Filmmaker Amr Salama discusses Hollywood screening of ‘Barra El-Manhag’

Filmmaker Amr Salama discusses Hollywood screening of ‘Barra El-Manhag’
The screening took place at the first ever Hollywood Arab Film Festival. (YouTube)
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Updated 17 May 2022

Filmmaker Amr Salama discusses Hollywood screening of ‘Barra El-Manhag’

Filmmaker Amr Salama discusses Hollywood screening of ‘Barra El-Manhag’

LOS ANGELES: Egyptian filmmaker Amr Salama’s film “Barra El-Manhag” premiered in Los Angeles, California giving Arab creators international exposure. 

The screening took place at the first ever Hollywood Arab Film Festival, which ran until April 30.

The five-day event, which was part of the celebration of Arab Heritage Month, offered Arab filmmakers the opportunity to gather, create and showcase their work. 

Arab News caught up with Salama to talk about “Barra El-Manhag” and the festival. 

The film is a coming-of-age story, and it served as the finale for the festival. 

“It’s about a kid who has the courage to enter the haunted house in front of his school and just find that there’s no monsters inside,” Salama told Arab News. “There’s a man hiding there and a relationship keeps growing between him and the man who becomes his mentor.” 

The film premiered at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah late last year, but showing it in Hollywood offers an opportunity to showcase the abilities of Arab creators, including those of the next generation like the child-actor Omar Sheriff, who played the main character in “Ben El-Manhag.”

Whilst discussing the process of casting Sheriff, Salama said: “I had to see hundreds, literally hundreds, of kids to pick him. He was the smartest and most ambitious and the most brave.” 

The movie also stars famed Egyptian actor Maged El-Kidwani whom Salama has worked with before. 

“For the other roles, they are all famous actors in Egypt, especially Maged El-Kidwani. I had the pleasure of working with him twice before, and I saw him in this role for like 10 years since I started writing the film,” he added.

The Hollywood Arab Film Festival is bridging the gap between American and Middle Eastern cinema, benefiting both regions, shining a light on Arab filmmakers and paving the way for new creators to prosper in Hollywood.

Salama sees the festival as a great representation for the region. 

“Finally, we have a festival that represents us as Arabs in Hollywood. I really respect the efforts of the guys working on the festival and how they are working hard to do an event that can represent us in such a glamorous way, and I’m very glad I’m here,” he said.

Highlights from this year’s MENART fair in Paris

Highlights from this year’s MENART fair in Paris
Updated 8 sec ago

Highlights from this year’s MENART fair in Paris

Highlights from this year’s MENART fair in Paris
  • Selected works from the 2022 edition of the show dedicated to artists from the MENA region, which runs until May 22 in the French capital

Mohamed Melehi

Melehi features in one of MENART’s special exhibitions, “Casablanca School,” which “attempts to capture the inspiration that this movement launched between 1962 and 1971” in Morocco. “The Casablanca school was not limited to an architectural context nor the educational program of an art school. It was above all a movement in search of artistic and cultural modernity specific to Morocco. It was a socio-cultural positioning that challenged the Academic system of art education and the Euro-centered art history,” the MENART catalogue explains. “This group of artists engaged in a study bringing back the practice of traditional geometric abstraction and the use of signs and symbols characteristic to their Berber, Arab-Muslim, and African social culture. In addition, they used materials of their surroundings such as leather, metal, and natural pigments as their mediums.” Melehi, who died in 2020, was an iconic figure in North African modernism, his use of bright colors and geometric forms — as shown in this piece from 1975 — creating a dynamic style of his own.

Faisal Samra

The Bahrain-born Saudi artist’s career spans five decades, during which he has experimented with photography, painting, sculpture, film, and performance. He is widely regarded as a pioneer of conceptual art in the Middle East, and his work has progressed from expressionism, through “emotive and sensory approaches to art” to a stage where, according to a bio from his gallery, “he has rebelled against his own understanding of art, transitioning into new works that maintain three essential concepts: spontaneity, dynamism, and secrecy.” This untitled diptych, created this year, demonstrates one of Samra’s recurring themes, as he once explained to Elan magazine. “Dissolving is a big thing in my work,” Samra said. “Because we are temporary as humans; we appear then disappear. It is because of this that we want to make things; we want to make a mark. This tension between death and life gives us the motivation to do whatever we are doing.”

