Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’
Tarik Saleh is the director of “Boy from Heaven.” (Supplied)
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Updated 08 July 2022

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’

Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh: ‘I don’t intend to provoke anyone’
  • Fresh from his Cannes win for ‘Boy From Heaven,’ the filmmaker on self-censorship, his Egyptian roots, and ‘telling a good story’

DUBAI: As Egyptian-Swedish filmmaker Tarik Saleh sat in the audience the 2022 Cannes premiere of his latest film, “Boy from Heaven,” he found himself unable to focus on his own accomplishment. Even as his hero, the legendary Greek filmmaker Costa-Gavras, turned from the seat in front of him to offer a nod of approval, even as more than 2,000 enraptured guests sat on the edges of their seats behind him, all Saleh could think was, “I wish someone else had made this.”

“If someone else would just make these films, I wouldn’t make them. I would just watch them,” Saleh told Arab News, speaking on the sidelines of the festival. “The problem is no one will make them unless I do. I guess some things I just have to do myself.”

One can see why others may have shied away from making a film like “Boy from Heaven,” which was awarded both Best Screenplay and the coveted François Chalais Prize at Cannes. After all, a thriller about the inner workings of the highly-influential Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo following the death of the Grand Imam and a corrupt political effort to replace him was always bound to draw controversy.




Saleh was born in Stockholm in 1972 to an Egyptian father and Swedish mother. (Supplied)

“The funny thing is, I don’t intend to provoke anyone — not that there’s anything wrong with a little provocation. I just want to tell a good story, and make a good film,” Saleh said.

The idea came to Saleh as he reread one of his favorite books, Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” a murder-mystery set in an Italian monastery in the 14th century. It occurred to him what a similar scandal set in al-Azhar might look like, before he quickly dismissed the thought as impossible in the current political climate.

“I started thinking, ‘Are you allowed to tell that story? How will people react?’ I immediately started self-censoring — which made me realize that’s exactly why I have to tell it. I realized that if I told this story without holding back, I would walk out into territory that no one has ever been. That in itself is controversial,” says Saleh.

Saleh was born in Stockholm in 1972 to an Egyptian father and Swedish mother, and long before he ever even visited the country, he reflexively answered that he is Egyptian first. That’s because, growing up, none of his fellow Swedes would accept him as one of their own.




“Boy from Heaven” is an unflinching work that takes a critical view off the ways in which politics can affect things that are supposed to be immune to its workings. (Supplied)

“Every day here in Sweden, I was asked, ‘Where are you from?’ If I answered ‘Sweden,’ they would not accept that. After a while, I just gave up. I said, ‘I'm from Egypt,’” says Saleh.

As much as he resented being otherized, Egypt still held a dear place in his heart. And still does.

“My father, instead of telling me fairy tales and bedtime stories, would tell me stories from his childhood in Egypt. From there, it became almost like an obsession for me,” says Saleh.

Throughout his life, Saleh has also had to endure cultural hate towards Muslims and the Arab world, in which bigotry was often misrepresented as fact. He even found a book in his library in school called “Arab,” a pseudo-scientific study that described “the Arab” as stupid and uncivilized.

“I grew up constantly having to defend us, to defend Arab humanity,” Saleh said. “When I started writing my own scripts, starting with ‘The Nile Hilton Incident’ (2017), I gave myself permission to have the audacity to ignore the fact that the Western world has been brainwashed to think that people from the Arab world aren’t human. So I set out to tell a human story, with the good and the bad, and not try to convince anyone of anything.”




(From L) Actor Tawfeek Barhom, director Tarik Saleh and Lebanese-Swedish actor Fares Fares at a photocall for ‘Boy from Heaven’ at the Cannes Film Festival in May. (AFP)

Saleh was inspired by the films of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Iñárritu of Mexico, and Bong Joon Ho and Park Chan Wook of South Korea, who each made films of overflowing humanity that transcended above cultural borders. He decided he, too, could make a film like Joon Ho’s remarkable “Memories of a Murder” (2003), a film that was critical of its society, offered no context or explanations, but was never considered an indictment of an entire people.

