‘I’m not afraid to tell the truth:’ Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam discusses ‘Farha’

‘I’m not afraid to tell the truth:’ Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam discusses ‘Farha’
“Farha” had its regional premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 December 2021

‘I’m not afraid to tell the truth:’ Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam discusses ‘Farha’

‘I’m not afraid to tell the truth:’ Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam discusses ‘Farha’

JEDDAH: When the Kuwait-born Jordanian filmmaker Darin Sallam was a child, she was told the story of Radieh, a young Palestinian girl who watched from a locked cellar as catastrophe consumed her village. Hidden by her father, Radieh would bear witness to the violent displacement of her people before making her way to Syria, where she passed on her story to another young girl. That girl would grow up, marry, and share the same story with her own daughter.

“And that daughter is me,” says Sallam with a smile. “The story travelled over the years to reach me. It stayed with me. When I was a child, I had this fear of closed, dark places and I kept thinking of this girl and what happened to her. So, when I grew up and became a filmmaker, I decided that this would be my debut feature.”

That debut is “Farha,” which had its regional premiere at the Red Sea International Film Festival this month and was awarded a special mention at the festival’s Yusr Awards. Inspired by the story that Sallam was told as a child (although Radieh has become Farha — played by newcomer Karam Taher), it addresses the horror of the Nakba (the violent removal of Palestinians from their homeland), which is harrowingly depicted from the unique perspective of a young girl trapped inside a single room.




The film is harrowingly depicted from the unique perspective of a young girl trapped inside a single room. (Getty)

To shoot this pivotal moment in Palestinian history from such a limited perspective was a bold directorial decision. Predominately set inside one room (the camera never leaves that room), the film gives its protagonist just two restricted views of the world outside — a slit in the cellar door and a small hole in one of the walls. As a result, Sallam relied heavily on both her cinematographer Rachel Aoun, who would act as Farha’s eyes, and her sound designer Rana Eid, who would be her ears. For Aoun and Sallam, the primary challenge was to avoid repeating certain shots and angles, while Eid was handed the responsibility of recreating the sound of the Nakba.

“I talked to Rana when the script was still on paper,” says Sallam, whose previous film was the award-winning short “The Parrot.” “She read the script, we discussed it, and she was attracted to the fact that sound was written and very important in this film. I was, like, ‘Rana, most of the time sound is more important than the camerawork and the picture.’ I wanted the audience to feel and hear what Farha hears and that would only be possible if the sound was perfect.”

Interestingly, Sallam didn’t tell her actors where the camera was, especially when shooting the movie’s central, traumatic sequence, which Farha is forced to endure in hiding. That scene took four days to shoot, and involved 10 actors (some trained, some not) and a huge amount of planning and choreography.




Sallam didn’t tell her actors where the camera was, especially when shooting the movie’s central, traumatic sequence, which Farha is forced to endure in hiding. (Supplied)

“We had four days and every day we had to pick up emotionally from where we left off the day before, so I was worried about them,” says Sallam. “It was already draining and tiring and every day we had to make sure we were in the same place, that we got into the mood of the scene, and remembered everything together.”

It was tough, not just because of the physical demands being placed upon the actors, but because of the psychological weight of what was being portrayed. After the film’s initial screening in Jeddah, the actress Sameera Asir (Um Mohammad) said that shooting such painful scenes had affected her deeply on an emotional level. She was not alone. “Some of the crew members were crying behind the monitor while shooting, remembering their families and their stories, and the stories they heard from their grandparents,” says Sallam.

Although a witness and not an active participant, Farha is the film’s focal point throughout. The camera spends more than 50 minutes inside the cellar with her, which is why Sallam knew the performance of Taher would make or break the film.




The film addresses the horror of the Nakba (the violent removal of Palestinians from their homeland). (Supplied)

“People need to love her and feel with her and have compassion towards her. She needs to be stubborn and naughty and, in many ways, I was very specific about what I wanted. I was looking for this raw material — a girl who had never acted but was willing to commit. I was looking for the right girl and I knew I would see it in her eyes. Those shiny and passionate eyes. And when I met Karam it wasn’t actually the audition that made me want to invest in her more. She was very shy. She was 14 at the time (15 when shooting began), but I gave her some homework about the Nakba and she sent me a message soon after saying, ‘This is the homework you asked me to do.’ And I said, ‘OK, she’s interested.’”

