Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage
Salma Bensaid has traveled across Morocco, meeting women and men passionate about their culture, tradition, and art. (Instagram)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

Moroccan TV star Salma Bensaid discusses new platform to promote her homeland’s heritage

PARIS: Salma Bensaid is a television presenter and producer who has worked on the design and production of several projects aimed at young people and the Moroccan public — focusing on lifestyle, housing, crafts, social issues and heritage.

For shows such as “Dar Wa Décor” and “Decocoeurs,” Bensaid and her team have visited more than 380 Moroccan families and over 20 accommodation centers, fitting out and furnishing more than 400 spaces. She has traveled across Morocco, meeting women and men passionate about their culture, tradition, and art.

Bensaid spoke to Arab News about her new platform, Dialna Maroc — which she has created to help preserve and promote her country’s rich cultural heritage.

Q: Tell us about your recently launched Dialna Maroc platform. What are its aims?

A:The Dialna movement and the Dialna Maroc platform are the natural continuation of a journey of 21 years in audio-visual production and content creation. The promotion of Morocco, its know-how, its history, arts, and heritage were among my priorities, but what accelerated the launch of this movement was the meeting I had with a family of craftsmen in Fez. They had suffered the full brunt of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — the border closure and the drastic reduction in tourism. Moroccan craftsmen suffered during this period when economic activity was completely at a standstill.

Our mission consisted of finding alternative markets and sources of income for artisans and relaunching production in certain workshops. We first created demand in a market abroad and, in a continuous spirit of solidarity, we continued with the production of a collection called “SB,” marketed via a digital platform. The objective is to keep productivity up among these craftsmen and to create a link between the artisan and the customer.

Dialna Morocco is a unifying ecosystem. It’s a platform for networking, relaunching a dynamic of creation, meetings and debates around a multicultural country.

It makes it possible to support craftsmen and serves as a bridge between art curators, historians, influencers, and Moroccan youth. Our main mission — through an inclusive culture and shared responsibility, is to revive the legacy of the past; to protect it, to enrich it and to pass it on to future generations.

With the help of its members and its ambassadors, Dialna Maroc disseminates its values ​​through its various content and alliances, in Morocco and beyond. Our projects spark debate and stimulate creativity. Our main themes are Moroccan identity, coexistence, savoir-vivre, artistic and cultural characteristics and skills, architectural heritage, and gastronomy.

Q: What are the main challenges Moroccan artisans face?

A: The question we’re addressing is how to provide them with effective tools so they can promote their skills, build networks, and enter new markets without depending on one-off events. With Dialna Morocco, we’ve launched “Artisan w Aala Bal,” which provides artisans with training in marketing, digital, and e-commerce and offers image coaching.

Q: Morocco is renowned for its cultural richness. How are you promoting and passing on this legacy?

A: In terms of architecture, crafts, art and gastronomy, there are things specific to Moroccan culture that are the subject of international recognition. Unfortunately, our craftsmen do not have any real support. These professions — and a part of our heritage — face the risk of disappearing. Cultural transmission is a common responsibility. And a necessity. The protection of heritage needs to be at the heart of the debate, stimulating interest among young people and encouraging research, reflection and a sense of community.

Q: Can you give an example of how you are helping to do that?

A: For example, we’ve launched a photo contest for students and academics. The objective is to bring together young people who wish to better understand and analyze their history and heritage. We offer them the opportunity to immortalize a moment through photographs.

Other projects are planned too. The goal is to engage with others to preserve our heritage and our culture. Our mission is to encourage young talents, and ensure they get access to necessary training to perpetuate ancestral professions, and become the guarantors of our cultural heritage. Our identity is what we are: Our past, our present, and what we will leave to future generations.

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears
Updated 30 June 2022

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

‘It was way overdue’: Sam Asghari opens up about marrying Britney Spears

DUBAI: US-Iranian actor Sam Asghari has opened up about his marriage to pop superstar Britney Spears in his first interview since their June wedding.

The actor and dancer appeared on “Good Morning America” in a segment that aired Wednesday to promote his film, “Hot Seat.”

“The husband thing hasn’t hit me yet,” Asghari said, before discussing the wedding and saying, “It was way overdue for us. We imagined this thing being a fairytale, and it was. And we wanted to celebrate with, you know, our loved ones, our close people. We wanted to just celebrate, and that’s what we did.”

