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-born actress Yasmine Al-Bustami ‘proud’ to be Arab as she stars in ‘NCIS’ spin-off
The star of ‘NCIS: Hawai’i’ struggled to embrace her roots as a child in Texas, but that’s all changed now
Updated 11 August 2022
DUBAI: There are few television franchises as mammoth in reach and longevity as “NCIS.” For nearly 20 years, the crime series, which follows the US’s naval criminal investigative team, has brought in tens of millions of viewers a week, with new franchises regularly blossoming across the country. Now, in Yasmine Al-Bustami, “NCIS” has its first Arab star—and she’s already inspiring young girls across the world.
“I'm always taken aback whenever I find out that I've reached people,” Al-Bustami tells Arab News. “I didn’t really think about the capacity for something like this show to reach people all over the world. Now, I'm seeing these responses all the time, I’m getting messages constantly. When I finally sit down, take some time to read them and take them in, it can be overwhelming. I see that people are taking notice, feel represented and feel seen, and suddenly I know for sure that I can contribute to that in some way. And I’m so grateful for the people who like it."
Al-Bustami — who plays Agent Lucy Tara on “NCIS: Hawai’i,” the second season of which begins in September and will air on Starzplay in the Middle East — was born in Abu Dhabi to a Palestinian-Jordanian father and Filipina mother, but moved to Texas at a young age. There, she struggled to embrace her identity, surrounded by people who didn’t understand her heritage, and had never heard of the place on the other side of the world that she came from.
To fit in, she did what a lot of people in a position where there are no strong role models in pop culture to anchor their identity to — she buried her identity inside her.
“In Texas, I didn't personally grow up with a bunch of Arabs around me. We had some Arab families that we knew that were in school with us, and they all kind of flocked together, once they find out that they were also Arabs. I would hang out with them, but (there weren’t) a lot, really. I tried very hard to fit in with the majority white folks at our school, and tried really hard to just fit in and just be a white person. Whatever that means,” Al-Bustami says.
That led to turmoil at home, as her Arab father worked to instill in his daughter the cultural and religious values that he held so dear, knowing that he was the only strong influence in her life that would do so. It was a mission she rebelled against.
“Whenever I would approach my dad with the things that I wanted to do, that my friends who were not Arab were doing, we would butt heads. He’s very big on culture, very old-school, and would just not allow me to do some things. He was just trying to teach us about or faith and our culture,” Al-Bustami says.
When Al-Bustami went to her father to tell him she wanted to be an actor, he was against the idea, which pushed them even further apart.
“When I expressed to him that I wanted to act, that was something that became a point of contention between us — depending on the project and the role. Honestly, it still is sometimes. That all led me, at the beginning of my career, to not wanting to embrace my identity,” says Al-Bustami.
Ironically, even as she tried to escape who she was and where she came from, it was acting that brought her closer to her identity.
“It was only through storytelling and being thrown into stories where I was forced to embrace it because of how I look and because of the opportunities that were given to me,” she says.
But as she got to know other Arab actors, she also started to learn the boundless beauty that her heritage contained, and the amazing stories and true adversity that her colleagues had endured to get to where they are today.
“The roles I started playing were stories of Arabs and Arab-Americans being surrounded by other Arabs and Arab-Americans. The other actors were so proud, and they taught me so much as I heard their stories and their journeys. It was that motivation that I felt like I needed — that I didn't have growing up. It pushed me to want to learn more. And thankfully, now I’ve built up a strong place in that community, especially in the acting world,” says Al-Bustami.
That love for who she was grew even stronger when she saw how much it meant to people, and when she witnessed what she could accomplish when she wasn’t trying to fit in with the majority, and instead embraced her differences.
“It’s been such a journey. I don't think I’ve ever been prouder to be Arab,” she says. “I now understand how important representation is, and without the ups and downs I’ve been through, I don't think I would have understood that to the depth that I do.
“It’s made me want to learn more about my heritage and my culture and just be more openly proud,” she continues. “I feel like I'm not doing it alone. I feel like there's so many people who are also helping me do it. And it's all Arabs, and Arab-Americans. All of that truly inspires me.”
Most importantly, she’s also learned about diversity within the Arab experience, and as representation increases in Hollywood, the world can see that being Arab means many different things, both in America and across the world. And that there are an endless number of stories to tell.
“The important thing is to make people open-minded, and stop them from being closed-off in terms of understanding the different kinds of stories that I think are important to tell in the Arab world and the Arab-American world. That's helped me so much,’ says Al-Bustami.
