DUBAI: Lebanese dance group Mayyas on Tuesday got the Golden Buzzer from Colombian actress and judge Sofia Vergara in season 17 of “America’s Got Talent.”
Mayyas — that according to the crew translates in Arabic to mean, the proud walk of a lioness — stepped out on stage wearing Arabian-inspired dancewear with beaded burqas.
In the short documentary before the group’s performance, its Lebanese choreographer Nadim Cherfan said: “Seeing the Mayyas in ‘America’s Got Talent’ is the most beautiful feeling I have ever felt.”
And before starting their show, one group member told the jury: “Unfortunately, being a female Arab dancer is not fully supported yet. Us being here, standing on the biggest stage of the world, is our only chance to prove to the world what Arab women can do; that we can create, the fights we fight.”
Dancing with synchronized moves to Arabic beats, the group’s show-stopping routine earned a lengthy standing ovation from the judges.
Panel member Simon Cowell said: “That was arguably the best dance act we have ever seen.”
And Vergara said: “There are no words to explain to you what we’re feeling over here. It was the most beautiful creative dancing I’ve ever seen.”
German-American model Heidi Klum told the dancers: “I want to thank you for giving us a little glimpse of your culture, which is so beautiful.”
Before pressing the buzzer, Vergara added: “I would be so honored to empower you even more in this journey because you deserved it and I want to be part of this.”
By getting the Golden Buzzer, the crew will move straight to the live shows.
In 2019, the group won the “Arabs Got Talent” competition and wowed TV audiences on “Britain’s Got Talent.”
Review: ‘Love & Gelato’ is a sweet, endearing romp through Rome
Updated 37 sec ago
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.
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’
The Egyptian actor on his stellar year starring in ‘Suits Arabia’ and ‘The Eight,’ his intense preparation process, and getting more involved on set
Updated 30 June 2022
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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
Updated 30 June 2022
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.”
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.”
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.”
UAE-based Tashas Group announces expansion into Saudi market with Diriyah restaurant
It plans to bring its Flamingo Room concept to a three-storey building on the banks of Wadi Hanifah in the heart of Riyadh by the end of the year
Updated 30 June 2022
LONDON: One of the most successful hospitality companies in the Middle East has announced it will expand into Saudi Arabia by the end of the year.
Tashas Group, which was founded in 2005 by South Africans Natasha Sideris and her brother Savva, plans to bring its Flamingo Room concept to the heart of Riyadh by the fourth quarter.
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.
“Flamingo Room is the ultimate expression of my South African roots and the epitome of old-school dining with a contemporary twist,” said Sideris, the group’s founder and CEO.
“After its major success in Dubai, we think it is time to expand and widen our horizons across the region and hopefully globally,” she added.
“We have been moving forward on the global hospitality scene; we have now reached the point where we are able to make significant strides in our expansion plans.”
Sideris said that the up-and-coming neighborhood of Diriyah, with its blend of historical architecture and cutting-edge commercial offerings, is the ideal location.
“I think there’s gap in the market, internationally and locally, for what Tashas Group offers with our concepts,” she said.
“Ideally, we like to select places close to a city center with a residential hub so that we catch housewives, ladies who lunch, parents picking up kids from school, and businesspeople.”
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.
“While we started our business in South Africa, we are spearheading our growth from the UAE,” Sideris said. “I am immensely grateful to our team that is bringing my vision to life and for the opportunities that the region presents to expand our footprint as well as our concepts.
“The support we have received from the community over the past eight years is amazing and I am happy to call Dubai my home.”
For Maison du Mec’s solo show, Lebanon-based designer Joseph Achajian presented the traditional pillars of suiting – jackets, crisp white shirts and trousers – with a modern twist.
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.
Filipino designer Fernandez is known for his couture looks that are driven by his love for traditional artisanal craft. He constructed thae wardrobe full of crystals and elaborate beading made by local craftspeople.
KA-1’s show featured streetwear with multifunctional pockets, quirky straps and elastic tapering on trousers in desert tones of ecru, khaki and olive green.