Youssef Nabil

The Cairo-born Egyptian photographer Youssef Nabil is one of the region’s most successful artists. His hand-painted photography portraits of famous cultural figures from the Arab world and the West have proved especially popular, while his later series of self-portraits have displayed the artist’s introspective side. At MENART, he presents this 2021 work, “Memories of a Happy Place.” “I’m working on a new series of self-portraits and landscapes. They are about my observation and interrogation of life and existence and about how fragile we all are. It’s a subject that takes up a lot of my thinking,” he told GQ Middle East last year.

Rashid Diab

The Sudanese artist spoke to Arab News in September last year about his lovingly created paintings of his homeland’s landscapes and people, many of which — like this piece from 2020 — portray figures moving through seemingly vast spaces. He said this was because he senses that many Sudanes people “don’t know what to do.” “It makes life surreal. I see the silence of the space in the desert with people fading or vanishing away. It is an uncertain life.” He wanted to honor the women of his country, he added. “Many women in Sudan have lost their husbands or kids; they have suffered a lot,” he said. “But they keep going. They are very strong. I show them respect when I paint them. These women have to be recognized.”

Sama Alshaibi

Iraqi multimedia artist Sama Alshaibi was born in Basra to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother. It is no surprise, then, that her work — according to a bio written by Ayyam Gallery — “explores spaces of conflict and the power struggles that arise in the aftermath of war and exile.” It continues: “Alshaibi is particularly interested in how such clashes occur between citizens and the state, creating vexing crises that impact the physical and psychic realms of the individual as resources and land, mobility, political agency, and self-affirmation are compromised.”

Elias Moubarak

“The Levant is a region where both modern and contemporary artists have re-appropriated their chaotic and unstable daily lives and integrated them into their art,” the MENART brochure states. Notions of “territory, refugees and traditions” dominate their work, and Lebanon especially “possesses this singular ability to capture cultural flows from various sources and to play a role of mediation and filter for movements and styles, born in the West or elsewhere, in order to translate them into its own artistic frameworks.” Lebanese filmmaker and photographer Elias Moubarak, who lives in Germany, presents this haunting, untitled work from 2018 at MENART.

Abdulqader Al-Rais

Al-Rais is one of the UAE’s most-respected artists, known for his landscapes, architectural studies and abstract work, the latter earning him most acclaim. The septuagenarian is largely self-taught. According to the Sharjah Art Foundation, he is “known for both his abstract oil paintings — which draw on Arabic script and geometric forms — and his more recent landscape watercolors, which reflect his longtime interest in traditional Emirati architecture and nature.” This untitled work from 2020, on show at MENART, is a fine example of the former.

Yousef Jaha

A veteran and leader of the Saudi art scene, Makkah-born artist Yousef Jaha held his first solo exhibition back in 1987. At MENART, he is showing this untitled, muted oil painting from 2021. In a previous artist’s statement, Jaha said: “My works constitute a vital part of my personality, a kind of faith, confidence and innate expression of my internal concepts. Experience — and enjoyment — of this work must from inside, and leads to both a natural contemplation and an experience of the technological which expresses it.”

German-Syrian duo Shkoon release new live album, ‘FIRAQ’

German-Syrian duo Shkoon release new live album, ‘FIRAQ’
Updated 16 min 21 sec ago

German-Syrian duo Shkoon release new live album, ‘FIRAQ’

German-Syrian duo Shkoon release new live album, ‘FIRAQ’
  • Fresh from a successful Ragheb Alama remix, Thorben Beeken and Ameen Khayer prepare to tour sophomore release

BELGRADE: “I like the idea of not having too many chances.” Thorben Beeken, the German half of electronic music duo Shkoon, relishes the visceral and spontaneous nature of live performance.

His bandmate Ameen Khayer, who met Beeken in Hamburg in 2015 after seeking asylum as a refugee from the civil war in his native Syria, echoes the sentiment. “We’re not afraid of making mistakes on stage… it’s more important to be authentic — that’s what keeps things interesting, and our audiences respond to that.”

Indeed, this organic, collaborative formula serves as the foundation for the pair’s new live album, ‘FIRAQ’ (Arabic for ‘division’ or ‘split’), released May 20 via WTR/MDLBEAST Records.

Influenced by electronic downbeat, deep house, dub and hip-hop, Shkoon established themselves as one of the most thrilling breakthrough acts of the Arab electronica scene with their 2019 debut. “Rima” was a riveting experiment in the fusion of Arabic music-styled instrumentation and Western electro, featuring an ‘Oriental Slow-House’ medley of compelling vocals, keys, strings, synth and percussion.