“To all the critics of ‘Boy from Heaven’ who will say I don’t provide enough context, I say no, sorry, I don't owe you an explanation,” Saleh said. “I'm not here to teach you about Islam. Bong Joon Ho doesn’t explain Korean society. He's not a teacher. He's a filmmaker. A lot of Western people think they have a right to know. I say, no, you have a right to learn. You’re going to have to take this journey yourself.”

That is part of the reason that Saleh chose to have the main character of “Boy from Heaven” himself be alienating to Western audiences, subverting the Hollywood expectation that the outsider character would stand in for a skeptical Western viewer’s perspective.

“I knew it would be unsettling to take this journey with a person who is a believer, who is trying to do the right thing. And I’m very glad that I made it unsettling,” the filmmaker said.




Tarik Saleh won Best Screenplay at Cannes for ‘Boy from Heaven.’ (AFP)

While “Boy from Heaven” is — first and foremost — an unflinching work that takes a critical view off the ways in which politics can affect things that are supposed to be immune to its workings, Saleh wanted, primarily, to be respectful to the faith and accurate in his depictions of the university — which his own grandfather attended — and the mosque and perhaps forge a deeper connection with them himself.

“I worked with an imam who was very knowledgeable about Al-Azhar. I wanted to make sure that the depiction was correct and — for selfish reasons — I wanted to have conversations with him about life, about moral issues, my own doubts and problems. It was very fruitful,” said Saleh. “We had many interesting conversations about the dilemmas in the film. I realized I’m sort of telling myself the story, in many ways.”

For Saleh, the film’s story is about himself as much as anyone else. Good storytelling, after all, brings the viewer into the minds of its characters, preferably in a way that makes them understand a deeper truth, both about themselves and the world around them.

“That’s the transcendent thing about film — when you’re watching it, you’re making the decisions the character is making,” Saleh said. “What’s even more spectacular is the more corrupt decisions they’re taking, the more we, as human beings, can relate.

“Our leaders try to tell us that the enemy is on the other side of the ocean, or the other side of a border. But the truth is our enemy is in the mirror,” he continued. “Human beings, if we’re honest with ourselves, know that we are up against ourselves. That’s the basics of drama, and the basics of life.”


Art exhibition ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ debuts in Riyadh

Art exhibition ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ debuts in Riyadh
Updated 03 October 2022

Art exhibition ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ debuts in Riyadh

Art exhibition ‘Tales of Nostalgia’ debuts in Riyadh
  • Exhibition reflects upon notions of time and memory in an era of rapid change

RIYADH: The Misk Art Institute launched a new exhibition in Riyadh titled “Tales of Nostalgia” on Monday.

The exhibition showcases the works of 12 Saudi and international artists who reflect upon notions of time and memory, and nostalgia, exploring alternate narratives through emergent technologies.

Curated by Marnie Benney and Misk Art Institute assistant curator, Alia Ahmad Alsaud, it will be on display at the Prince Faisal bin Fahd Art Gallery until Jan. 15. 

“‘Tales of Nostalgia’ is both a reflection upon and a conversation about where we are, as a species, in our endless, intertwined relationship with time and technology,” the organizers said. 

Featuring immersive digital soundscapes, the exhibition aims to shed light on an increasingly technological and digitized world, particularly the increasing importance of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks, workshops, and opportunities to listen to and engage with participating artists over the course of several days.

 


Middle East Fashion Week set to return to Dubai this November

Middle East Fashion Week set to return to Dubai this November
Updated 03 October 2022

Middle East Fashion Week set to return to Dubai this November

Middle East Fashion Week set to return to Dubai this November

DUBAI: The second edition of Middle East Fashion Week (MEFW), organized by the Middle East Fashion Council (MEFC), is set to take place from Nov. 7-10 at The Agenda in Dubai Media City.

