Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival to return in live format for the first time in 3 years

Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival to return in live format for the first time in 3 years
Lebanese indie band Adonis will be one of the performers at the Baalbeck International Festival. (Instagram)
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Updated 07 July 2022

Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival to return in live format for the first time in 3 years

Lebanon’s Baalbeck International Festival to return in live format for the first time in 3 years

DUBAI: One of the oldest cultural events in the Middle East, the Baalbeck International Festival, will on Friday open with live performances for the first time in three years.

Taking place at the world-famous Roman archaeological site in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley until July 17, events will be staged between the Temple of Bacchus and Baalbeck Acropolis.

The festival program will feature local and international classical and modern performances including a night of music with Lubnan and Soumaya Baalbaki, Lebanese indie band Adonis, and appearances by Spanish guitarist Jose Quevedo Bolita, and song and dance duo Simon Ghraichy and Rana Gorgani.

A global cultural highlight for more than six decades, the event was held virtually in 2020 and 2021 because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions. This year’s lineup previews have so far attracted more than 17 million views on social media.

The festival is expected to bring in a summer influx of tourists and visitors to help boost the country’s flagging economy.


French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022
Updated 10 sec ago

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

French animator Michel Ocelot looks back on his career at RSIFF 2022

JEDDAH: On the sidelines of the Red Sea International Film Festival festivities, the French animation veteran Michel Ocelot sat down with his audience during one of the festival’s “In Conversation” sessions at Red Sea Mall in Jeddah on Dec. 6.

Ocelot, 79, is a writer, designer, storyboard artist, and director of an array of legendary animated feature films and mostly he is recognized for his “Kirikou et la sorcière” released in 1998 which translates to "Kirikou and the witch" and also his amazing animation "Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest" released in 2006.

“Kirikou et la sorcière” resampled the rebirth era of French animation in the cinema and it was a striking start for Ocelot’s artistic career who is strongly passionate about what he produced. “I know what I want, I’m doing it and I love it,” he said.

The animation art and drawings of Kirikou et la sorcière were fully handmade and the film was the boom for his animation career, Ocelot said that before this film come to life, he was just an artist.

“The life of a movie artist who doesn't exist much was very hard. But all of a sudden, I have an international success.”

Michel Ocelot, 79, is a writer, designer, storyboard artist, and director of an array of legendary animated feature films. (AFP)

He continued: “They are handmade and handmade, with not much money, it's part of that you can see somebody did them, not a company, not board of director, and literally like this, I discovered this parallel life of animation, little things are done in one's kitchen, but they exist.”

Ocelot is a role model for experts and emerging animation artists as the brilliance in his work will always remain a great inspiration for many generations, as his work is always nurtured by a visual atmosphere. “Kids who were kids at the time now adults, and come to me and thank me. And sometimes they cry. So, I'm lucky.”

Despite his true success, Ocelot has been through hard times, and that is what made him an outstanding expert in the field.

“It was hard to find my way because when I started animation didn't really exist, people wouldn’t know about this name. They were no real schools to learn from, and I had to go to a lab to emulate the process, where you have to have a camera, light, an editing table, and all that was expensive and out of my reach. So, I lost quite some time I learned by myself. But as I didn't go to any school, I'm still completely innocent and don't know how I'm feeling so amazing. I just made them.”

“I think I started at the year of one or two, I took a pencil and I drew and I never stopped. And then I was a happy child and I was always active. And I think I prepared myself for my job from my infancy. And I would draw in paint and cut and get into a disguise and decorate the house for the festivals and make a little gift with a nice package. And that's, my vision today”

He had a very interesting childhood as he has been raised in Africa, Kenya where his vibrant animation is inspired by its “Beautiful and benevolent people.”

“I remember the beauty of the people and the dresses of women on festival days, it was definitely intelligent. True elegance, happy elegance, and the details within which made my infancy in the world of animation special.”

Ocelot's extravagant animation made him a former president of the International Animated Film Association, as he had been moving between two countries with huge cultural and historic differences shaping his artistic style as his animation reflects a lot about great Africa from his personal perspective.

“I was at ease in those universities. So, I was never expatriates that didn't exist in my vocabulary. So that's always been a great part of my life. Being aware of different worlds and being at ease with them and being at ease with such different parts of the world. I can put myself in the place of other people easily and I know the relatability of things.”

Ocelot shared some of his career fundamentals when it comes to following an animation production career including commitment, sticking to original ideas is key, and leaving fear behind is a must.