Until November 2021, Spears was under a conservatorship, which was handled by her estranged father Jamie Spears, and was unable to get married.



Following the termination of the conservatorship, the pair wed on June 9 in an intimate ceremony at their Los Angeles home. Guests included Madonna, Selena Gomez, Drew Barrymore, Paris Hilton, and Donatella Versace.

The up-and-coming actor is starring in the film “Hot Seat,” in which he plays a SWAT team officer alongside Shannen Doherty, Kevin Dillon, and Mel Gibson.

“My wife gave me, like, this amazing platform to work with,” he said. “So I’m always appreciative of that. And I’m always so grateful for that. I don’t take any opportunity that I have for granted, and I really try to stay positive with everything that’s happening.” 

They began dating in 2016 after meeting on the set of her “Slumber Party” music video.

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists
Updated 30 June 2022

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists

Dhahran’s Ithra hosts ‘Amakin’ exhibition highlighting 28 Saudi, international artists

DUBAI: The 9th edition of the 21,39 Jeddah Arts exhibition is travelling to Dhahran’s Ithra — or the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture — for the first time.

Inspired by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu’s popular song “Al Amakin,” the exhibition opens at Ithra on June 30 and will run until Sept. 30.

Asma Bahmim “Wandering Walls.” (Supplied)

Leading art historian Venetia Porter curated the exhibition, which includes 28 regional and international artists who explore the notion of what “makan,” or place, means to them, demonstrating how their life experiences have shaped their relationship to different places, real and imagined.

“The notion of makan, or place, fell into sharp relief with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns around the world,” Porter said in a released statement. “That place where we live and perhaps took for granted became, for some of us, another country as we discovered familiar streets as though for the first time, observed in minute detail the changing of the seasons or listened to the birds. For others, our makan became a trap – a place to escape from that now caused us trauma and stress.”


A post shared by #SAC #ساك (@sacsaudi)

Saudi artists Safeya Binzagr and Abdulhalim Radwi headline the show, which also features works by Abdulrahman Al-Soliman, a Sharqiyah-based Saudi modernist, as well as a bevy of other creative talents from Chile, Iraq, Pakistan, Lebanon and Palestine.

Badr Ali, notebooks and sketches. (Supplied)

“This exhibition is a source of inspiration, and will evoke emotions within each visitor; emotions they did not know were lying dormant at the back of their minds,” said Farah Abushullaih, head of the Ithra Museum, in a released statement.

This is the first 21,39 exhibition to travel beyond Jeddah.

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 
Updated 30 June 2022

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome 

CHENNAI: In many ways Rome plays second fiddle to Paris, a city that is often lauded as the most romantic and picturesque in the world. But if one were to watch Brandon Camp’s “Love & Gelato” — and read the novel by Gina Evans Welch upon which the movie is based — the Italian capital could soon replace Paris as the internationally recognized city of love. 

Indeed, Rome is a principal character in the film, with its aura of twinkling magic, imposing structures and grand Colosseum, as well as the haunting ruins of the world’s first shopping mall, Trajan’s Market (built between 100 and 110 AD). Wide-eyed Lina Emerson (Susanna Skagga) is so overwhelmed by these magnificent sights that it eases the pain of the recent loss of her mother, whose last wish was to see her daughter visit Rome where the older woman found her first love — Lina’s father.

The movie is based on the novel by Gina Evans Welch. (Supplied)

When a paranoid Lina, whose list of fears is seemingly endless, meets Lorenzo Ferrazza (Tobia De Angelis), she finds the pull of adventure so hard to resist that she jumps on his scooter as he races across a magically lit city, brought alluringly to life by cinematographer Thomas Scott Stanton. The initially hesitant Lina is also given a journal that her mother had kept when she lived in Italy, leading our protagonist to uncover a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries chock full of traditional Roman sweet buns called maritozzi.

“Love & Gelato,” now streaming on Netflix, may seem like a silly portrait of a young woman’s first flirtation, but Camp and author Welch transformed it into a story that will resonate with audiences due to Lina’s relationship with her late mother pushing the narrative forward. 

For cinema lovers, there are call-backs that make the movie a delight to watch — scenes of the Trevi Fountain will remind you of Federico Fellini's 1960 classic “La Dolce Vita,” with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg taking a midnight dip in the historic site. Meanwhile, seeing Lorenzo and Lina zip along on a scooter will remind ardent cinema fans of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in the unforgettable “Roman Holiday.” “Love & Gelato” may not be a great work on the level of those masterpieces, but it is sweet —as sweet as maritozzi!

