CANNES: Film-makers are holding up a mirror to France over its colonial past at the Cannes festival, helped by star power and a growing French readiness to face up to injustices committed notably in Africa.
The colonization of Algeria and the horrors of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) deeply scarred both nations and continues to mar relations, but was hardly discussed in France in public for decades.
Although President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged crimes committed — including a massacre by police of Algerians in Paris in 1961 which he called “inexcusable” — his government has ruled out “presenting an apology” for France’s colonial past.
“I think you could say that I’m obsessed by the Algerian war,” French director Philippe Faucon told AFP at the Cannes festival.
His film “Les Harkis” tells the story of Algerians who fought alongside French troops against the independence movement, only to be left behind for the most part when France pulled out of Algeria, and facing the vengeance of the victorious Algerians.
The movie places the responsibility for this “criminal betrayal” and the subsequent massacres of Harkis firmly at the doorstep of then-president Charles de Gaulle.
“It is necessary to recall this story and look the truth in the eyes,” said Algerian-born Faucon, although historical “complexities” make easy judgments impossible.
Fellow director Mathieu Vadepied also warned against facile conclusions about France’s forced recruitment of Senegalese soldiers for its World War I war effort, the subject of his film “Tirailleurs” (“Father and Soldier”).
French superstar Omar Sy — who has won a huge international following with his roles in “Untouchable” and the Netflix smash hit “Lupin” — plays the lead in the story about a father and a son who are both forced into the trenches.
“My idea is to put things into question,” Vadepied told AFP. “Question France’s historical relationship with its former colonies, what do we have to say about that today, do we even know what we did?”
While rejecting any “frontally political” approach, he said that “if we deny the facts we can never move on, we need to tell these stories, everybody needs to know them.”
The idea was however “not to guilt-trip people, but to recognize the painful history and free ourselves.”
Sy, the France-born son of west African immigrants, told the audience at the film’s opening night: “We have the same story, but we don’t have the same memories.”
The second Cannes week will see the screening of “Nos Frangins” (“Our Brothers”) by French director Rachid Bouchareb who in 2006 sparked a nationwide debate with “Indigenes” (“Days of Glory”), a film about the contribution of North African soldiers to the French Free Forces during World War II.
In his latest movie, he tells the story of Malik Oussekine, a student killed in 1986 and whose name resonates deeply among French minorities.
On the night of December 6, 1986, two police officers beat to death the 22-year-old French-Algerian on the sidelines of a student protest in Paris.
He had not been involved in the demonstration, and his killing became a turning point — triggering weeks of unrest and leading to the unprecedented conviction of the officers involved.
It took 35 years for the death of Malik Oussekine to be recounted on-screen.
Award-winning filmmaker Ali El-Arabi finds his voice through film
The award-winning Egyptian filmmaker on his moving refugee doc ‘Captains of Zaatari’ and future plans
Updated 01 July 2022
DUBAI: Nearly 10 years ago, Egyptian filmmaker Ali El-Arabi, the award-winning documentarian behind “Captains of Zaatari,” made a promise. He was in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the largest temporary settlement of displaced Syrians in the world, and a teenaged boy he had just met named Fawzi Qatleesh asked if he could speak his truth to the camera.
“On the first day I arrived, he asked me, ‘Ali, can you film me? I want to say something to the people outside of this camp.’ The second he started to talk, I said to myself, ‘This boy is my hero,’” El-Arabi tells Arab News.
Qatleesh had dreams. He wanted to become a professional footballer. More importantly, he wanted the people outside those fences to know the truth of the refugee experience. He didn’t want pity, he told El-Arabi, he only wanted opportunity.
As the film hits Netflix this month in the Middle East, El-Arabi is overjoyed. Finally, after seven years of filming and a years-long global festival tour, his promise is fulfilled.
“I lost a lot of money, to be honest, because I refused to sell the film to a smaller platform that might limit its reach. That was for Fawzi — because of that promise I made him on the first day. I told him to say what was in his heart, and I would tell everyone in the world his story. That has been my mission ever since,” says El-Arabi.