“Give everything you have. Try not to listen to bad advice. Sometimes you get good advice, but it's better not to follow them. Don't be afraid to start.”

His new animation feature film that has been released earlier this year. “The Black Pharaoh, the Savage and the Princess” was screened for the audience after the conversation.
 


Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 07 December 2022

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival

Saudi sci-fi thriller ‘Slave’ debuts at Red Sea International Film Festival
  • Film’s director Mansour Assad ensured film’s intricate scenes were detailed, authentic 

RIYADH: “Slave,” a sci-fi thriller, premiered at the Red Sea International Film Festival 2022 this week and the film’s executive producer and director gave a glimpse of what went behind the scenes. 

“It is impossible for me to make another film in which I will have strong feelings like this movie because many of the events in this movie happened to me in real life or in a similar way,” said Mansour Assad. “The movie is a story that I have wanted to tell people for a long time.” 

Mansour Assad, executive producer and director of ‘Slave.’ (Supplied)

The main cast of the film comprises Mohammed Ali, Khairiah Abulaban, and Ziyad Alamri. 

The film tells the story of a man named Sakker and his wife, Latifa who made a movie that resulted in anger and backlash from society. 

Sakker was then presented with an option to continue living his life the way it is with society enraged at him and his wife or travel back in time to appease his community.

“He is a slave to his family, friends, and people. He cares about their opinion and the opinion of society, and he cannot settle anything unless society approves of it, so he is a slave to society,” Assad explained.

Sakker decides to return back in time to conform to the expectations of his community but then finds himself stuck in an endless time loop, becoming a slave to societal norms.

“The name of the movie is ‘Slave’ because it’s bold. The filming method is bold, in which the colors are blue, pink, blue, and red. Everyone who wears these colors is considered strange,” Assad said.

“The story is bold. We did not adhere to the traditional boundaries of stories we are used to. The story is long and contains science fiction … it requires double the effort of a traditional film.”

The director explained that the filming of each scene was intricate and detailed, requiring comprehensive training to ensure authenticity in the situations.

“The film had many different scenes, some were action scenes others drama that required specific training. Every time we filmed a specific scene, there was a lot of training behind it,” Assad said.

“Sometimes we would go to the main character's apartment, Alamri and we would both just sit there alone and practice the different scenes.” 

Assad highlighted that one of the film’s scenes took place in a hospital where one of the characters was being treated. Before filming the scene, the director brought in a doctor specializing in the condition the patient faced in order to give insights into mannerisms, treatment, and condition.

“The doctor gave us advice on the condition, and the equipment in the hospital used to treat the patient on the scene. Every detail was focused on from the way the doctor spoke to the appearance and all of the details around him. Each scene we filmed required this intense level of training,” Assad said.

The film, which began shooting in October 2021 and concluded in August 2022, was shot in Riyadh. The filming phase of the movie took 9 days only but was filmed in three phases throughout the year to acquire funding as the filming process progressed.

“The time of writing the script and filming the scenes was different in this film, firstly I wanted to create this film without waiting for anyone. I wanted to work on it, I didn’t want to wait until I received support or funding, or when I became a better director. I wanted to create this film whether it turns out good or bad, I wanted more experience to do feature films,” Assad said.

“I began the film without any support and we filmed in three phases, each phase we would finish and edit the film and then go acquire funding by showing the producer or fenders what we completed,” he added.

The director’s advice to budding filmmakers is to start independently and not to wait for formal funding or support to come to them.

“Start your project yourself and make mistakes. People aren't going to judge you because they'll know that you did everything yourself so they will overlook many of your mistakes in the film. 

“You as a filmmaker will also gain more experience, when you go to an entity that has a fund they will be more confident in you because you made a film. 

“Make your first film and make it with the lowest budget you possibly can, you'll gain experience, and people won't judge your mistakes, everyone wins,” he said.

“I am waiting for the feedback and responses from audiences and critics, real and authentic responses. I don't need them to support me by flattering me. Or to say that they enjoyed the film when they didn't I want to hear all of their criticisms and observations, no matter how strong the criticism is, I don't get upset because this is going to help me,” the director said.  
 


Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence
Updated 07 December 2022

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

Andra Day stuns in Lebanese label at ceremony awarding Black excellence

DUBAI: Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter and actress Andra Day stunned audiences at the Critics Choice Association’s fifth annual Celebration of Black Cinema and Television on Tuesday when she arrived on the red-carpet wearing Lebanese label Zuhair Murad.

