‘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.”


Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
Updated 27 May 2022

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’

Johnny Depp lawyer urges jury to give him his ‘life back’
  • "What is at stake in this trial is a man's good name," Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star said
  • Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence

FAIRFAX, United States: A lawyer for actor Johnny Depp urged a jury on Friday to find his ex-wife Amber Heard guilty of defamation over domestic abuse allegations and give him his “life back.”
“What is at stake in this trial is a man’s good name,” Camille Vasquez, an attorney for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, said in closing arguments in Fairfax County Circuit Court near the US capital.
“We ask you to give Mr.Depp his life back, to tell the world that Mr.Depp is not the abuser Miss Heard said he is and to hold Miss Heard accountable for her lies,” Vasquez said.
“The evidence shown in this trial has shown that Miss Heard is the abuser,” she added. “She was violent, she was abusive and she was cruel.”
Lawyers for the two sides are making their closing arguments following six weeks of blistering mutual accusations of domestic violence between the couple.
Judge Penney Azcarate will give the case over to the seven-person jury Friday afternoon. The panel will be off over the weekend and on Monday, a public holiday, and resume deliberations on Tuesday.
The 58-year-old Depp filed a defamation suit against Heard in Virginia over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in December 2018 in which she described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The Texas-born Heard, who had a starring role in “Aquaman,” did not name Depp in the piece, but he sued her for implying he was a domestic abuser and is seeking $50 million in damages.
The 36-year-old Heard countersued for $100 million, claiming that she suffered “rampant physical violence and abuse” at his hands.
Dozens of witnesses testified during the trial, including bodyguards, Hollywood executives, agents, entertainment industry experts, psychiatrists, doctors, friends and relatives.
Depp and Heard each spent days on the witness stand during the televised trial which attracted hundreds of fans of the “Pirates” star daily.
Video and audio recordings of heated, profanity-laced arguments between the couple were played for the jury, which was also shown photographs of injuries allegedly suffered by Heard during their volatile relationship.
Hours of testimony featuring medical experts was devoted to a finger injury that Depp suffered while filming an installment of “Pirates” in Australia in March 2015.
Depp claimed the tip of the middle finger on his right hand was severed when Heard threw a vodka bottle at him. Heard said she did not know how the injury occurred.
Both agreed that Depp went on to scrawl messages on walls, lampshades and mirrors using the bloody digit.
Heard said Depp would become a physically and sexually abusive “monster” during alcohol- and drug-fueled binges and resisted her repeated efforts to curb his drinking and drug use.
Heard said Depp had promised to bring her “global humiliation” if she left him, and she has been the target of a vast #JusticeForJohnnyDepp social media campaign.
Depp testified that it has been “brutal” to listen to his ex-wife’s “outlandish” accusations of domestic abuse.
“No human being is perfect, certainly not, none of us, but I have never in my life committed sexual battery, physical abuse,” he said.
Heard, who was married to Depp from 2015 to 2017, obtained a restraining order against him in May 2016, citing domestic violence.
Depp, a three-time Oscar nominee, filed a libel suit in London against the British tabloid The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater.” He lost that case in November 2020.
Both sides have claimed damage to their Hollywood careers.
Heard’s legal team presented an entertainment industry expert who estimated that the actress has suffered $45-50 million in lost film and TV roles and endorsements.
An industry expert hired by Depp’s side said the actor has lost millions because of the abuse accusations, including a potential $22.5 million payday for a sixth installment of “Pirates.”


Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
Updated 27 May 2022

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges

Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan’s son cleared of drug charges
  • Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai
  • Evidence from an eight-month investigation didn't implicate Khan

NEW DELHI: Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s son was cleared on Friday in a drug case involving a party on a luxury cruise ship, with no evidence showing he possessed banned drugs or was involved in trafficking, India’s narcotics agency said.
Aryan Khan, 24, an aspiring actor and director, was arrested in October during a raid on the cruise ship off Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital. He was released on bail after three weeks.
India’s Narcotics Control Bureau said in a statement Friday that evidence from an eight-month investigation didn’t implicate Khan. However, it pressed charges against 14 other people.
After the raid on the ship, the narcotics agency had said it had evidence in the form of WhatsApp messages showing that Khan was involved in illicit drug dealing.
Mukul Rohatgi, Khan’s lawyer, told reporters Friday that the arrest was “arbitrary” and the agency did not conduct a medical examination to show his client had consumed drugs.
The case was widely covered in India, with fans of Aryan Khan insisting on his innocence while others called for a boycott of his father’s films.
Shah Rukh Khan, 56, is known as the king of Bollywood and is India’s most loved actor. He has starred in more than 105 movies over nearly three decades.
In September last year, the narcotics agency questioned some of Bollywood’s most prominent stars in connection with the death of famous actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Rajput died by suicide and doctors and police ruled out drugs.


Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE
Updated 27 May 2022

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

Nabati poetry award launched in UAE

DUBAI: The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre announced the launch of the Kanz Al-Jeel Award for Nabati poetry at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair this week.

Nabati is a centuries-old form of colloquial poetry that originated as part of the oral traditions of the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Gulf.

According to a statement, the award was launched with the aim of preserving “the traditional heritage of this form of writing for the next generation” and recognizing “scholars and creators whose works highlight the rich history and heritage of Nabati poetry and its inherent values.”

Finalists will compete for a share of a total prize of AED1.5 million (just over $408,000).

During the launch ceremony at the book fair, ALC chairman Ali bin Tamim said, “Today, we celebrate the launch of an exceptional award that brings tremendous value and depth to our cultural scene.

“It derives its name from one of the poems of our founding father the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, and reflects his wisdom, passion for poetry, and his vision, which helped cement this literary genre in the hearts and minds of all Emiratis and Arabs,” he continued. 

There award is split into six categories: Poetry matching (awarded to a poem that closely matches the rhythm and rhyming pattern of one of Sheikh Zayed’s poems); creative personality; arts; studies and research; poetic publications; and translation. 

Nominations, which must come from “academic, research, and cultural institutions, or the higher committee of the award,” can be submitted until July 30. 

Nominees are required to have “actively contributed to enriching local and Arabic poetic, critical, or artistic movements,” according to the statement. 

Only one entry for one of the categories is allowed per person. Submissions must be in Arabic, except for the translation award, which will be given to poems translated from Arabic into other languages, and the studies and research award, for which submissions can be written in “other living languages.”


‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 
Updated 27 May 2022

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

‘Real Housewives of Dubai’ sparks backlash ahead of release 

DUBAI: Emirati social media influencer Majid Alamry took to social media this week to criticize US cable network Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Dubai,” set to premiere on June 1. 

Following the trailer release on May 17, Alamry said that the reality TV show does not represent housewives in the UAE.  

The three-minute clip, set in the 11th city in the franchise, offers a glimpse of the six cast-members — Caroline Stanbury, Chanel Ayan, Caroline Brooks, Sara Al-Madani, Lesa Milan and Nina Ali — at luxurious dinners and lunches, fashion shows, vacations and a wedding.

“From the trailer, (there are) women wearing bikinis on beaches, using the nastiest language you can ever think of and they are representing themselves as gold diggers, trying their best to get money from rich men,” he said in a short Instagram video.

“Now, my wife is a housewife, she does not dress like that in public. She does not speak in that manner, and she has achieved a lot in her life,” he said. “The housewives of my country are our mothers, our sisters (and) our daughters. They are the backbone in helping giving our children the proper upbringing.”

“Yes, we are a tolerant country, but that does not mean that others can walk all over our morals and values,” Alamry said. “That series does not represent the real housewives of Dubai.” 


Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
Updated 27 May 2022

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Against all odds: Inside Lebanon’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale
  • The pavilion showcases the country’s cultural power during ongoing political and economic crises

VENICE: Inside an amply lit space in the Arsenale, one of the most prominent exhibition areas at the Venice Biennale, multimedia installations in Lebanon’s pavilion depict the beauty and chaos that has befallen the country after several years of economic and political crises.

There’s Ayman Baalbaki’s arresting 2021 work “Janus Gate” — a two-sided installation (named for the Roman god of beginnings, endings, transitions and time, usually depicted with two faces) covered in the artist’s abstract expressionist brushstrokes, which underlines the idea of a fragmented city. The vibrant front is typical of Baalbaki’s expressionistic painting style; it features the media panels placed on construction sites depicting an artist’s rendition of what the building will look like decorated with neon lights and spray-paint, imposing the lively chaos of the capital city’s present onto corporate promises of a brighter future.

Walk through a doorway to the back side and the visitor is confronted by a dimly lit olive-green monochrome recreation of a watchman’s hut, with a washing line and small table outside. From inside the hut comes a red light showing, Baalbaki explains, “the heat of a living creature.” The olive-green is a deliberate reference to the military, and how the civil wars in Lebanon and Syria turned civilians into soldiers. The red light alludes to the thermal signatures visible through night-vision scopes.

Ayman Baalbaki, Janus Gate, 2021. (Supplied)

Baalbaki’s installation, like Janus, combines the past, present and future. It gracefully depicts the stoicism and resilience of the average citizen in the face of chaos.

Across from it, a haunting split-screen movie by Lebanese-French filmmaker and artist Danielle Arbid titled “Allô Chéri” (2022) plays. It is shot from inside a car driving through Beirut. The soundtrack is a woman narrating how she is constantly chasing money. That woman is Arbid’s mother.

