Award-winning filmmaker Ali El-Arabi finds his voice through film

Award-winning filmmaker Ali El-Arabi finds his voice through film
(From left) Mahmoud Dagher, Ali El-Arabi and Fawzi Qatleesh with the award for Best Arab Documentary Film at El Gouna Film Festival in 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2022

Award-winning filmmaker Ali El-Arabi finds his voice through film

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

DUBAI: Nearly 10 years ago, Egyptian filmmaker Ali El-Arabi, the award-winning documentarian behind “Captains of Zaatari,” which hits Netflix this month, 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. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ali Elarabi (@alyelarabi)

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.




“Captains of Zaatari” is on Netflix. (Supplied)

“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.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ali Elarabi (@alyelarabi)

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.”




A still from El-Arabi's upcoming project “Ashish’s Journey.” (Supplied)

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.

“He’s actually a very good actor,” El-Arabi says.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Ali Elarabi (@alyelarabi)

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.”


Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi shows off sleek style at Paris Fashion Week 

Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi shows off sleek style at Paris Fashion Week 
Updated 10 sec ago

Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi shows off sleek style at Paris Fashion Week 

Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi shows off sleek style at Paris Fashion Week 
  • The 24-year-old, considered the first plus-size model in the Middle East, is a staunch advocate for inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry

DUBAI: Tunisian model Ameni Esseibi made her international runway debut this week by walking for French label Victor Weinsanto at Paris Fashion Week. 

“Mama, I made it to Paris Fashion week,” she wrote on Instagram, sharing a picture of herself on the runway. “This is just the beginning.” 

Esseibi, who was the only Arab model participating in the fashion show, went on to thank the Arab Fashion Council, a non-profit organization representing the fashion industry in the Middle East and North Africa that named the Dubai-based model as its new ambassador earlier this year.

“Thank you so much Arab Fashion Council for helping make my dream come true and Victor Weinsanto for believing in me,” she wrote. 

Esseibi walked down the runway in a multi-colored dress which she paired with pearl white satin gloves. 

The 24-year-old, considered the first plus-size model in the Middle East, is a staunch advocate for inclusivity and diversity in the fashion industry.

Esseibi has worked with a number of esteemed brands including Jean Paul Gautier and H&M and has featured in the pages of multiple publications. 


French Algerian model Loli Bahia hits the runway in Paris 

French Algerian model Loli Bahia hits the runway in Paris 
Updated 31 min 6 sec ago

French Algerian model Loli Bahia hits the runway in Paris 

French Algerian model Loli Bahia hits the runway in Paris 

DUBAI: From Milan to Paris, French Algerian model Loli Bahia has been gracing the runways for renowned luxury labels this month. 

This week, the catwalk star modeled for French luxury fashion house Yves Saint Laurent at Paris Fashion Week in a show set against the backdrop of a twinkling Eiffel Tower.

Guests, including K-Pop star Rose of Blackpink, trickled into the venue under brooding clouds as night began to fall, stopping for selfies in front of a huge, flowing water fountain, while crowds lined up on the esplanade overlooking the venue, The Associated Press reported.

Designer Anthony Vaccarello presented the summer collection of sleek evening wear that featured dramatic 80s shoulders, column silhouettes and hoods.

The model shared a close up of her Yves Saint Laurent look on social media. (Instagram)

Bahia emerged from the dark, wearing a sheer floor-length black dress with a turtleneck as she made her way slowly down a broad set of stairs before marching around the fountain. 

Her look was accessorized with chunky gold bangles, large earrings and one-toed heels. 

Other looks in the fashion show included 90s designs infused with the glaringly 80s capuches that came in muted or caramel tones — hues also reminiscent of that era. 

Hoods formed the base silhouette of many pared-down ensembles, which contrasted with statement gold earrings or large wooden bracelets, just like the ones Bahia wore. 

Heavy open wool coats and regal trenches, which caressed the floor, created a rectangular window frame through which to see the pants in some clever fashion theater.

The house founder turned the capuche into one of his most iconic styles – originally inspired by the tubular sheath donned by dancer Martha Graham for her 1930 choreography “Lamentation.”

Paris Fashion Week kicked off on Tuesday. Saint Laurent and Dior are among some 107 brands showcasing Spring-Summer 2023 collections.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by (@runway.icons)

Last week, Bahia modeled for Italian luxury label Versace during Milan Fashion Week alongside part-Arab models Gigi and Bella Hadid, Imaan Hammam and Nora Attal. Emily Ratajkowski, Paris Hilton and Irina Shayk were also among the models who walked the runway. 

Bahia wore a hot-pink dress with a short bridal veil.

Bahia, who is signed to Women Management Paris, made her runway debut in 2020 at Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2021 show. She would go on to star in the Parisian luxury house’s advertising campaign for Fall 2021.

She has also featured in campaigns for Saint Laurent, Courreges and Max Mara in addition to starring on the cover of Vogue Italia.


Syrian architect Faysal Tabbarah to curate the 2023 National Pavilion UAE in Venice

Syrian architect Faysal Tabbarah to curate the 2023 National Pavilion UAE in Venice
Updated 8 min 40 sec ago

Syrian architect Faysal Tabbarah to curate the 2023 National Pavilion UAE in Venice

Syrian architect Faysal Tabbarah to curate the 2023 National Pavilion UAE in Venice
  • Designer explores world’s growing aridity with local materials, practices
  • Theme of next year’s event is ‘The Laboratory of the Future’

DUBAI: Syrian architect Faysal Tabbarah is set to curate the National Pavilion UAE exhibition at the 18th Venice Biennale (La Biennale di Venezia), organizers announced this week.