In an off-shoulder metallic gown with billowing sleeves, the Oscar-nominated star’s look gave off festive vibes while remaining chic and stylish.

Meanwhile, the celebration culminated in the evening’s most anticipated honor — the presentation of the Career Achievement Award to Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett.

The actress most recently starred in Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and is known for her roles in movies including “Boyz n the Hood” and the Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with It."

“My representation of you on screen put me on a path as a little Black girl — a high school student that lived in the Jordan Park housing project in St. Petersburg, Fla. — that I only dreamed of because of you,” Bassett said in her acceptance speech, addressing the packed room, according to a report in Variety.

“My dreams were not only fulfilled, but your stories have been immortalized — some of them for future generations to discover and enjoy.”

Another “Black Panther” star, Michael B. Jordan, was also in attendance. The actor received the Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award in recognition of his seasoned career and upcoming directorial debut with “Creed III.”

The 35-year-old looked dapper in a purple jacket over a black button-down shirt and black loafers. He was joined by his parents, Michael A. Jordan and Donna Jordan, and his sister Jamila Jordan.

“The Bear” star Ayo Edebiri was also awarded the Rising Star Award, presented by IMDbPro for her work on the lauded FX series.

Other talent in attendance included “Abbott Elementary” creator and star Quinta Brunson; Quincy Isaiah, who plays Magic Johnson in HBO’s “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty;” “Devotion” lead and Marvel star Jonathan Majors; and the ensemble cast of ABC’s “The Wonder Years” revival.

This year’s ceremony took place Dec. 5 at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel and was hosted by actor-comedian Bill Bellamy. The event serves to recognize Black performers and filmmakers who are making stellar contributions to the film and television industry.


Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF
Updated 06 December 2022

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF

Netflix celebrates iconic Arab women filmmakers at RSIFF
  • Netflix hosted a creative space at Red Sea Souk to celebrate the pioneering spirit of four Arab filmmakers, Hana Al-Omair, Hend Sabri, Kaouther Ben Hania and Tima Shomali
  • Hana Al-Omair: I am so happy with the new change that the Saudi film industry is experiencing, especially with more females behind cameras and on-screen, and actresses

JEDDAH: Global video streaming giant Netflix recently released a specially curated collection of 21 Arab films in 2022 by women filmmakers spanning various genres, including documentaries, drama, and romance, as part of a dedicated collection titled “Because She Created.”

During the first six days of the Red Sea International Film Festival, Netflix hosted a creative space at Red Sea Souk to celebrate the pioneering spirit of four iconic women filmmakers from the Arab world, including Hana Al-Omair from Saudi Arabia, Hend Sabri and Kaouther Ben Hania from Tunisia, and Jordan’s Tima Shomali.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by هند صبري (@hendsabri)

The space aims to amplify women filmmakers’ voices to an international audience of esteemed industry professionals and future generations of female storytellers throughout the “Because She Created” platform so that more stories from the Arab world can be loved globally.

Al-Omair and Shomali showed up on the fifth day of the RSIFF for media junkets.

Al-Omair told Arab News that she likes to add a female element to her working crew because it adds balance.

Hana Al-Omair is from Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

“I personally think that in front and behind of the camera, the more female characters, the better, because it is always about the stories by nature, which are always revolving around untold female stories.”

Al-Omair is an award-winning director and the woman behind the first Saudi thriller drama series on Netflix, “Whispers.”

She said that “Whispers” reflects on-the-ground women’s empowerment through screen.

“There are so many women working in a different field that we haven’t heard of on the screen,” she said: adding: “Netflix was the perfect platform for displaying my series as it helped to narrate the story of Saudi women in an unusual way.

“I am so happy with the new change that the Saudi film industry is experiencing, especially with more females behind cameras and on-screen, and actresses. All this would support more content and female stories to rise.”

Netflix has a special collection of Saudi content. For women filmmakers, it started with “Wadjda,” the work of iconic Saudi film director Haifaa Al-Mansour.

Shomali is director of “AlRawabi School for Girls,” a first-of-its-kind young adult series in the Arab region.

The six-episode series tells the story of a bullied high school girl who gathers together a group of outcasts to plot the perfect revenge on their tormentors.

Shomali is also a producer and scriptwriter. She told Arab News: “I am so happy to take part in this initiative that supports young Arab filmmakers, which is something I personally advocate for as it represents my work in terms of women empowering women in the industry.”