El-Arabi knew what it felt like to have a message that people needed to hear. He was himself once an athlete, a dedicated and successful martial artist, even winning Egypt’s national kickboxing championship. During the Egyptian revolution, however, El-Arabi abandoned any future he might have in sport, instead turning towards filmmaking.
“I started to feel I had something to say, but I couldn’t say it with my voice,” he says. “I realized filmmaking was the way I could say it. I started making small documentaries about what was happening and screening them in the street. One day, the police came and I took my film and I ran. That made me realize the power of what I could say with a camera.”
El-Arabi left Egypt, partnering with the ZDF TV channel to film documentaries in war zones including Iraq, Syria, Kurdistan and Afghanistan. War reporting, however, was unfulfilling, as it so often stripped away the humanity of those caught in its horrors.
“Refugees and the victims in the war were all just numbers. It was the news, and the news just wanted statistics,” El-Arabi says. “I couldn’t process it that way. These were people, and I knew there was more going on than the news could report.”
After meeting Qatleesh and his friend Mahmoud Dagher — the two boys he would ultimately follow from the refugee camp in Jordan all the way to an elite soccer program in the Gulf — El-Arabi filmed them for seven years before whittling their story down to a scant 75 minutes, resulting in a story that showed their incredible journey while also refusing to gloss over the realities of refugee life.
Nonetheless, the film is bursting with hope, and El-Arabi’s proudest moments have come showing the film not to the outside world, as he originally intended, but to those in similar circumstances to Dagher and Qatleesh when he first found them.
“We screened it at a refugee camp in Lebanon, and person after person came up to me to tell me that, for the first time, they could think about the future. They said the film showed them that they could not only have dreams, they could achieve them. I will never forget that,” El-Arabi says.
Since its limited release in 2021, the film has already transformed the lives of both young men whose story it follows.
“They’re stars now. They feel it. Even some football clubs have watched the film and want to give them opportunities,” El-Arabi says. “The government of Jordan and the leaders in the camps respect them. Children in the camps are looking to them as role models. I speak to them all the time, and it’s wonderful to watch, even though they also feel the pressure from their families that they need to start delivering on their promise as soon as possible, and transforming their situation too.”
While he may be done telling their story, El-Arabi has been hard at work over the last few years on another — “Ashish’s Journey” — about the upcoming FIFA World Cup. It is inspired by a man who approached him in Qatar as he filmed “Captains of Zaatari.”
“An Indian man came to me one day and asked if he could take a picture with me. He thought I was a soccer player, and he told me he wanted to send the picture back to his family,” El-Arabi explains. “He told me, ‘I came here to watch the World Cup. But I didn’t have money to come, so I came here to work now, so that I could meet the famous players one day. I thought you were one of them.’”
The more time El-Arabi spent with the man, the more his innocent aspirations intrigued him, leading him to not only film Ashish in Qatar, but to follow him and his family back to India, even adding fictional elements (with Ashish playing himself) inspired by the classic French satirical novella “Candide” to the docu-film.
While El-Arabi knows that he will finish filming later this year at the World Cup, chronicling Ashish’s adventures during the games, he does not plan to rush the film out in the immediate aftermath of the event.
“I want to savor the material. I don’t want to rush it for a big festival. I love working on this film. I don’t want to kill the process — kill everything I’ve put into this — just to have something done fast,” he says.
El-Arabi has other projects in the works as well. He’s currently producing a film about Algeria and discussing producing an upcoming project with his best friend Mohamed Diab, the director of Marvel’s “Moon Knight.” Closest to his heart, though, is the fiction film he has in the works between Los Angeles and Egypt, inspired by both his own history in boxing and his relationship with his father.
“We’re talking to major international stars (about) it,” he says. “It’s a story that takes a lot from my own experiences with my family, and nearly every time I pitch it to people they cry. One person I work closely with, as soon as I finished, said they had to leave room to call their father.”