Ameen Khayer met Beeken in Hamburg in 2015. (Supplied)

On the heels of tours ignited by the international acclaim and excitement around their first LP, Shkoon are following “Rima” up with a 15-track showcase that includes live renditions of popular, previously released singles such as “Ala Moj Al-Bahr” and “Letters.”

The new record, “FIRAQ,” also lifts the veil on eight brand new tracks. Driven by meandering, melancholic piano, hypnotic synths and Khayer’s emotive vocals, lead single “Mulajia” is a reinterpretation of “Fog Al-Nakhal,” the classic by Iraqi legend Nazem Al-Ghazali. There’s also “A03,” Shkoon’s unique take on Arabic folklore song “Digi Digi Ya Rababa,” as well as “QQQ,” a reimagining of “El Helwa Di” by the visionary Egyptian singer and composer Sayed Darwish.

The journey to the realization of their sophomore release came together as a consequence of both personal tragedy and Shkoon’s collective willingness to follow artistic impulse.

“Only a couple of days before we were due to record the performance, I lost a close family member,” says Khayer. “I was in a completely different world, but I insisted we go ahead.


A post shared by Shkoon (@_shkoon)

“We weren’t doing shows at the time because of the COVID lockdowns, so it was a way to stay connected to playing live, and also express everything I was feeling in a raw and emotional way,” he explains. “It meant a lot to me.”

The album artwork is also a tribute to Khayer’s late relative, whose drawings were adapted by artist and designer Hadeer Omar.

“To be honest, when we first recorded it, we didn’t know we would release it as an album,” Beeken admits. “We thought of the performance as a story we were telling in a live environment, which is where Shkoon really shines.”

It is also where the two musicians flesh out their ideas. “A lot of the writing happens when we are jamming, even while playing live. We like to take sketches and then build on them; there’s no set formula for how we write, really.” Beeken adds.

“Sometimes, I hear some beats, or elements of a melody that remind me of an old song I grew up listening to and it sparks an idea,” says Khayer. “I bring it to Thorben, we start grooving on it together until it becomes something more — it’s very organic.”


A post shared by Shkoon (@_shkoon)

That’s not to say Shkoon always stay within their comfort zone. “We got contacted by the management of (Lebanese pop superstar) Ragheb Alama,” Khayer recalls. “They asked us to do a remix of anything from his catalog.”

Settling on Alama’s “Ya Rayt” was only the beginning of a not-so-straightforward process.

“We really had no idea about how to approach the remix at first. All we had was the master recording from the 1980s — nothing that would help us isolate individual tracks, so we had to get creative,” Beeken says. “It was more like a bootleg style of remixing, and I have to admit, I was feeling a little insecure about how it would come out because it’s not the sound that people expect from us.”

“In the end, though, the response was really positive,” Khayer says. “Everyone was surprised by the result, including us. It took us almost a year to finish it, but it paid off.”

The next step for Shkoon is focusing on where they feel at home most. While Khayer awaits the conclusion of the long bureaucratic process regarding his immigration status in Germany, they’ll be taking “FIRAQ” on the road over a summer packed with live commitments.

“We do shows together as much as possible, but if there’s somewhere I can’t go because of my papers, Thorben plays alone,” Khayer explains.

Shkoon remain optimistic about the future, but in the meantime, he stresses, “we have to be flexible.”

Sketching Syria: Victorian artist’s 19th-century depiction of Damascus’ Mount Qasioun rediscovered

Sketching Syria: Victorian artist’s 19th-century depiction of Damascus’ Mount Qasioun rediscovered
Updated 24 min 16 sec ago

Sketching Syria: Victorian artist’s 19th-century depiction of Damascus’ Mount Qasioun rediscovered

Sketching Syria: Victorian artist’s 19th-century depiction of Damascus’ Mount Qasioun rediscovered

DUBAI: A long-lost Syrian landscape sketched by British artist Lord Frederic Leighton in 1873 will soon return to the walls of Leighton’s namesake museum in London.

Leighton drew the piece during a visit to Damascus, where he was reportedly impressed by the old town’s traditional houses. A frequent traveler, the architecture and design of the Arab world later inspired his own sumptuous ‘Arab Hall’ in his Kensington residence-cum-studio, where the Leighton House Museum now stands.  

The subject of Leighton’s earthy-toned, oil sketch is the Maqam Al-Arba’in shrine atop the Syrian capital’s Mount Qasioun, home to the legendary Cave of Blood — supposedly the location of the first murder; Cain’s killing of his brother Abel.