The second time Sallam met Taher she was more comfortable and ready to learn, so they embarked on a series of one-on-one acting workshops together. “One of the things that I love is working with actors — and non-actors specifically — so I worked with Karam for a few months and she was committed,” says Sallam. “And I was testing that. Is she coming on time? Is she cancelling other stuff with her friends? That was a good sign. Her commitment and passion and dedication were there.”




Darin Sallam, director of ‘Farah,’ and her leading actress Karam Taher. (Supplied)

For Taher, who had attended the audition almost on a whim, it was a tough few months of steep learning. “After I auditioned I went back and I told my mum, ‘No, that’s not going to happen. I don’t think they liked my audition or my acting,’” she says. “I was so nervous and shy at the beginning and it was a long trip to be honest. It was Darin who was with me the whole time, getting me into the character, helping me to reach this point where I was comfortable. I feel like I had to open up to Darin, and I did. I trusted her so much. I opened up to her more than I did to anyone else, which helped me to get all of my anger, all of my feelings and emotions out so I was able to finish a scene perfectly the way she wanted it to be.”

Her toughest scenes were two separations, says Taher. The first, from her father (Ashraf Barhom), the second, from her best friend Farida (Tala Gammoh). However, the film also includes scenes that are rarely tackled in regional cinema, including urination and Farha’s first period.

“I wanted to show these things because it’s natural and it’s what would happen to you or me if we were in her shoes,” explains Sallam. “I wasn’t afraid to do it, I was worried that Karam wouldn’t feel comfortable, so I had to work with her and I made sure she was comfortable with the crew and no one was in the room but me and the camera.”

Many people didn’t want “Farha” to be made, Sallam says. The reasons why will become immediately obvious to anyone who watches it. Although the events of 1948 are covered in countless books, poems, articles, and documentaries, the Nakba is rarely shown in fictionalized cinematic form.

“I’m not afraid to tell the truth. We need to do this because films live and we die,” says Sallam. “This is why I decided to make this film. Not because I’m political, but because I’m loyal to the story that I heard.”


Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury
Updated 28 January 2022

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

Arab filmmakers join Berlin Film Festival’s international jury

DUBAI: Algerian-Brazilian film director Karim Ainouz, Tunisian-French producer Said Ben Said and Algerian-Tunisian screenwriter Anne Zohra Berrached will join the international jury of the Berlin Film Festival, organizers announced this week.  

They will join international filmmakers including M. Night Shyamalan, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Hamaguchi Ryusuke, and actor Connie Nielsen who will all decide the Golden and Silver Bear winners.

Ainouz is an award-winning director and screenwriter. He is known for his productions “Invisible Life,” “Madame Sata” and “Mariner Of The Mountains.”

Said’s most recent films are “Good Mother” and “Tralala.” (AFP)

Said is most famous for his 2016 thriller “Elle,” his 2019 drama “Bacurau” and most recently his 2021 films “Good Mother” and “Tralala.”

Berrached’s debut short was “Der Pausenclown” (“The Class Clown”) in 2009. With around 10 productions under her belt, the director and writer has made a name for herself in the film industry. In 2018, she was appointed to the international jury of the 53rd Chicago Film Festival.

Ainouz, Said and Berrached are not the only Arab filmmakers to join the festival’s jury members.

Lebanese sound editor, director and actress Rana Eid was also named on the jury for the Berlinale Documentary Award.

She has worked on award-winning productions including “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” “Farha,” “Memory Box,” “The Sea Ahead,” “You Will Die at 20,” “Panoptic,” and more.

Eid will be joined by Chinese director Wang Bing and German cinematographer Susanne Schule.

The film festival will run from Feb. 10-16.


Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show
Updated 28 January 2022

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

Dolce & Gabbana lights up Saudi Arabia’s AlUla with its Alta Moda show

RIYADH: Italian luxury fashion house Dolce & Gabbana staged its Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections on Thursday against the backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s AlUla.