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
Updated 30 June 2022

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’

Egyptian actor Asser Yassin talks starring in ‘The Eight,’ ‘Suits Arabia’
  • The Egyptian actor on his stellar year starring in ‘Suits Arabia’ and ‘The Eight,’ his intense preparation process, and getting more involved on set

DUBAI: At this point, 2022 might as well be deemed the year of Asser Yassin. The Egyptian actor already dominated the global conversation in Ramadan as the lead in “Suits Arabia,” a remake of the beloved American legal series. Less than two months later, Yassin has followed it up with what is poised to be the series of the summer — MBC’s flagship crime thriller “The Eight,” which already has garnered rave reviews and big ratings.

“The ambition of ‘The Eight’ is something I’ve never experienced before,” Yassin tells Arab News. “The production budget is in line with a top show in Hollywood — the highest I’ve ever worked on. The crew was very international. But, most important for me, the character was someone I’d never played before, and he kept revealing himself as we went.”

Yassin plays Adam, a man who suddenly finds himself at odds with the gang he’s long belonged to, surviving his own execution only to set off on a path to revenge. The character, created by Saudi writer Turki Al-Shikh, turned out to be a greater challenge to figure out than Yassin had anticipated.

Mohammed Alaa (left) and Asser Yassin (center) in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

“For each film or series that I do, I write an extensive background history for the character just for myself, to figure him out. For this, I couldn’t find a reference to any other character, not only that I had done, but in any other film. He just felt different. It was really interesting to me,” Yassin continues.

Yassin himself is a lifelong cinephile, a man who abandoned his degree in engineering against his family’s wishes because his love for film was so great. During what little free time he had at university, he starred in short films with his friend, who happened to be the son of the legendary Egyptian realist Khairy Beshara, who during the Eighties and Nineties made some of Egypt’s most significant films, such as “El Towk Wa El Eswera” and “Yom Mor... Yom Helw.”

Beshara saw some of the two friends’ films and told his son that he wanted to work with Yassin. It was a moment that changed his life.

“He’s my second father, a man I still call constantly,” says Yassin of Beshara. “He changed the way I saw myself, how I saw film, and how I saw life itself.”

Lara Scandar and Asser Yassin in “The Eight.” (Supplied)

Yassin has modeled his own career after actors such as Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, and others, he says, pushing himself to the limit on nearly every project he takes — sometimes too far for his own physical and mental health. Adam, however, a desperate character with violence in his heart, did not make him think of any of the films he’s long admired. For Adam, he had to go to people he knew.

“First and foremost, I thought of my grandfather,” he says. “Adam doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s an idealistic guy who’s driven to revenge after the events of the first episode after his sister and fiancé die. My father and my grandfather come from rural Egypt. There, we understand revenge, and we understand family.

“My grandfather was a superb man, a military man, extremely well-read. But when I was four years old, he came to me and said, ‘Asser, there are only four people you go to jail for. Your father, your mother, your brother and your wife. You kill for these people,’” Yassin continues.

When he sat down to write his character’s background history, he also thought of the father of one of his best friends, a surgeon who, in his free time, hunted ducks on the land he owned in Beheira, near Alexandria in Egypt.

Asser Yassin and Mohammed Alaa on set. (Supplied)

“During the revolution, he was there hunting by himself. There were a group of people who decided that, since there was no security, they would go and take over the land. They went in with shotguns. To their surprise, he decided to fight back. Bullets started flying back and forth until he took to his car to run. They pursued him, still shooting, until his car flipped. They left, because they thought he’d died, but he survived,” says Yassin. “I imagined Adam sitting in the passenger seat of that car next to him.”

Yassin’s dedication on set was just as intense. With time, he’s learned to dedicate himself to the project overall, rather than just to his own performance.

“That’s something I’ve been doing on the last couple of projects,” he says. “I consider the whole show mine. I’m always there to give it my all, even if I’m not in the shot. It’s my project, it’s my baby. I literally spill blood for it, whether it’s in stunts, in anger or in stress. It was like that on ‘Suits’ as well. I’m there every moment with this intention in mind.”

