‘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.”


Celebs remember late Tunisian designer at Alaia show in Paris

Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)
Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)
Updated 04 July 2022

Celebs remember late Tunisian designer at Alaia show in Paris

Model Karlie Kloss attended the show. (Instagram)

DUBAI: The who’s who of the fashion industry, including French model Tina Kunakey and Jordanian Romanian footwear designer Amina Muaddi, attended a runway presentation by Alaia on Sunday.

The label, founded by late Tunisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa, released a statement ahead of the ready-to-wear Spring 2023 show that explained why the latest offering is being marketed with the slogan “Rough and Real.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ALAÏA (@maisonalaia)

“Real – as creation should remain far from the likes, far from the screen. These clothes are meant to be worn, meant to be touched and felt. Raw and imperfect, to effect and affect,” a statement signed by creative director Pieter Mulier read.

Shown on the eve of couture week in Paris, Mulier’s third collection for the iconic fashion house took natural fabrics and elevated them into fashion statements. Entire cowhides were shaped into skirts and lengths of boiled cashmere were transformed into cocktail dresses worn with high-heeled fur booties in a line that was equal parts raw and chic.

“It’s about taking all the codes of Azzedine and explaining them to the young generation that don’t really know it,” the designer said backstage, according to WWD. “It’s basically empowering women in a different way than other brands can do,” he added.

The Belgian designer explained that he took many cues from one of Alaia’s 1984 collections, while one design was a replica of a 1992 creation by the Tunisian creative talent that never made it onto the runway.

The glittering front row added to the glamor at the event, with Kunakey joined by her husband, French actor Vincent Cassel, as well as Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Karlie Kloss and Laura Harrier.

They took in the show in a gutted out space that is set to be a future Alaïa flagship store and offices.

Known to be a fan of the fashion house, Kunakey has showed off Alaia looks on a number of occasions, including in September 2020 when she attended a lavish Bulgari bash in Rome.

For the occasion she donned an elegant fuchsia-colored gown with a scooped, exposed back and a halter neckline. She elevated the look with a selection of sparkling Bulgari diamond rings and a serpent necklace.


Restaurateur Natasha Sideris talks Saudi plans, new dining concept in Dubai

Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)
Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2022

Restaurateur Natasha Sideris talks Saudi plans, new dining concept in Dubai

Natasha Sideris is the founder and CEO of Tashas Group. (Supplied)

DUBAI: It’s one of Dubai’s most buzzed about eateries and while the Instagram-worthy Flamingo Room readies to open its doors in Riyadh later this year, we caught up with restaurateur Natasha Sideris to find out more about her success and worldwide expansion plans.

The founder and CEO of Tashas Group, which has a portfolio of varied dining concepts, shed light on why she sees Saudi Arabia as a growing market, as well as her plans for new dining outlets.

“Our decision to expand into Saudi was informed by two things. Firstly, the location that we have found for Flamingo Room by tashas is extraordinary in Bujairi Terrace. Secondly, I think that there are wonderful opportunities in the country. It is a previously untapped market with a large population that is open to new concepts,” Sideris told Arab News.

“As with any new market, there will be challenges,” she added, explain that “we have spent eight years in the UAE forging great relationships with suppliers, shopfitters (and) photographers. It will take time to build relationships with new suppliers, but we are well on our way.”

Curating the concept specially for the Kingdom’s market, the group will open the destination restaurant in a three-storey building inspired by Najd architecture in Diriyah, on the banks of Wadi Hanifah.

The group, which was founded in South Africa and operates out of Dubai in the UAE, has seven brands under its umbrella: tashas, Le Parc by tashas, Flamingo Room by tashas, Avli by tashas, Galaxy Bar, Collective Africa, and 1701.

In addition to its expansion into Saudi Arabia, in the next six to 12 months the group plans to open five other locations, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, South Africa and London.