The selected research proposal by Tabbarah, who is an associate dean and associate professor of architecture at the American University of Sharjah, aims to explore the relationship between architecture and dry landscapes in the country.

“My approach will rely on integrating technology with land-based materials practices and knowledge found in arid landscapes in the UAE,” said the Aleppo-born curator in a released statement.

“I am honored to have been selected as the curator for the National Pavilion UAE … Aridity is a fast-approaching future condition for many regions, and through this exhibition, we’ll explore their potential as spaces of abundance and productivity,” he added.

The selected research proposal by Tabbarah aims to explore the relationship between architecture and dry landscapes in the country. (Supplied)

This exhibition will mark Tabbarah’s first participation as a curator of a national pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia, and his second participation in the Architecture Biennale as a whole.

He has previously collaborated with the Kuwait Pavilion’s curators in 2021 for their presentation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, or IAE, of the Venice Architecture Biennale, titled “Space Wars.”

Tabbarah was selected following the National Pavilion UAE’s open call which invited designers around the world to develop proposals for the 2023 architecture exhibition.

The applicants were tasked with exploring an intriguing aspect of the UAE’s architecture or built environment that contributes to the discourse around architectural practice locally, regionally and internationally.

Research findings by Tabbarah, to be exhibited in Venice and supplemented with an accompanying publication, aim to respond to the Architecture Biennale 2023’s theme “The Laboratory of the Future,” which is being curated by Ghanaian-Scottish architect, academic, educator and best-selling novelist, Lesley Lokko.

The National Pavilion UAE will present its exhibition from May 20 to Nov. 26, 2023, with the pre-opening on May 18 and 19.

Next year will mark the UAE’s 12th exhibition at the Art and Architecture International Exhibitions organized by La Biennale di Venezia since 2009 and its fifth participation in the IAE. The pavilion won the Golden Lion award for the best national participation in the 17th IAE La Biennale di Venezia in 2021 for its exhibition “Wetland.”


Director Bassam Tariq exits Marvel’s ‘Blade’ over schedule conflicts  

Director Bassam Tariq exits Marvel’s ‘Blade’ over schedule conflicts  
Updated 28 September 2022

Director Bassam Tariq exits Marvel’s ‘Blade’ over schedule conflicts  

Director Bassam Tariq exits Marvel’s ‘Blade’ over schedule conflicts  

DUBAI: US Pakistani filmmaker Bassam Tariq has exited his role as director of Marvel Studios’ “Blade” due to shifts in production schedule, according to a report by Variety.

Tariq’s departure comes before production was set to commence in November on Marvel’s upcoming feature about the iconic comic book vampire slayer. The film stars Mahershala Ali in the title role, alongside a cast that includes Delroy Lindo and Aaron Pierre.

“It’s been an honor working with the wonderful folks at Marvel. We were able to put together a killer cast and crew. Eager to see where the next director takes the film,” Tariq said in a statement, confirming his exit as director.


Saudi Arabia’s Nasiba Hafiz designs new line with US feminine care giant Always

Saudi Arabia’s Nasiba Hafiz designs new line with US feminine care giant Always
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi Arabia’s Nasiba Hafiz designs new line with US feminine care giant Always

Saudi Arabia’s Nasiba Hafiz designs new line with US feminine care giant Always
  • Not Hot Collection for women to stave off heat, humidity
  • ‘Biggest appeal was hi-tech material to keep cool and dry’

DUBAI: In a bid to beat the heat in style, Saudi fashion designer Nasiba Hafiz has teamed up with US feminine care giant Always, distributed by Procter & Gamble, to launch a new heat-resistant fashion collection.

The Not Hot Collection — dubbed the world’s first designer period wear by the brand — was inspired by Always Cool & Dry, a sanitary pad that was created to keep women feeling cool during their period. “When Always first approached me, I thought it was a great opportunity to explore the idea of working with this type of technology. It was also a challenge to work with plain yet very bright fabrics. Usually, I mostly work with prints. Also, as a woman who’s been brought up in Saudi (Arabia), Always was probably the most trusted brand out there, so I did not hesitate,” said Hafiz.

The Not Hot Collection features pops of color, breezy and comfortable shapes, and lightweight layers. (Supplied)

The designer, who likes to work with out-of-the-box fabrics and vibrant colors, is looking to change the way the world sees Saudi fashion. With comfort a priority, her clothes are created with the region’s intense heat and humidity in mind. “I’d say color and prints are always two main factors for my process when I design, but the biggest appeal to me was the technology of the material which keeps you cool and dry,” said Hafiz.

The Not Hot Collection features pops of color, breezy and comfortable shapes, and lightweight layers, “marrying style with function.” Think features like pockets, bike shorts that sit beneath a flowy dress, driving gloves and car seats that protect against searing-hot steering wheels — basically pieces that women in the Gulf need to stay cool.

Going into more detail about how she created the collection, Hafiz continued: “The design process took place during the hottest month of the year in Saudi (Arabia), and if I can even say this, I got inspired by the heat. I started thinking of the colors and materials that would bring me joy and make me feel a little better. Flowy silhouettes were a big part of the design, and at the same time, it had to be cool and active.”

“My favorite piece is the patched top that has a 90s feel to it: It’s on trend and it also allowed me to work with extra materials and not waste fabric,” she added.

Always x Nasiba Hafiz’s Not Hot Collection is now selling via a pop-up concept store in Jeddah and via https://nasibahafiz.com.