While telling Arab stories will remain a key part of El-Arabi’s career moving forward, ultimately what drives him is not capturing his identity — it’s capturing his soul.
“I will tell Arab stories, but I don’t think a lot about telling stories about the Arab world,” he says. “I think about humans. That’s all I’m interested in.”
The French connection: Louvre opens exhibition of artefacts from Byblos
Updated 01 July 2022
PARIS: A new exhibition at Paris’ Louvre Museum illustrates the longstanding cultural relationship between France and Lebanon.
“Byblos et le Louvre,” which runs until Sept. 11, is a unique display of archaeological artifacts from the Lebanese seaport town of Byblos (also known as Jbeil), one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities.
Visitors will find ceramic jars, small figurines, cuneiform tablets, and ancient weapons on display, some of which are thousands of years old. Despite their age, many of the items are in remarkably good condition.
“What is amazing is the pottery, which looks like it’s been made yesterday,” Tania Zaven, an archaeologist of Lebanon’s Directorate General of Antiquities, told Arab News.
For Louvre archaeologist Julien Chanteau, who was on site during recent excavations, Byblos is a hugely significant site with a lot of stories to tell.
“It’s a very small site, maybe six hectares. But you can read all the history of mankind there, from the Neolithic period until today,” Chanteau said. “Byblos is like a book.
“You have all cultures and civilizations: The Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Greeks, and the Arabs have all left traces on this site,” he continued. “It’s very impressive for an archeologist to have such an amount of information. It’s like a chronicle of humanity.”
Under Napoleon III, the first French-led excavations in Byblos began in 1860, led by scholar Ernest Renan. He brought many objects back to France, and released detailed publications of the excavation.
Excavations have continued to the present day — although they were interrupted in the Seventies because of the Lebanese Civil War. In 2018, a scientific excavation program was relaunched, pairing archaeologists and experts from the Louvre Museum and the DGA. They have explored the area’s royal underground chambers, tombs, and temples.
Zaven noted some of the challenges of undertaking archeological missions in Lebanon, including security and looting. “Every day we are working against illicit trafficking,” she said. “We wanted to have this exhibition to show that Lebanon is still here. We believe in our culture and we want our culture to stay alive.”
In October, the exhibition will travel to a museum in the Dutch city of Leiden. It will also be exhibited, next spring, in an old house in Byblos, coming full circle.
The founder of the brand presented various designs in a spectrum of colors, inspired by the bold and bright hues of India.
A complete turnaround from his previous men’s collection, which featured all-white ensembles, this season, the designer went back to the brand’s roots with colorful fabrics and experimental silhouettes.
His aim was to intensify the senses and make the audience look at the details of each garment — the silhouette, the neckline and the surface decoration — rather than focusing on “looks.”
“I was also inspired by India’s diversity — from culture, religion, languages, geography and everything in between,” he added. “Their unique differences while building one nation really inspires me — I want to dig deeper and find out how this uniqueness made them create dimensional colors that we only see within our naked eyes.”
The event, which kicked off on June 28, presented the Spring/Summer 2023 collections of more than 10 regional and international designers, including Lebanese brand Maison du Mec, London-based label Permu, Beirut fashion house Tagueule and Dubai-based couturier Michael Cinco.
The first day of the fashion week kicked off with a collaboration between Swiss tech accessories brand Ferronato and Maison du Mec that was a mash up between fashion and technology.
The collaboration featured soft leather backpacks, micro smartphone cases, multi-functional clutches and slouchy drawstring bags in shades of blue and burgundy. A life size robotic dog, representing Ferronato’s innovative accessories, closed the show.
For Permu, designers Heyun Pan and Jing Qian presented daily ensembles and occasion wear that featured skin-tight tops, bucket hats, backwards-facing blazers and jackets with cut slits, puffed sleeves and exaggerated shoulder pads.
Tagueule’s silky trousers and shirts in monochrome shades were featured on the same runway as vests and cargo pants outfitted with utilitarian pockets and straps.