“We are going to enter the UK market slowly and sensibly,” Sideris revealed. “The pandemic, as well as Brexit, have made a major impact so we want to make sure we adapt the concept to the market and, all going well, we will expand the number of locations. “

The group is also introducing a brand new concept in Dubai’s Alserkal Arts hub. Called Nala, the project will offer diners luxury quick-service, something the founder said is important to her.

“This concept is close to my heart and we have been working on it for a couple of years. So many people are strapped for time yet would like to eat beautiful food in a stunning environment. Our goal is to serve our guests freshly prepared meals quickly and provide fantastic quality at the same time.”


Louvre Abu Dhabi partners with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay to showcase 150 Impressionist works

‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)
‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2022

Louvre Abu Dhabi partners with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay to showcase 150 Impressionist works

‘Women in the garden’ by Claude Monet. (Supplied)

DUBAI: The Louvre Abu Dhabi has partnered with Paris’ Musée d’Orsay on what is billed as one of the most significant Impressionist exhibitions ever to be held outside France — the upcoming “Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity” show.

Set to run from Oct. 12, 2022, to Feb. 5, 2023, the exhibition will bring together more than 150 works alongside etchings, costumes, film and photography to explore why Impressionism was considered so shocking in the 19th century.

Art enthusiasts will be able to enjoy works from Impressionist masters such as Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne.

Widely seen as a rebellious artistic movement, Impressionism is marked by its shift away from the academic convention and traditions of 19th century European painting, with pioneers known to have regularly caused a stir. In fact, Manet’s “Olympia” is regarded as one of the most scandalous paintings of the time and caused controversy when it was first displayed at the 1865 Paris Salon, while Monet achieved fame for his relaxed style, which was a far cry from the hyper-realistic paintings of the previous era.

The artistic movement “saw some of history’s bravest and most visionary painters embrace and extoll new ways of seeing, making art, and living. They celebrated this thrilling new reality, representing truthful observations of nature and modern life,” the museum’s website reads.

The upcoming exhibition on Impressionism comes as the Louvre Abu Dhabi expands its international collection with the recent announcement of two loans from the Philippines’ Ayala Museum.

Set to be on show until June 2023, the museum’s first-ever showcase of artifacts from the Philippines features two items that date back to the 10th-13th century. The first loan is a gold cup that was recovered from Nabua in the Camarines Sur province of the Philippines. It highlights the striking similarity of Filipino works to the Chinese gold and silverware acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi in 2019.

The second artifact is a funerary mask from the city of Butuan in the Philippines. It places emphasis on immortality being the universal hope of mankind when faced with death, according to a released statement. This artifact is currently showcased alongside other historical items from the Levant and South America that exemplify this shared tradition.


Model Shanina Shaik kicks off wedding season in style

Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)
Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)
Updated 03 July 2022

Model Shanina Shaik kicks off wedding season in style

Model Shanina Shaik has starred in a number of fashion campaigns. (File/ Getty Images)

DUBAI: Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik kicked off wedding season in style by attending the nuptials of fellow Victoria’s Secret model Nadine Leopold and tech entrepreneur Andrew Barclay.

The pair tied the knot at an undisclosed location and while Shaik respected the couple’s privacy and did not post shots of the wedding, she did take to Instagram to show off her wedding attire and shared a short video of fireworks at the reception.

Shaik opted for a cream-colored silk shirt that grazed her baby bump and captioned the photo of her outfit, which she shared on Instagram Stories, “bestie’s wedding.”

The growing baby bump is not news to Shaik’s 2.9 million Instagram followers, who learned of her pregnancy in May.

The catwalk star took to Instagram on Mother’s Day to share the happy news followers, posting three images of her bump with an extended caption in the form of a letter.

“To the new love of my life, thank you for choosing me to be your Mum. I have always wanted you for as long as I can remember, and at times my patience was tested. The timing had to be right, and I can say with confidence that I am ready to be your guide, your protector and your best friend,” she said.

The 31-year-old model, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Lithuanian and Australian descent, is expecting the baby with her partner Matthew Adesuyan, the head of a record label in Los Angeles.

