‘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.”


Review: Syrian story ‘The Swimmers’ portrays the determination of the human spirit

Review: Syrian story ‘The Swimmers’ portrays the determination of the human spirit
Updated 30 November 2022

Review: Syrian story ‘The Swimmers’ portrays the determination of the human spirit

Review: Syrian story ‘The Swimmers’ portrays the determination of the human spirit

DUBAI: It is reportedly estimated that 5.7 million Syrians have become refugees since war erupted in their country back in 2011. Fleeing the conflict, many attempted to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats, and if they were lucky, reached European shores.

Among the many asylum seekers who fled were Syrian sisters and swimmers Sara and Yusra Mardini, whose real-life story has been turned into a much-talked-about film, “The Swimmers,” currently streaming on Netflix.

Directed by Welsh Egyptian filmmaker Sally El-Hosaini, “The Swimmers” follows teenagers Sara and Yusra (portrayed by Manal and Nathalie Issa respectively), who are skilled swimmers, thanks to the professional training of their father and coach (Ali Suliman).

Sara is the cool, rebellious and tough sister, who does not believe she will achieve big things in life. Yusra is soft, sensitive, but disciplined with her eyes on the prize. She wants to compete at the Rio Olympics in 2016. “Swimming is where I belong,” she says in one scene.

Initially, their life in Damascus carries on, despite distant bombings, power cuts, and harassment from security officials. As the environment becomes increasingly dangerous, the Mardini family decides that Sara and Yusra should leave for Berlin with their DJ cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek), with the hope that the rest of the family would follow.

The journey is long, arduous and humiliating. They join other refugees, including children, departing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. They are packed onto a boat for the journey. But trouble arises where the engine dies in the midst of choppy waters.

With the boat sinking, the people begin throwing their possessions overboard. There is a heartbreaking moment when Yusra has to drop her medals into the water. Will she ever achieve her dream? The pivotal moment of the film happens with Sara and Yusra bravely jumping into the water and leading the boat and fellow passengers all the way to the island.

With a cast of new faces, the film is gripping, well-paced, and at times, quite intense. There are tearjerking moments of despair, as well as hope and kindness, found in the camaraderie of the refugees. Later they would receive similar help and support from Sven (Matthias Schweighofer), who trains Yusra for the Olympics at a swimming club in Berlin.

Visually, the film features several powerful and memorable shots, taken from above and below, that emphasize the magnitude of the conditions which the sisters had to overcome.

If there is a film to watch before the year ends, “The Swimmers” is it. It is a reminder of the determination of the human spirit, and that sometimes in life, with its twists and turns, achieving things may eventually occur, but in a way one could never imagine.


Palestine’s Nadeen Ayoub nabs runner up title at Miss Earth beauty pageant

Palestine’s Nadeen Ayoub nabs runner up title at Miss Earth beauty pageant
Palestinian contestant Nadeen Ayoub has been named Miss Earth Water. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2022

Palestine’s Nadeen Ayoub nabs runner up title at Miss Earth beauty pageant

Palestine’s Nadeen Ayoub nabs runner up title at Miss Earth beauty pageant

DUBAI: Palestinian contestant Nadeen Ayoub has been named Miss Earth Water at the Miss Earth beauty pageant, which was held in Manila on Nov. 29.

Mina Sue Choi, a communications student from South Korea, won the Miss Earth crown, while three other hopefuls nabbed the elemental titles of Miss Fire, Miss Water and Miss Air.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Miss Earth (@missearth)

Columbia’s Andrea Aguilera was named Miss Earth Fire, while Australian hopeful Sheridan Mortlock scored the Miss Earth Air tiara.

Ayoub is the first woman to represent Palestine at the event, which was launched in 2001 and is recognized as one of four main international beauty pageants. Miss World, Miss Universe and Miss International round out the list.

Ayoub is a fitness coach and nutrition consultant and was one of two Arabs to compete — the other hopeful was Jihan Majid from Iraq.  

This year, 86 women competed in the pageant.


Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor to receive awards at Red Sea International Film Festival

Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor  to receive awards at Red Sea International Film Festival
Nadine Labaki was nominated for a Best International Feature Film Oscar for 2018’s “Capernaum.” (AFP)
Updated 29 November 2022

Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor to receive awards at Red Sea International Film Festival

Lebanon’s Nadine Labaki, Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor  to receive awards at Red Sea International Film Festival

DUBAI: Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki and Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor will receive Variety International Vanguard Awards at the upcoming Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah.

Labaki, who was nominated for a Best International Feature Film Oscar for 2018’s “Capernaum,” will also appear at the festival as part of the “In Conversation” series on Dec. 3.

Kapoor rose to fame in 2007 with “Saawariya” and has since starred in 30 films.