On “The Eight,” that sometimes meant stepping in during moments of crisis. In one key stunt, a car packed with explosives was supposed to flip, after which Yassin’s character was supposed to escape in a helicopter. Yassin knew, as it the vehicle was one of the older Range Rovers with a low center of gravity, that it would be nearly impossible to pull off without proper preparation. “That went back to my engineering degree again,” he says.

Asser Yassin on set with Lara Scandar. (Supplied)

As the sun went down, Yassin sat with the stunt coordinator. The explosives in the car went off, but the vehicle didn’t flip. As the filmmakers scrambled to figure out what to do with a shot that was already blown, Yassin took matters into his own hands.

“I threw everything I had aside, ran into the scene, got onto the helicopter, and left,” he says. “We had to get it done.”

Ultimately though, while Yassin has grown to have the kind of outsized presence on set that is reserved for only the top leading actors, his goal is not to take charge, but to create a space conducive to creativity, from top to bottom.

“I hate negativity, because in the end we’re creating. If I have tension with a colleague, I have to smooth it over somehow, or give it time until it fades away,” he says. “I have to have a strong relationship on set with everyone, from the actors to the director to the cinematographer to the gaffer. We all have to be on the same frequency. We’re all equal, at the end of the day. You can’t do well when you’re the only one doing well.”

While Yassin’s dance card is full at the moment — he’ll be a lead character in the “Sons of Rizk” sequels and has two other films in the works — he is hoping that “The Eight” will come back for multiple seasons, especially due to the response it’s already gotten thus far, both in Saudi Arabia and across the region.

“I think it’s an amazing project. It’s so rich,” he says. “There’s so much left to reveal in this character, and I hope we’re able to let this story unfold in season two.”

UK’s Arab-focused SAFAR Film Festival is back and bigger than ever

UK’s Arab-focused SAFAR Film Festival is back and bigger than ever
Updated 30 June 2022

UK’s Arab-focused SAFAR Film Festival is back and bigger than ever

UK’s Arab-focused SAFAR Film Festival is back and bigger than ever

DUBAI: “There’s a growing demand for Arab cinema from UK audiences,” Amani Hassan, program director at the Arab British Center in London, which organizes the SAFAR Film Festival, tells Arab News.

This is a landmark year for the festival, which runs from July 1-17. As well as being the 10th anniversary of its debut, it marks SAFAR’s transition to an annual event and sees it expand to venues in Wales and Scotland, as well as England. Ten cinemas across the UK will be screening the festival’s 22 titles between July 1 and July 17.

As the only festival in the UK dedicated to promoting films from across the Arab world, SAFAR plays an important role not only in the cultural exchange to which the Arab British Center is dedicated, but in the development of Arab cinema. As Hassan points out, “We’re showing some films that haven’t been shown in their home countries.”

Darin J. Sallam’s acclaimed “Farha” is getting its UK premiere at SAFAR. (Supplied)

This year’s theme is “The Stories We Tell,” with a program curated by Rabih El-Khoury, exploring, he said in the press release, “the devices used by Arab filmmakers to push cinematic boundaries, reclaim overlooked histories, and present new perspectives to audiences both at home and abroad – importantly, on our own terms.

Among the 22 films showing at Safar is “Becoming” — an omnibus film consisting of five stories, each by a different female Saudi filmmaker. Hassan tells Arab News that she pushed to have it included in SAFAR this year: “I saw it at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah, and I thought it was pretty amazing to be sitting and watching a film made by five Saudi females in Saudi.”

A still from “Heliopolis,” the festival’s opening film. (Supplied)

She stresses, however, that the film is in the program on merit — not for some form of tokenism. “It wouldn’t have been included if we didn’t think it was a good film,” she says.

“Becoming” joins four other films getting their UK premiere at SAFAR: Darin J. Sallam’s acclaimed “Farha”; Omar El-Zohairy’s “Feathers,” which won the Grand Prize at Cannes International Critics Week; Eliane Raheb’s “Miguel’s War”; and Leila Bouzid’s “A Tale of Love and Desire.”

All five films are prime examples of the “new perspectives” El-Khoury is looking for, and of the ever-increasing quality of Arab filmmaking — something Hassan has noted in the six years that she has been involved with SAFAR.

“They are telling stories about topics that perhaps wouldn’t have been possible five or 10 years ago,” she says. “That’s what I find really interesting.”