The heritage site, situated in the northeast of the Kingdom, played host to the fashion house’s haute couture. 

The models walked the runway in luxurious gowns in almost every color you could think of, from vibrant gold — that blended smoothly with the historical location — to eye-catching hot-pink designs.

The show launched with a voluminous princess-inspired dress. Italian duo Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana embellished rich fabrics such as duchesse satin, velvet, organza and chiffon with sequins and beads. 

The collection also featured glitzy designs for men.   

The fashion show took place alongside the Ikmah Fashion Cavalry Show, which was conceived and produced by Balich Wonder Studio. It wowed guests with a full parade of 12 Arabian horses sporting customized horse accessories and attire.

High-end jewelry is also part of the AlUla Moments festival season.

The event featured fashion bloggers and entrepreneurs from around the region, including Emirati host and actress Mahira Abdel Aziz, Saudi fashion designer Tamaraah Al-Gabaani, Saudi author Marriam Mossalli, fashion stylist Hala Al-Harithy and social media influencer Lama Alakeel.

Each of the celebrities took to Instagram to share clips from the show with their thousands of followers. “What an amazing experience,” wrote Mossalli on the social media app following the event. 

Dolce & Gabbana will also exhibit its one-of-a-kind collection in Maraya, the famed mirrored structure. The exhibition will be open to the public from Jan. 28- 31. Not only will guests have the opportunity to visit the exclusive space but they will also have the chance to be fitted by the Italian label’s master tailer and shop pieces from the collection.

The designer duo presented their label’s Alta Moda, Alta Sartoria and Alta Gioielleria collections in Venice in August. Meanwhile, in 2020, the fashion house unveiled their Alta Moda couture offerings via a digital show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’
Updated 28 January 2022

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad collaborates with Sisters Grimm on new single ‘See Beyond’

DUBAI: A haunting piano melody blends seamlessly with rhythmic beats and Arabic rap on the new single “See Beyond” — a collaboration between Egyptian hip-hop artist DB Gad and music and theater production duo Sisters Grimm.

The song, released last week, celebrates diversity and peaceful co-existence, according to its creators.

“Initially the song was supposed to be classical and theatrical, (but then we brought in) the flavor of the Egyptian streets. The rap was in sync with the energy of the diversity we see around us,” says Gad. “It’s been a crazy project, I loved it.”

Sister Grimm — composer and painter Ella Spira and ballerina Pietra De Mello Pittman — are based in the UK and the UAE, and “See Beyond” was recorded in their studio in Dubai. The song, co-written by Gad and Spira, urges people to look beyond cultural boundaries and accept everyone’s individuality.

The accompanying video features excerpts from Sister Grimm’s film “Daughters of the Wind,” in which Pittman portrays a modern Emirati woman in a ballet performance which is the perfect foil to Gad’s high-energy rap.

“Every element of the song happened so organically that it blossomed like a bud,” says Spira. “The recording happened as we wrote it together in our creative studio space. The filming process followed a similar route. I think that is why the piece has that fresh raw edge.”

One of the objectives for the artists was to break down barriers around cultural conflicts and bridge the gap between Western and Arabic music. The video shows the protagonist’s place of work, and how she battles with her colleagues — fighting to gain respect for her ideas.

“We wanted to show that we can find a way to coexist and recognize our differences. Through ‘See Beyond’ we also hope to play a part in (preparing the ground) for more international art to be produced here. There is great potential for artists and art produced across the Middle East to (seep) into the global music and art scenes more prominently,” says Pittman.


Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
Updated 28 January 2022

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 

Palestinian art: Highlights from Ramallah Art Fair’s second edition 
  • Ramallah Art Fair runs until February 15

Saher Nassar — ‘The Eternal’

Nassar worked as an illustrator and graphic designer before starting his career as an artist, and those influences remain clear in his work, particularly in his pop-art pieces. In “The Eternal,” Nassar represents the iconic symbol of Palestine, Handala. Originally created by the late political cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, Handala is a 10-year-old boy, usually pictured from behind, with his arms crossed behind his back. The image has grown to be a widely used representative of Palestine and its people, symbolizing resistance to — and rejection of — the occupation. Nassar, however, tackles it somewhat differently, with a knowing twist.