Leighton stayed at the home of his friend, Syria-based diplomat Richard Burton, from which the mountain was accessible. The rare sketch hung in Leighton’s studio, accompanying a couple of other sketches of Syria and drawings from his journeys to Egypt, Spain, Italy, and Scotland. 

Frederic Leighton, photograph in Linley Samb ourne's collection. (Supplied)

“His landscape sketches weren’t really for exhibition. They were for his own interest and some sort of relaxation. He clearly really enjoyed the process,” Daniel Robbins, Leighton House Museum’s senior curator, told Arab News. “He was certainly interested in the effects of light and color as he traveled and used the sketches as a kind of reference when he was working on his own pictures.”

Acquiring this artwork is part of the museum’s ongoing mission of gradually restoring the house’s original content, which was sold by the renowned artist’s family after his death in 1896. According to cataloging work by Christie’s, more than 200 of Leighton’s sought-after landscapes were listed for sale, and later acquired by friends, peers, and private collectors. 

“When this landscape came up, we were interested in it because it’s quite different — in terms of landscape and aspect — than the other two that we have,” said Robbins. “It’s an exciting thing to think of adding to the collection.”

The museum team was researching a future show on Leighton’s landscapes when the sketch came to their attention via a curator who cataloged it for a sale in Edinburgh. The public will be able to see the sketch when the museum, which is currently closed for renovations, reopens in the fall.

1955 Mercedes sells for EUR135 million, world’s most expensive car: RM Sotheby’s

1955 Mercedes sells for EUR135 million, world’s most expensive car: RM Sotheby’s
Updated 20 May 2022

1955 Mercedes sells for EUR135 million, world’s most expensive car: RM Sotheby’s

1955 Mercedes sells for EUR135 million, world’s most expensive car: RM Sotheby’s
  • RM Sotheby’s said the proceeds from the auction will fund environmental science and decarbonization research

LONDON: A 1955 Mercedes-Benz, one of only two such versions in existence, was auctioned off earlier this month for a whopping 135 million euros ($143 million), making it the world’s most expensive car ever sold, RM Sotheby’s announced Thursday.
“A 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe from 1955 has been sold at auction for a record price of EUR135,000,000 to a private collector,” the classic car auction company said in a statement.
The vehicle sold for almost triple the previous record, which was set in 2018 by a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that fetched over 48 million dollars.
The invitation-only auction took place on May 5 at the MercedesBenz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, the auction house said.


The car is one of just two prototypes built by the Mercedes-Benz racing department and is named after its creator and chief engineer, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, according to RM Sotheby’s.
“The private buyer has agreed that the 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe will remain accessible for public display on special occasions, while the second original 300 SLR Coupe remains in company ownership and will continue to be displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart,” the auction company added.
RM Sotheby’s said the proceeds from the auction will be used to establish a worldwide Mercedes-Benz Fund that will fund environmental science and decarbonization research.

Where We are Going Today: Sentio Cafe

Where We are Going Today: Sentio Cafe
Updated 20 May 2022

Where We are Going Today: Sentio Cafe

Where We are Going Today: Sentio Cafe

Looking for a new cafe to hang out with friends or enjoy a quick coffee? Sentio is a great place to consider.

Whether you like your beverage hot or cold, this central Riyadh cafe has something for all coffee lovers.

Sentio Cafe opened a year ago, and offers a variety of drip coffees, V60, cold brewed, Chemex, lattes and more. For the office or for gatherings, it also offers a takeaway coffee jug of any variety of coffee that can fill more than six cups.

French toast is a favorite, alongside delicious, freshly made sweets, such as cookies, brownies, milk cakes, and homemade vanilla and mango ice cream. The 24-hour cafe also serves halloumi, labneh and zaatar, and hot tuna sandwiches.

Its signature hot chocolate was especially popular during Riyadh Season.

For hot sunny days, the cafe offers homemade passion fruit mojito and pomegranate mojito, or the original classic mojito.

The cafe has a welcoming space with a floral design featuring pastel colors, and outdoor and indoor dining tables.

Saudi Arabia’s food and beverage market has witnessed considerable growth since the launch of the Vision 2030 program, with a growing number of mobile delivery applications, food trucks, and international and local cafes in cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh.

With a population of almost 35 million, the Kingdom is attracting international and local companies to the sector.

For more information, visit Sentio’s Instagram account @sentio_sa.