She added: “I feel like it is my responsibility to support female emerging talents in filmmaking because I did not have an easy journey, and a lot of people on the way gave me an opportunity to rise, and now I am interested to give back an opportunity for those young females passionate about the film industry.”

Netflix launched the “Because She Created” platform last year as a virtual panel talk hosting Arab women filmmakers discussing the evolving role of women in the industry.

Nuha El-Tayeb, director of Netflix content acquisitions in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey was also present at this year’s event.

She told Arab News: “What’s important for us is bringing Arabic stories from our region targeting the local market and at the same time for them to have that option to travel across the world … one and foremost is our support for female filmmakers, whether they are in front of the screen or behind the screen.”

The Netflix collection aims to give more people the chance to see their lives reflected on screen and entice new audiences to discover the work of women storytellers from the Arab world.

El-Tayeb added: “Yes, we want to support women. We want to bring these amazing movies to one place where people can watch it and enjoy the movies, and it’s a start to many more coming down the line with what we have created now.”

The collection celebrates the creativity of the Arab world’s greatest women storytellers, including the works of brilliant directors from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Tunisia.


First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival
“Within Sand” is the first Saudi film shot in NEOM. (Supplied)
Updated 06 December 2022

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

First Saudi film shot in NEOM to debut at Red Sea International Film Festival

RIYADH: “Within Sand,” the first Saudi film shot in NEOM, will premier at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival on Dec. 6.

The film’s director, Mohammed Al-Atawi, spoke to Arab News about the process and challenges of making the film. 

“Within Sand” follows Snam, a 23-year-old tobacco-merchant who breaks away from his trading convoy to reach his village quickly as his wife is about to give birth to their first child.

During his travels, Snam is ambushed by thieves who steal his tools and leave him for dead. In a quest to survive, Snam travels with a wolf trailing him while he struggles on his journey to keep his sanity as memories and the difficulties of loneliness torment him.

“In the film, I wanted to capture a genuine and organic relationship between a man and a wolf. I also focused on presenting the desert of north Saudi in a way that champions its mysterious beauty, not only the harsh nature of a desert,” said Al-Atawi. 

Behind the scenes on the set of ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The director shed some light on the inspiration behind the film’s name.

“Without spoiling a critical element in the story that inspired the name, the whole narrative takes place in the desert, and we witness Snam’s journey with the wolf, so the environment where the story takes place is significant to the story, and I wanted that to be reflected in the title,” Al-Atawi said.

Discussing the inspiration behind the film, Al-Atawi said: “The story of ‘the wolf companion’ is almost like a folkloric tale in Saudi culture, but it doesn’t have a lot of details about it. Hence, I took creative liberty and tried to approach it with complete creative control but also remain faithful to the original material.”

“During the development phase in The Red Sea Lodge, I had many meetings with director Mohammed Atteia, who was incredibly insightful in film craft and contributed a lot to how I approached some scenes,” the director said.

Behind the scenes on the set of ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The Red Sea Lodge is a program Al-Atawi was part of that aims to empower cinematic talents by equipping them with the knowledge and resources to launch a successful career in cinema.

The director began working on the film in 2019 with his producer Reem Al-Atawi. 

“COVID-19 postponed the shoot over three times, and at some point, due to weather issues, the shoot was delayed further. But our belief in the story is persistent, and we focused on making this film,” he said.

He highlighted that the writing process was continuous, with the final draft of the script being completed two and a half years from when he initially began writing.

“Writing a script can be time-consuming and creatively challenging, but it’s an organic process, where even during the shoot, I was writing new scenes as I felt more aware of the narrative and the film’s pacing,” he said.

The director added that the support he received from the Saudi Film Commission allowed him to bring the project to life.

A scene from ‘Within Sands.’ (Supplied)

The film was shot in the deserts of NEOM. “NEOM’s media sector chose it to be the first Saudi film to be shot in NEOM, and their support was vital in making the film in one of the best locations,” the director said.

Al-Atawi highlighted what it means to him to see his film featured in the Red Sea International Film Festival.

“First and foremost, it means we made a film that was appreciated by an international festival like the Red Sea, which is a significant accomplishment.

“It also means much more to me that the film’s first screening will be in Saudi Arabia, which is both an honor and a pressure to satisfy the Saudi audience’s expectations, which is not an easy task.”

To those interested in pursuing a career in the industry, Al-Atawi said that “having a career in film can be overwhelming at first, but it’s vital to have a passion for the craft. As challenging as it is, it’s incredibly satisfying to be able to create and share with an audience around the world.”