Alaa Attoun — ‘Scene 1’

In the works he has provided for this show, Attoun moves away from the emotionally charged hyperrealist pencil drawings for which he is arguably best known into performance photography — which seems in many ways like a natural progression. For this series, titled “Scene,” Attoun visited three locations in Jerusalem where Palestinian families have been displaced from their homes to stage his surreal, theatrical shots.

Alaa Albaba — ‘The Camp III’

Albaba is well-known for works depicting the lives of refugees and refugee camps. For example, the show brochure explains: “During his residency in Borj Alshamali Refugee Camp in Lebanon, he produced sketches and murals about the Houla massacre in Syria based on real stories.” And his Fish Path project consisted of 18 murals in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan which used fish “as a representation of Palestinian refugees who are longing to return to their villages next to the sea.” Albaba resides in the Alamari Refugee Camp in Ramallah, where he has established an artist’s studio. His work for this show focuses on that camp’s sprawl, and contrasts it with the modern residential and commercial areas that surround it.

Fouad Agbaria — ‘Resisting Decomposition III’

The Palestinian landscape is “the most prominent theme in this show,” according to organizers Zawyeh Gallery. Fouad Agbaria’s impressionistic series “Resisting Decomposition” is just one example, and the works also tackle another prominent theme, resistance, through symbols including the cactus and the olive tree. Using such plants also references the deep-rooted connection that so many Palestinians have to their homeland.

Khaled Hourani — ‘Manaakh’

Hourani — a native of Hebron — is a well-respected figure in the Palestinian art scene, for his work as a curator and writer as well as for his award-winning art. As a former general director of the Fine Arts Department in the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, his inclusion in the art fair shows the organizer’s commitment to including up-and-coming artists alongside their more-established counterparts. In “Manaakh,” the brochure explains, Hourani “wanted to highlight the threat of global warming” and “showcases the world hanging by a thread, mimicking the fragility of a Christmas ornament.”

Ruba Salameh – ‘Creatures of Regression II’

Salameh was born in Nazareth in 1985. Throughout her career, she has used a variety of mediums to address “questions of land, geographies, displacement, nationalism and in-between temporalities in an attempt to contemplate … daily life, which in many cases leads to a state of dystopia, using cynicism and irony as tools.” Her “Creatures of Regression” series, from which this work is taken, is “inspired by her psychoanalytic observation on children’s behavior, (particularly) displaying jealousy towards younger siblings,” the organizers say.


Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
Updated 27 January 2022

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 

Cairo International Book Fair kicks off with Greece guest of honor 
  • Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations
  • Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities

CAIRO: The 53rd Cairo International Book Fair kicked off on Thursday, with Greece the guest of honor and 1,063 Egyptian, Arab and foreign publishers and agencies from 51 countries taking part.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly inaugurated the exhibition, which will continue until Feb. 7 under the slogan “Egypt’s identity: Culture and the question of the future.”

The late writer Yahya Haqqi is the main personality of this year’s book fair, which comprises five halls and 879 pavilions, and includes discussion sessions and workshops. 

Greece is the guest of honor via a rich cultural program that includes discussion of publications and translated works on the ancient Greek and Egyptian civilizations.

Saudi Arabia is participating via 39 publishing houses and in the fair’s cultural and artistic activities.

Algeria’s Ministry of Culture and Arts said more than 600 books and publications by Algerian publishing houses are featuring in the exhibition, as are seven writers and poets.

Oman is participating with publications aimed at introducing the country’s culture and highlighting its intellectual production.

The exhibition has a hall dedicated to children’s books and activities, with the works of the late author, translator and publisher Abdel Tawab Youssef at the fore.

The Arab Publishers Association will hold its general assembly on the sidelines of the fair on Sunday, including the election of a new board of directors.

The exhibition had earlier announced the creation of an award for best Arab publisher, and the raising of the financial value of its annual awards in the fields of story, novel, poetry, literary criticism and human studies.