“Nadine Labaki and Ranbir Kapoor are two remarkable talents in the film industry,” said Red Sea fest CEO Mohammed Al-Turki in a statement. “We are honored to be partnering with Variety to recognize their huge talent and contribution to the industry, and to be hosting ‘In Conversation’ events with each of them to hear about their past success and hopes for the future. Each a unique storyteller, we look forward to welcoming them to Jeddah.”


Nigerian artist Rema tops first-ever Official MENA Chart

Nigerian artist Rema tops first-ever Official MENA Chart
Nigerian artist Rema has nabbed the top spot on the first-ever regional chart with his hit “Calm Down.” (Supplied)
Updated 29 November 2022

Nigerian artist Rema tops first-ever Official MENA Chart

Nigerian artist Rema tops first-ever Official MENA Chart

DUBAI: The first-ever Official MENA Chart has been released with the support of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Here, we take a look at the songs that claimed the top six spots in this week’s countdown.  

#1  

Nigerian artist Rema has nabbed the top spot on the first-ever regional chart with his hit “Calm Down.” The weekly chart includes music streaming data from Anghami, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify and YouTube. 

#2 

In at number two is Egyptian artist Farid with “Ba’amaret Meen,” a lilting melody with heartfelt lyrics. 

#3 

The influence of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is apparent, with K-Pop superstar Jung Kook’s hit “Dreamers,” which he performed with Kuwaiti singer Fahad Al-Kubaisi at the event’s opening ceremony, nabbing the number three spot.  

#4 

Egyptian pop singer Ahmed Saad’s “Wasa3 Wasa3” came in at number four, proving the Egyptian music scene is one to be reckoned with.  

#5 

Another FIFA World Cup anthem, Ozuna, GIMS and RedOne’s “Arhbo” is currently a popular hit in the region. The hit features lyrics in French, Spanish, English and Arabic. 

#6 

In at number six is “Unholy” by British singer Sam Smith, featuring German singer Kim Petras. The song went viral on TikTok earlier this year.  


Designer Amina Muaddi to be honored at FN Achievement Awards in New York

Designer Amina Muaddi to be honored at FN Achievement Awards in New York
Amina Muaddi will receive the designer of the year prize at the 2022 FN Achievement Awards. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 29 November 2022

Designer Amina Muaddi to be honored at FN Achievement Awards in New York

Designer Amina Muaddi to be honored at FN Achievement Awards in New York

DUBAI: Celebrity-loved Romanian Jordanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi has given her 1.3 million Instagram followers a glimpse of her recent trip to Japan before she receives the designer of the year prize at the 2022 FN Achievement Awards in New York on Nov. 30.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

The Footwear News awards is hosted by the American industry magazine that specializes in covering the international shoe industry. This year, Muaddi will be granted the designer of the year award, while Christian Louboutin will be given the lifetime achievement award. The best collaboration award will go to the “Manolo Blahnik for Birkenstock” collection, while the year’s best shoe has been unveiled as the Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 by late designer Virgil Abloh.

Muaddi — who flew to Japan after visiting Qatar, where she attended the recent Fashion Trust Arabia awards — shared two carousel posts on Instagram, giving her followers an inside peek at her time in the country.

In the bevy of stylish photos, Muaddi can be seen enjoying Japanese cuisine, posing beside a luxury pool and exploring Tokyo by night.

The designer was joined by a number of friends on the trip, including US Palestinian model and musician Fai Khadra. 

Muaddi gave readers insight into her jet set lifestyle and career highs and lows in a telling interview with Footwear News in September.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

“I was so passionate, so I was willing to go through any hardship,” she told the publication. “There’s a reason why only so many people get to this point, because you get tested a lot.

“Many times, I was close to giving up. I had to part ways with my partner, with producers, I’ve had (orders) canceled. It’s not about what you go through, it’s how you survive the situation and how you thrive after it. It’s a never-ending lesson,” she added.

The designer told the magazine that this year alone, her brand’s global sales revenue will total $55 million but added that after becoming an established shoes and accessories maker, her hardships have changed.

“It’s a matter of navigating and continuing no matter what,” she said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

Muaddi launched her eponymous footwear line in August 2018, approximately one year after departing from her role as co-founder and creative director of luxury footwear label Oscar Tiye.

The shoemaker’s eponymous label’s distinct pumps, sling-backs, mules, boots and sandals in an array of vibrant colors and holographic designs have since garnered a loyal checklist of famous fans, including Dua Lipa, Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber Baldwin.

She helped design the shoes for Rihanna’s Fenty collection. The collaboration was so successful that it received the Collaborator of the Year award at the 34th edition of the FN Achievement Awards.

In 2020, she debuted a range of jewelry and handbags and collaborated with Austrian brand Wolford on an exclusive 17-piece capsule collection of ready-to-wear looks in 2021.

In October 2021, she landed a spot on Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) and Footwear News’s 50 Most Powerful Women list.