On “NCIS: Hawaii,” Al-Bustami is pushing herself like never before. While her breakout roles in “The Originals” and “I Ship It” prepared her for the grind of weekly television, the stunts and physicality of her current role require intense training and choreography, something she’s worked hard at and is proud of what she’s accomplished, especially in the fight scenes.
More than anything, though, what she’s happiest about are the relationships she’s built on set, and the found family that has made her breakout moment something she can truly be proud of on every level.
“It makes such a big difference when you really enjoy the people. Thankfully, the people that I'm surrounded with every day are amazing. They make it super fulfilling in so many more ways than just work,” she says. “This is such an enjoyable experience for me, and I can’t wait to continue that, and keep trying to make the Arab community proud across the country, and world.”
Dubai exhibition highlights Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s latest work
Rana Samara’s ‘Inner Sanctuary’ runs until August 28 at Dubai’s Zawyeh Gallery
Updated 11 August 2022
DUBAI: From drawings of empty rooms to presenting human figures, Palestinian artist Rana Samara’s “Inner Sanctuary,” which runs until Aug. 28 at Dubai’s Zawyeh Gallery, focuses on the artist’s conception of her own intimate space from an emotional perspective.
Jerusalem-born artist Rana Samara’s latest show “portrays an inner sanctuary visually and sentimentally,” critic and journalist Rana Anani writes in the exhibition brochure. Not all the images are comforting though. This painting of a hospital bed, Anani points out, “bears an unsettling feeling.” “The scattered red tubes on the surface of the colorful floors reflect commotion as if there was an emergency scene,” she writes.
“Samara uses colors, motifs, and shapes to convey her sentiments showing her content, calmness, anxiety, or frustration,” Anani explains. It’s surprising just how much emotion Samara packs into these empty rooms. This bedroom, with peacock features in the background, for example, “gives a feeling of lightness, weightlessness, and a connection with the skies.”
This is one of the rare occasions that Samara’s work includes a human figure — this contemplative woman. Her usual omission of humans, Anani suggests, “could be a way to capture moments that people leave behind” or “an attempt at emancipation from the restraints imposed by their presence and an opportunity to reveal concealed feelings, whether joyful or gloomy.”
Madinah art community Thalothya supports Saudi Arabia-based artists
Artist Meshal Al-Hujaili launched a community project of talks called Thalothya to support artists by educating them on other parts of their careers
Al-Hujaili began his journey in the art world at a young age by drawing graffiti before taking another direction
Updated 11 August 2022
RIYADH: The artist’s main focus is on the aesthetic aspect of life, leaving material concerns behind, leaving many artists struggling to understand the economic world, sparking confusion over pricing their paintings and profiting from their talents.
This was one of the reasons that artist Meshal Al-Hujaili was inspired to launch a community project of talks called “Thalothya” to support artists by educating them on more parts of their careers.
Thalothya emerged as an artistic community concerned with spreading artistic culture, enhancing the creative side of the artists, and exchanging experiences.
Their goal is to create a healthy artistic environment in which practitioners find support and expertise to develop their art. The sessions are held once a month in Madinah.
The group also organizes monthly dialogue sessions, regular presentations on the artists’ latest works, online interviews with an eclectic range of influential artists, and discussions on the journey that each artist took and its impact on their craft.
“Thalothya started in an informal way between me and my artist friends, and I decided to set up a meeting to discuss art. Then I was surprised that the topic started to spread among artists and that a large number wanted to attend courses. The news spread in the city. We started with 15 people, and the last session was attended by 60 artists,” Al-Hujaili told Arab News.
Al-Hujaili said that because of the crowds of people who wanted to attend the event, the sessions were moved from a cafe to art galleries in Madinah, where there are halls to accommodate 200 people in the session.
“Many people want to join the discussion circles, which is why I refuse the requests of many cafes and places that want to host us because I know that the place will not accommodate us,” said Al-Hujaili, adding: “Thalothya created an artistic revolution in Madinah.”
He said: “The topics we raise are not purely artistic, so we talk about the legal aspect of art, and 90 percent of artists do not know how to legally preserve their works or price their works. We help them to dialogue and talk in a safe space and host different topics each time.
“For example, we once discussed the subject of ‘art block’ during our research, and we found a definition that is completely different from what we thought, and we present a new aspect that focuses on the topic of marketing and the problems that the artist goes through, why an artist appears and becomes famous suddenly, and then he is isolated and disappears.”
Al-Hujaili’s paintings are distinguished by geometric formations. He began his journey in the art world at a young age by drawing graffiti before taking another direction.
“I started my graffiti from primary to secondary school, and I drew graffiti, then art took a new curve. For six years, I only drew straight lines and worked on drawing geometric shapes, and the result was special, as I was unique in my art, in which I put my fingerprint. I was requested to paint a mural at the Arab Open University in Madinah,” he said.