Arbid was born in Lebanon in 1970. She moved to Paris aged 17. In 1997, she directed her first film. Since then, she has alternated between fiction, first-person documentaries, and video essays, and works as a photographer. Her work has won numerous awards and been the subject of several retrospectives.

Ayman Baalbaki. (Supplied)

For “Allô Chéri,” Arbid installed a recording device in her mother’s mobile phone (with her mother’s consent) and soon discovered that her mother was running her own banking system — a result of Lebanon’s financial collapse and the need for the people to access money through other means than the official economic system.

“I discovered my mother’s turbulent financial life,” Arbid told Arab News. “Secrets of debts that she hid from us, but that we (guessed at), because she was very stressed during this period. My mother’s life resembles the economic life of Lebanon today.”

The film also shows Arbid’s mother wandering the streets of Beirut. Like those around her, she looks for answers and clings on to hope, but clearly carries with her the despair and weight of the tragedies that have befallen her city.

Aline Asmar d’Amman. (Supplied)

“Allô Chéri” is one of a series of nine films that Arbid has been working on for several years titled “My Lebanese Family.” Each family member has a film focused on them, each in a different genre.

Lebanon’s participation at the 59th Venice Biennale is only the second in its history, and considering all that has transpired in the country, exhibiting in Venice is a feat that goes against all odds.

The pavilion was inaugurated one month before the Lebanese went to vote in the country’s parliamentary elections — ones which resulted in victory for some opposition candidates, spelling momentary celebration for those hoping for change. A desire and commitment to change and to Lebanese heritage and culture can similarly be felt in Venice — but through art.

The Lebanese state provided no money to stage the show; it was entirely privately funded by generous Lebanese art collectors and patrons.

Danielle Arbid. (Supplied)

“The private sector wanted to make sure that Lebanon was well-represented,” Lebanese art collector and patron Basel Dalloul, one of the pavilion’s funders, told Arab News. “The exhibition does represent Beirut’s contemporary art movement. It portrays a commentary on the two sides of Beirut echoing the ancient Roman god of Janus and his two two-faces.”

The Lebanese Visual Art Association (LVAA) organized the Lebanese Pavilion under the patronage of the Lebanese Ministry of Culture, who mandated Nada Ghandour to curate the show. The two artists — Arbid and Baalbaki — were chosen to provide two different but connected viewpoints on contemporary Beirut. Arbid has witnessed her country’s travails from the diaspora, whereas Baalbaki lives and works in Beirut.

“This year, the Lebanese Pavilion comes to life in spite of the extremely challenging times that Lebanon is going through, and the political, economic, and social turmoil that the Lebanese are facing,” Ghandour told Arab News. “By placing the Lebanese Pavilion in the Arsenale, I wanted to show that Lebanon still exists on the world art map and also to send a strong message to artists in Lebanon to encourage and motivate them; to show them that there is support for them, and also promote Lebanon’s contemporary art scene, an important sector for the country.

Danielle Arbid, Allô Chérie, 2015. (Supplied)

“The exhibition invites viewers on a symbolic journey into our contemporary world through a theme, a city, and two artists who maintain a political and aesthetic dialogue from a distance, by presenting artworks which are so far and yet so close,” she continued.

Paris-based Lebanese architect Aline Asmar d’Amman, who designed the pavilion.

“My first intuition was to express a powerful message of hope and unity from Lebanon to the world,” d’Amman told Arab News. “The circular brutalist egg-shaped envelope is a symbolic gesture, a tribute to the cinema of Joseph Karam in Beirut and the experimental theater by Oscar Niemeyer in Tripoli, both monuments that became ruins during the civil war. The structure is open like an oculus, revealing the magnificent wooden framework of the Arsenal. Ayman’s monumental sculptural installation and Danielle’s energetic images travelling through the streets of Beirut, framed in the circle, incarnate the dialogue and the deep plunge into our beloved city.”

Through their artworks, those two artists poignantly — and at times painfully — relay the beauty and decay of the city of Beirut and life as they once knew it in Lebanon.

Baalbaki, born in 1975 — the year the Lebanese Civil War started — has long been one of Lebanon’s most acclaimed artists, known for his work that focuses on political and social issues relating to Lebanon and the Arab world, particularly the conflicts that have ravaged the region.

“The city of Beirut for me is just as Foucault says: ‘A heterochronic space,’ meaning within one space there are several other spaces — utopian and real at the same time,” Baalbaki explained. “You feel like Beirut stretches forward and backward. Janus has two heads: one head faces backwards and another forward. He symbolizes the beginning and the end of time. And, with time, there is a promise of the future.”