Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 January 2022

Filming of Hollywood movie ‘Kandahar’ in AlUla is a sign of things to come

The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor. (Supplied)
  • ‘If I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it,’ said ‘Kandahar’ director Ric Roman Waugh
  • ‘Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world’ the country can host major productions, according to the head of Film AlUla

RIYADH: The director and executive producer of “Kandahar,” the first big-budget Hollywood movie to film extensively in AlUla in Saudi Arabia, are full of praise for the natural beauty of the area, and the efforts of Saudi authorities to establish it as a global filming location.
The magical landscape of the ancient city and surrounding area in northwestern Saudi Arabia is increasingly attracting the attention of local and international filmmakers, thanks to its rich history and scenic splendor.
To support this process, the Royal Commission for AlUla in 2020 established Film AlUla to attract and assist film and television productions from around the world. It is led by film commissioner Stephen Strachan, a veteran of the UK industry and a respected film producer in the Middle East and North Africa.
Strachan said he believes the Kingdom is setting the bar high for the region as it takes its first steps in film and TV production, and confirmed that there are plans to establish a studio in AlUla.
“Kandahar” stars Scottish actor Gerard Butler as a CIA operative stuck in hostile territory in Afghanistan. Filming in AlUla and 14 locations in Jeddah began in late November.
“Saudi Arabia is coming together as a film community to show the wider world that there are people on the ground who can look after a large film like ‘Kandahar,’” Stachan told Arab News. About 10 percent of the crew and extras working on the film were hired locally, he added.
The Saudi Film Commission and the Ministry of Culture offered the producers of “Kandahar” exceptional incentives to film in AlUla, Strachan said.
“We also scouted in Tabuk, Hail, Jeddah and Taif with the Ministry of Culture for three weeks to find the best locations, as Ric Roman Waugh, the director of Kandahar, was really keen to shoot in Saudi Arabia,” he added.
Waugh, whose previous films include 2019’s “Angel Has Fallen,” which also starred Butler, said that he knew he wanted to film in AlUla as soon as he saw photos of the area for the first time.
“When I came here I realized that the photos do no justice to this place and it is a breathtakingly beautiful place,” he told Arab News. “As a selfish filmmaker, if I get to show the world AlUla for the first time on this scale, I’m all in. It’s a dream come true; I love it.
“Coming here, in a place that doesn’t have the infrastructure, can have some challenges but it would never have happened without the partnership with the Saudis themselves, and how much they wanted to embrace what we are about.”
Waugh thanked the Royal Commission for AlUla and the Ministry of Culture for their help, dedication and patience while making this film.
“We brought over 25 nationalities to do this film,” he said. “We have Christians, Muslims, Hindus and agnostics who came here to be part of a melting pot, as we wanted to do it together and we would overcome any challenge thrown our way.”
Indian actor Ali Fazal, who plays a character called Kahil Nazir in “Kandahar,” said he and his wife were impressed by the sheer beauty of AlUla.
“I was fascinated by AlUla and when my wife came here she was baffled by the rocks and the landscapes,” he said. “We went to Hegra and other places and it was very cool. We will also go to Jeddah and Makkah to do Umrah.”
Scott LaStaiti, the executive producer of “Kandahar,” congratulated the Saudi authorities for the rapid development of AlUla.
“The Royal Commission for AlUla has a master plan for developing AlUla, and in some specific locations we shot in, like the Sultan Valley, … you think about the history of AlUla and who was standing here 3,000 years ago,” he said. “The beauty here has a lot to offer in terms of looks.”
“The incentives that Saudi Arabia and The Royal Commission of AlUla are offering are very attractive. I think that the commission, and Saudis in general, are very smart in the way they are rolling it out and I think it’s a way that’s going to attract a lot of films to be produced here.”
Prior to “Kandahar,” two other movies spent time filming on location in AlUla. “Cello,” is a horror movie written by Turki Al Sheikh, the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, and based on one of his novels. The English and Arabic language film, which stars veteran British actor Jeremy Irons, is about an aspiring musician who learns that the cost of his cello might be higher than he thought. It is due for release this year.
“Cherry,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and starring Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, tells the story of a disenfranchised young man from Ohio who goes from being a college dropout to an army medic in Iraq. He meets the love of his life, only to risk losing her through a series of bad decisions and challenging circumstances. It was released early last year.


Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel
Updated 28 May 2022

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel
  • Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand,’ translated by Daisy Rockwell, won this year’s prize on Thursday

NEW DELHI: India’s literary world celebrated on Friday as Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand” became the first book written in an Indian language to win the prestigious International Booker Prize.

The prize is awarded annually to a book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  

Shree wrote “Tomb of Sand” (Hindi title “Ret Samadhi”) in 2018. It is a family saga set in the shadow of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when British India was split into two independent states — India and Pakistan — triggering one of the largest migrations in history, with around 15 million people forced to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

The novel follows an 80-year-old Indian woman who travels to Pakistan following the death of her husband to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of partition and, while doing so, reevaluates what it means to be a mother, daughter, and woman.

The book was translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, who shares the prize with Shree. It was the first Hindi-language novel to secure a nomination for the prize.

In her acceptance speech in London on Thursday night, Shree said that behind her was a “rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages.”

“World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction,” she said.

Writers in India welcomed Shree’s recognition with the same hope.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful achievement,” Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most renowned writers, told Arab News.

Namita Gokhale, director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s largest literary event, said the award will bring a “much-needed understanding of Hindi literature, one of the great world literatures.”

She continued: “It will lead to more and more translation (of Hindi works). There are so many wonderful translations out there, but certainly many, many more need to be done, because there is wonderful writing happening at all levels of contemporary Hindi literature.”

For Hindi novelist Bhagwandass Morwal, Shree’s win was a “matter of great pride.”

“After the Nobel Prize, the Booker is the most recognized award for literature,” he said. “This is one Booker prize. It is the beginning. In the future we will see more.”

“Tomb of Sand” beat out five other shortlisted titles for the prize, including “The Books of Jacob” by Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and “Heaven” by Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author best known for “Breasts and Eggs.”


‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 
Updated 28 May 2022

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

LONDON: UK newspaper The Guardian released a documentary film on Friday that tells the story of Aya Abu-Daher, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Denmark whose residence permit was revoked, leaving her facing deportation. 

“Sending Aya Back,” directed by Michael Graversen, follows Abu-Daher’s journey to Denmark and the events that unfolded after she received her deportation notice from the Danish government. 

 

 

The film is divided into nine chapters detailing some of the most notable moments in Abu-Daher’s life, including her high-school graduation, some of her TV interviews, and her appeal against the decision to revoke her residence permit. 

Abu-Daher arrived in Denmark in 2015 with her family after fleeing Syria’s Civil War. She enrolled in school and became fluent in Danish. She worked in restaurants every summer to earn enough money to support herself financially. 

 

 

Abu-Daher’s appeal process was, eventually, successful and her residency was extended for an additional two years on the grounds that her public profile would put her at risk of reprisal from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

However, Abu-Daher believes that her asylum was granted mainly as a result of the widespread media coverage her case received. 

 

 

In Denmark’s last election, in 2019, the victorious Social Democrats, headed by Mette Frederiksen, adopted a restrictive line on immigration. Since then, 189 Syrians have had their residence permits revoked after Copenhagen decided to re-examine the cases of around 500 people from Damascus.

Following the decision to revoke residence permits for Syrian refugees, Denmark faced heavy criticism from the international community for its tough stance. The country now has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe.

 

 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago exposed Europe’s double standards when it comes to refugees. The vast majority of European countries welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms — or, at least, open borders — in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes of European governments towards migrants from outside of Europe.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Poland has taken in more than 3.3 million refugees from Ukraine since late February, with more than 900,000 refugees going to Romania, around 600,000 to Hungary, 460,000 to Moldova and 420,000 to Slovakia. 

Migrants and refugees from elsewhere trying to enter Europe, however, are still struggling to access essential services, often face discrimination and abuse, and, for many, attempts to seek sanctuary in Europe prove fatal. More than 23,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014 trying to reach Europe by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Media outlets in the West have also faced criticism for double standards in their coverage of Ukrainian refugees. 

During an interview on the BBC, the former Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidze said the war was “very emotional for me, because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

On Al-Jazeera English, presenter Peter Dobbie made various inappropriate comments describing Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle-class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war.”


Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network
Updated 27 May 2022

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network
  • Al Arabiya stressed that all accusations cited in the Hezbollah statement are false

LONDON: Al Arabiya network denied accusations and threats made by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in a statement issued on Thursday, which claimed that the network is peddling false information on the militia’s captagon and drug smuggling operations.

Al Arabiya stressed that all accusations cited in the Hezbollah statement are false.

It also confirmed that all reports and investigations published by its various platforms are documented and supported by trusted sources, and confirmed by audio and video files.

They were also confirmed, Al Arabiya said, by arrest warrants issued against Hezbollah members and financiers by several governments in Latin America, the US and Europe.

Al Arabiya said it would carry on with its approach by adhering to the highest professional standards, relying on documented information in its investigations and news material.

The network pointed out that Hezbollah and its members are already blacklisted for drug trafficking, money laundering, smuggling, and illegal trade in many countries around the world.


Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
Updated 27 May 2022

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
  • Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad
  • Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground

LONDON: Iranian intelligence officials are offering Instagram content moderators more than $10,000 to remove the accounts of journalists and activists hostile to the regime, the BBC reported on Friday.
Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad, with one former reviewer telling BBC Persia they were offered $10,700 to delete her account.
The content moderators were speaking after an outcry among Iranian Instagram users that posts about the recent wave of anti-government protests had been deleted.
Demonstrations were held in several provinces of Iran at the start of May after a government decision to cut subsidies to basic food items caused prices to soar, with the unrest quickly leading to protesters chanting slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the country’s President Ebrahim Raisi.
Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground.
However, users noticed that as the unrest continued, videos started being removed, with one opposition activist, @1500tasvir, claiming in a tweet to have been informed by Instagram that their account was being limited to “protect our community.”
The former content moderator said: “I know reviewers who supported the Iranian regime and received instructions from Iran, they can independently delete a post that has been reported without facing any serious consequences.
“If an auditor realizes, at most your accuracy rate may drop by a percentage point or two.”
German-based technology company and Instagram’s moderator, Telus International, told the BBC that although it took the allegations very seriously and had launched an investigation, it also believed them to be false.
In a statement, the firm said: “Telus does not have, nor has it ever had, any ties to the Iranian government.
“Processes are in place to eliminate the ability of reviewers to insert personal or political opinions into their job. Our team members review a randomized set of content to determine if it violates our client’s policies, standards, and guidelines, removing any room for subjectivity.
“These decisions are frequently audited for accuracy and to uncover any potential biases. Additional reviews have been undertaken and have found no validity to these claims.”
Two further moderators interviewed by the BBC supported the assertion that “it was likely” some videos had been removed as they included chants of “death to Khamenei,” although one of the reviewers said the Iranians working for Telus were “decent people” who followed company guidelines.


Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse
Updated 27 May 2022

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse

Woman claims her avatar was sexually assaulted in the metaverse
  • SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users”  
  • Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues as it is not the first time Horizon Worlds accused of virtual harassment 

LONDON: A 21-year-old researcher with corporate accountability campaign group SumOfUs claimed on Thursday that her avatar was sexually assaulted in Meta’s virtual reality platform Horizon Worlds. 

In the footage, the woman’s avatar is seen in a virtual room in Horizon Worlds with two male avatars. One of the avatars is watching while the other appears very close to the woman. Both of the male avatars are seen making sexual comments.

SumOfUs director Vicky Wyatt said that while the attack did not take place in real life, “it still counts, it still has a real impact on users.”  

The group claims that the researcher also witnessed homophobic slurs and virtual gun violence.

Wyatt said that Meta needs to act now to deal with issues.

 

 

“Rather than Facebook rushing headlong into building this metaverse, we’re saying look, you need to stop and look at all the harms that are happening on your platforms right now that you can’t even deal with. Let’s not repeat and replicate those in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse.”

This is not the first time Meta’s Horizon Worlds has been subject to allegations of virtual harassment and sexual assault. 

In February, a psychotherapist spoke out about her experience of being “virtually gang raped” in Facebook’s metaverse, citing that the technological advancement of the simulation made it feel like it had happened in real life.

The metaverse researcher said that she was left “shocked” after three or four avatars attacked her moments after she stepped into the virtual world.

Following the incident, Meta added more safety features to prevent similar attacks, such as “Personal Boundary,” which stops users from imposing on each other’s personal space and is activated by default.