The dialogues were not limited to male artists, with women making up a large share of the discussion.
Basma Al-Bloshi, a portrait artist, said: “What distinguishes Thalothya is that it cares about the artist’s aspects, both psychologically and practically, and we discuss the things that develop the artist.”
She continued: “The idea of Thalothya is to educate the artist about other aspects of art. One of our goals is to spread Thakothya throughout the Kingdom.”
Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer releases trailer for Netflix’s ‘Mo’
Updated 10 August 2022
DUBAI: Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer released on Tuesday the trailer to his upcoming Netflix show “Mo.”
The eight-episode series, which will be released on Aug. 24, centers on a Palestinian immigrant family living in Houston, Texas. It follows Mo Najjar, played by Amer, who straddles the line between two cultures, three languages and a pending asylum request, all while hustling to support his family, which includes his mother, sister and older brother.
Jordanian-Kuwaiti-Palestinian actress Farah Bsieso stars as Mo’s mother Yusra Najjar, while Egyptian-American actor Omar Elba portrays Sameer Najjar, Mo’s older brother, who has social anxiety.
Rapper Tobe Nwigwe plays Nick, Mo’s oldest, most loyal friend and Mexican-American actress Teresa Ruiz stars as Mo’s girlfriend Maria.
Amer also serves as executive producer in the series, along with his “Ramy” co-star and friend Egyptian-American Golden Globe-winner Ramy Youssef, who also appears in the show.
In December, Amer told Arab News that he is at a point in his career where he is able to share his stories with a wider audience than ever before through an artistic medium that allows viewers to experience both his perspective and that of the Palestinian people in an intimate way.
“That’s why I think the art of stand-up is so liberating. It’s never been about the money,” he said. “Making money is great, and I want to make what I can, but it’s about telling great stories. I’m less concerned about money, and more concerned about punching above my weight. Creating a masterpiece is a worthy trek. That’s how I feel. That’s where I’m at right now with my stand-up, and my TV show.”
Amer began his career in comedy in his early teens and soon discovered that no one was telling stories about his experience or that of Arabs in general.
“I first got on stage at 14 years old, and I started touring when I was 17. Immediately, I started noticing that there was this huge gap,” he said. “There was no real representation at all on any of those stages of Arabs or Muslims. I said to myself, ‘OK, why don’t I introduce it?’”
With “Mo,” “Mo Amer: Mohammed in Texas,” “Mo Amer: The Vagabond” and “Ramy,” the comedian has and still is sharing the stories of both his family and his people.
Qatar to transform into outdoor art museum ahead of FIFA World Cup 2022
Updated 10 August 2022
DUBAI: Ahead of the fast-approaching FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Qatar Museums has announced an expansive public art program that will be rolled out not just in the capital city of Doha but throughout the country. The nation’s public spaces — parks, shopping zones, rail stations, hotel plazas, cultural institutions, Hamad International Airport and the eight World Cup 2022 stadiums — will be transformed into a “vast outdoor art museum,” with 40 new pieces being added to the already existing 70 pieces across the country.
Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chairperson of Qatar Museums, said in a statement, “The addition of 40 new, major works of public art this fall is a significant milestone for Qatar’s public art program. Public art is one of our most prominent demonstrations of cultural exchange, where we present works from artists of all nationalities and backgrounds. From the arrivals at the best airport in the world — Hamad International Airport — to every neighborhood in our nation, public art is there to make your experience unique."
Comprised of more than 100 artworks, the public art extravaganza will feature 40 new and commissioned pieces. New works from international heavyweights will include artists Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama, KAWS, Rashid Johnson, Ernesto Neto, Lawrence Weiner, Faye Toogood, Katharina Fritsch, and others.
Qatari and MENA region artists whose work will be presented in the public art program include Adel Abidin, Ahmed Al-Bahrani, Shouq Al-Mana, Shua’a Al-Muftah, Salman Al-Malek, Monira Al-Qadiri, Simone Fattal and Faraj Daham.
According to a press release shared by Qatar Museums, the country was among the first in the region to establish a public art program, which currently includes works from Richard Serra, Tom Claaseen, Bruce Nauman, Louise Bourgeois, Urs Fischer, Subodh Gupta, Dia Al-Azzawi and others.
“Qatar Museums’ public art program, more than anything else, serves as a reminder that art is all around us, not confined to museums and galleries, and can be enjoyed and celebrated whether you are going to work, or school, or the desert or the beach,” said Abdulrahman Ahmed Al-Ishaq, Qatar Museums’ Director of Public Art, in a statement.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 kicks off on Nov. 21.