“As each month goes by during this precious journey of pregnancy, I am learning what the role of being a mother entails. I worry a lot, especially about your wellbeing and development. It’s a feeling that I’ve never experienced before, not even about myself. I would do anything for you, be anything for you and sacrifice anything for you,” she added.

She praised her own mother mentioning that she was raised by an “amazing woman” who taught her a lot about motherhood. “She has set the bar high and I don’t want to disappoint you. I want to raise you as she raised me.”

The mom-to-be ended the lengthy caption saying: “Sharing you with the world today is the most precious gift I could possibly receive on Mother’s Day. Mummy and Daddy can’t wait to meet you!”

Since sharing the news, Shaik has treated fans to regular updates about her pregnancy, including a post late last week that she captioned “baby kicked,” as well as her prenatal stretching tips and skincare routine.


UN report with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture spotlights pandemic’s effect on arts scene

The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)
Updated 03 July 2022

UN report with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture spotlights pandemic’s effect on arts scene

The report’s findings were unveiled in Abu Dhabi. (Supplied)

DUBAI: While lockdowns, postponements and cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic seem largely in the past, the socio-economic upheaval is still being reckoned with — and the international arts and culture scene is just one of many sectors that has been left reeling.

A new report released by UNESCO in partnership with Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism (DTC), titled “Culture in Times of COVID-19 Resilience, Recovery and Revival,” explores the major global trends that have reshaped the cultural sector due to COVID-19 and provides solutions for its revival.

Research for the report began in September 2021 when the DCT partnered with UNESCO to publish the first global assessment of the impact of COVID-19 across all cultural domains since the advent of the pandemic.

The findings were released during an event late last week in Abu Dhabi where both the DCT’s Chairman Mohamed Al-Mubarak and Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO assistant director general, were present.

“Lockdowns experienced by many countries destroyed jobs and business in the culture sector,” Ramirez told Arab News. “This had a severe impact on the sector with more than 10 million jobs lost in 2020 alone and a 20 to 40 percent drop in revenues across the sector.”

Venue-based activities such as theaters and museums — as well as World Heritage sites — were hit hard.

“UNESCO reported that about 90 percent of museums and cultural institutions closed worldwide and about 90 percent of countries saw their World Heritage sites fully or partially closed in 2020,” he added.

“Many artists and cultural professionals have lost their livelihoods; pre-existing inequities have been deepened — including for women and girls — further amplifying social and   economic insecurities. These impacts have brought leading decision-makers and cultural professionals to further rely on the social and economic role of culture as a road to recovery,” stated the report.

Cultural and creative industries, as well as artists, also suffered greatly, emphasized Ramirez and the report. “The estimate is that in 2020 there was a $750bn contraction in the Gross Value Added generated by the cultural and creative industries globally, relative to 2019,” he told Arab News. “We need strong policies that support these industries and the artists. Artists and cultural professionals should not only be adequately recognized henceforth but appropriately credited for their work and contribution.”

Recognizing the importance of museums, cultural institutions and heritage sites is also vital. 

“They not only preserve heritage but offer equal access to culture and provide vital education, social inclusion, cultural diversity and well-being,” said Ramirez.

While the culture sector is beginning to recover, what the pandemic has taught those in the field is that it cannot move forward in today’s world without developing and sustaining a collective ecosystem.

“This includes data-driven policies, inter and intra-sectoral collaboration, economic investment, infrastructure, regulations, socio-economic support and capacity-building,” explained Ramirez.

Crucially, he emphasized, “if we are to preserve our culture, we must ensure the continuity of its creation by supporting artists and professionals in adapting to a changing world; providing equal access and opportunities across the cultural value chain; ensuring social protection and fair retribution for all; harnessing technological change to support innovation and facilitate a diversity of cultural expressions.”

The cultural sector, even in its weakened state, caused many to question what they value and prioritize. Culture in that light is often a source of comfort, connection and beauty for many. Take it away and we lose a vital part of our wellbeing and our communication with others.