Cinco’s designs were marked by a sunset color gradient ranging from orange and yellow to black. Capes and kandoras were a salute to Emirati culture, while an array of smart, sporty sets spoke to a wider clientele.
The Roundup: Pop-culture highlights from across the region
From an Algerian indie veteran and Lebanese newcomers to Libyan trap-pop and Egyptian ‘mind-map art,’ here are six regional artists making waves with their work
Updated 01 July 2022
‘Dessine-Moi Un Pays’
The Algerian singer-songwriter’s first single from her upcoming tenth album “Sequana” is a deceptively simple folk-tinged ballad — stripped back but with a beautifully subtle acoustic guitar line over which Massi’s emotive, yearning vocals fit perfectly. Syrian flautist Naïssam Jalal adds an impressive solo. The song’s title translates as “Draw Me A Land,” and Massi said in a press release that it was inspired by exile. “Those people who (clung) to planes leaving Kabul when the Taliban returned — it was for them that I wrote this song,” she explained. “Whilst rooted in France, there is a sense the song is filled with memories of a lost Algeria and of her childhood,” the release states.
Yazan Abu Salameh
‘Bending Toward The Sun’
The Palestinian artist’s solo exhibition is available to view in 3D online until July 30, courtesy of Ramallah’s Zawyeh Gallery. The show’s title is a reference to how plants seek light, but Abu Salameh’s works are concerned with finding the light in Palestine’s densely built-up towns, where expansion is restricted by the occupation. His ink paintings reference Israel’s “Seperation Wall” and other military structures. The show includes “Gift Box 3,” shown here.
“The sun dominates Abu Salameh’s artworks and appears in the background overlooking structures of concrete,” the gallery’s press release explains. “The melancholy of the urban environment and the overwhelming presence of concrete as a byproduct of the military occupation overshadows the works.” Abu Salameh’s boxes of “congested buildings with little white windows” are left partly open “as if the towns desire to escape confinement.”
Recorded during Felula’s performance for the 10th anniversary celebrations of Beirut Jam Sessions, this funky Arabic pop track shows off the duo’s knack for laying earworm-y hooks under Sara Abdo’s understated-but-powerful vocals. The show was actually Abdo and guitarist Roger Zouein’s first performance as Felula, but they played like they’d been doing it for years.
Museum of the Future unveils bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow during event in Paris
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, described the new museum as the latest addition to the list of world’s most celebrated cultural landmarks
He was speaking during the 26th International Trade Show for Museums, a prestigious three-day event that took place at the Louvre Museum this week
Updated 01 July 2022
PARIS: The UAE’s Museum of the Future has unveiled its bold vision for the Dubai of tomorrow. It presented its ideas during the 26th International Trade Show for Museums, a three-day event at the Louvre Museum in Paris that attracted many of the world’s leading cultural institutions.
The delegation at the event, which concluded on Thursday, was led by Khalfan Belhoul, the CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, and also included Lath Carlson, the executive director of the Museum of the Future, and Majed Al-Mansoori, its deputy executive director.
The museum, which is located in Dubai’s Financial District and opened in February, was invited to attend the trade show to share its ideas for incubating a new generation of talent and helping to build a better future for humanity.
By embracing the latest breakthroughs in advanced technology, its team also aims to offer unparalleled visitor experiences and help to stimulate the cultural economy of Dubai.
“Our presence here in Paris represents a golden opportunity to engage with like-minded peers and establish deeper ties as we create pioneering experiences in a museum focused on making history by perceiving the future,” Belhoul said.
He described the Museum of the Future as the latest addition to the list of the world’s most celebrated cultural landmarks and added that it has set new benchmarks in the design and development of cultural landmarks.
“Today, it serves as an incubator for bright minds to accelerate big ideas that can strengthen Dubai’s position as a place to address some of the world’s most complex challenges,” he said.
By embracing cutting-edge technology and the pursuit of innovation to drive social, economic and environmental growth, Dubai is helping to unify global efforts to build a better future for humankind, added Belhoul.