoiding promotion, Navy test pilot “Maverick” Mitchell is ordered to train a squad of young Top Gun pilots.
Cruise and the cast of newcomers bring charm and emotion to the film particularly in the strained relationship between Maverick and Rooster, the son of his late best friend.
The actors in the movie credited Cruise’s well-established career saying that his 40-year experience helped them shoot the flick smoothly.
Actor Glen Powell, who stars as Lt. “Hangman” Seresin, said: “Tom Cruise put together our entire flight training program based on his experience on the first movie.
“So, the first movie they threw actors up there trying to get shots, but the problem is they’re vomiting and passing out and they’re just limp dolls in the back of a plane. So, you can’t use any of that footage.
“That’s only something Tom Cruise can ask for after a 40-year career of doing it at the highest level, so we get to look cool in the back of these F-18s,” Powell added.
Actor Miles Teller, who plays Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, said: “What an audience has been feeling for two hours, he can sum up in one look, and that is something that Tom really is a master of.
“He’s just been doing it at such a high level for such a long time and so I would just find myself sitting back and watching him,” Teller added.
“Top Gun: Maverick” premiered this week at the Cannes Film Festival, where Tom Cruise was lauded with a surprise Palme d’Or.
The movie will be released in Saudi Arabia on May 26.
Cannes Film Festival: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion pulls out all stops
Updated 20 May 2022
CANNES: The Saudi Pavilion at the 75th Cannes Film Festival has become a hub for fruitful international partnerships in film production while providing an immersive cultural journey through its many hosted masterclasses, meet and greets, and networking events.
“We are thrilled to return to the Cannes Film Festival to connect with the international film industry to build awareness around what is happening in our flourishing creative sector and to showcase the country as a truly unique and exciting film destination,” Abdullah Al-Eyaf, chief executive officer of the Saudi Film Commission said.
Located at the edge of the International Village in Cannes, the Saudi Pavilion is one of the largest pavilions this year.
An extension of the rich heritage of the Kingdom, it provides a step into the cultural identity of the country.
Between each historical landmark in AlUla, the hidden alleyways of Al-Balad in Jeddah, to the bright and flourishing roses of Taif, Saudi Arabia has 13 provinces with unique landscapes, cultures, and terrains that completely set it apart from the region bordering it.
These diverse locations have quickly sparked conversations among film and production enthusiasts in the first three days of the festival in the French resort.
The Kingdom’s pavilion not only aims to enrich the festival with the Saudi culture but create a link for future collaborations within the Kingdom’s growing film market.
“This is an exciting time for Saudi Arabia, and Cannes provides a crucial opportunity for us to maximize opportunities as we drive the rapid growth of the industry,” Al-Eyaf added.
From the first steps into the pavilion, visitors are embraced by the Saudi culture and warm hospitality through a cup of Saudi coffee. The Kingdom marked the year 2022 as the Year of Saudi Coffee, in celebration of the deeply rooted cultural identity of the Kingdom.
Along with a beautiful view overlooking the French Riviera, the Saudi Pavilion has three private meeting spaces for producers, investors, and filmmakers to meet and discuss new collaborations.
The pavilion kicked off the festival celebrations with meet-and-greet events, mocktail happy hours, and masterclasses for all visitors to take part in.
On Wednesday, the pavilion hosted a media masterclass with Emma Pritchard, a BBC News journalist, to discuss the arts and media coverage of the Cannes Film Festival.
Pritchard was previously invited by the Saudi Film Commission to host a masterclass for Saudi movie directors through navigating the media and press.
“They asked me back just to do another masterclass this year in Cannes and just to talk about navigating the Cannes Film Festival which I was really happy to do,” Pritchard told Arab News.
The seasoned journalist has covered the festival for around two decades and was happy to share her insights in the Saudi Pavilion-hosted masterclass.
“It was really nice, it was informal people, just really eager I think as well, all pleasant and friendly,” she said.
“It was really interesting because I was talking to journalists about the side of covering the Cannes Film Festival which is such a huge film festival to navigate and I’m coming up to 20 years of covering the film festival,” she added.
Later that evening, the pavilion also hosted a Meet the Saudi Film Industry mocktail event to welcome some of the Kingdom’s producers and filmmakers.
On Thursday morning the pavilion continued the festivities with a panel conversation with Saudi talents that was followed by an industry lunch hosted by the Saudi Film Commission.
During the lunch, many regional and international filmmakers attended to gain better insights into the Kingdom as a global location for filmmaking and the film industry.
The Saudi Pavilion started the weekend celebrations with another industry lunch hosted by the Red Sea Film Festival at Carlton Beach and an evening networking cocktail event hosted by NEOM.
Along with the lunches and networking events, many Saudi actors popped by throughout the days of the pavilion to meet and discuss collaborations with some of the major international entities in the film industry.
Names included Yasir Al-Saggaf and Fatima Albanawi who both recently appeared in the Saudi-produced film “Champions.”
Albawani said: “Being here in the Saudi Pavilion, it is one hub that connects everyone and joins everyone and it’s nice to have these chats and open opportunities for future projects.
“I do have a feature film that is in pre-production and it’s very important for me to look for counterparts and co-productions in Europe,” she added.
The Saudi Film Commission partnered with 11 other Saudi entities including Film AlUla, Ithra by Aramco, NEOM, the Red Sea International Film Festival, and many more dealing with production, distribution, content creation, and talent development in the pavilion.
Lebanese designer Alexandra Hakim using natural resources to make jewelry
Updated 20 May 2022
BEIRUT: Lebanese designer Alexandra Hakim has revealed her natural approach to her sustainable jewelry brand.
The mastermind behind the label Alexandra Hakim, told Arab News that she started the brand as a student, finding inspiration from materials in her studio such as sandpaper and matchsticks in ashtrays.
The jewelry maker tried to recreate the elements and turn them into wearable sparkly jewels to give each item a “different and completely unique touch.
She said: “I made my first collection at school based on matchsticks and I found beauty in the way that they are consumed every time in different ways. I took those fragile wooden pieces and I tried to transform them into earrings and create unique pieces of playful earrings and necklaces.”
Hakim also speaks to local workers in Lebanon to support different crafts.
“I have talked to fishermen, farmers, and different craftsmen about their work, and I try to integrate it into mine. So, for example, I would take any rubbish that a fisherman I met called Bob would find in his nets – because there is barely any fish left in the sea today. So, I made a collection based on that.
“I also used pearls to make the connection between the rubbish from the sea and the jewels,” she added.
Describing her brand as a mix of luxury and contemporary jewelry, Hakim said: “I feel like my brand is about inclusivity, sustainability. It’s about making jewelry that is good for the planet. It’s about limiting waste and making women and men feel empowered.”