The event will also hold the second edition of the Middle East Sustainable Fashion Forum –  a panel of speakers leading discussions on environmentally responsible and financially viable ways to integrate sustainable practices into the design process and the supply chain.

Keeping this theme in mind, the choice of venue becomes more apparent. The Agenda’s vision is to become the world’s first carbon-negative performance venue. “The sound and lighting industry is historically very power hungry, and coupled with AC and facilities, traditionally a large CO2 footprint would be in place for an event such as this. The Agenda will be using the latest technology to reduce power consumption,” reads a description on the event's official website.

Guests attending the event will be able to see their individual carbon footprint for attending the shows and how it is offset.

Designer applications for Middle East Fashion Week are open until October 10, 2022. To apply, email [email protected]

 


Givenchy taps Gigi Hadid for Paris Fashion Week show

Givenchy taps Gigi Hadid for Paris Fashion Week show
Gigi Hadid hit the runway in an all-denim look. (AFP)
Updated 03 October 2022

Givenchy taps Gigi Hadid for Paris Fashion Week show

Givenchy taps Gigi Hadid for Paris Fashion Week show

DUBAI: Supermodel Gigi Hadid hit the outdoor runway at Givenchy’s latest show at Paris Fashion Week on Sunday.

The US Dutch Palestinian star showed off an all-denim look, featuring a button-down jacket along with a below-the-knee jean skirt with oversized pockets.

Gigi Hadid hit the runway in an all-denim look. (AFP)

Hadid walked the runway amid less than perfect weather as VIP guests, including US singer Olivia Rodrigo, survived torrential downpours only thanks to helpers clutching transparent umbrellas. But the show had to go on. For Matthew M. Williams, a designer who has garnered lukewarm reviews of late, this collection was a little like crunch time, The Associated Press reported.

For spring, the US designer moved his street aesthetic in a dressier direction — likely trying to bring himself to the safer ground of the age-old house’s traditional aesthetic.

An oversized tweed black bolero cut a creatively surreal silhouette atop a pencil-thin mini dress, twinned with Matrix-style shades. Elsewhere, features such as rouching on a silken top, or draping on a fluid skirt, resembled thick organic sinews or human ribs.

This felt like a positive, gently transgressive, direction for the house immortalized by Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress.

However, many of Williams’ design elements still felt out of place on the Paris runway, such as 90s low-slung cargo shorts that seemed unflattering, clashing with the black silken ruffled cuffs that dangled down.

Earlier at Paris Fashion Week, Hadid hit the runway at the Isabel Marant show, wearing the French label’s Spring-Summer 2023 collection. 

She strutted down the runway in an oversized cameo print jacket in neutral hues and was joined by her sister Bella, who showed off two looks. The first featured a white cut-out top embellished with silver studs, white pants, stilettos and a handbag. The second look was a black flowy mini dress with cut-out detailing across the chest.

The sisters also walked the catwalk for Italian brand Versace at Milan Fashion Week.

Donatella Versace’s collection conveyed female power in a way that only the label can.

“I have always loved a rebel,’’ Versace said in show notes. “A woman who is confidence, smart and a little bit of a diva (sic).”

The show conveyed a strong sense of female ritual as models traversed a runway lit by dark candles and lined with stained-glass windows with the Versace medusa head, before exiting through glass-enclosed spaces where bathrobe-clad men lounged on gilded chairs amid purple columns, underlining a shift in the power dynamic.

 


Why Egypt isn’t submitting any films for the 2023 Academy Awards

Why Egypt isn’t submitting any films for the 2023 Academy Awards
Updated 03 October 2022

Why Egypt isn’t submitting any films for the 2023 Academy Awards

Why Egypt isn’t submitting any films for the 2023 Academy Awards

CAIRO: Despite playing host to two of the Arab world’s most prestigious film festivals, as well as being famous for its storied film industry, Egypt has decided not to submit any titles for the Best International Feature Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards, with industry insiders telling Arab News the decision was a difficult one.

The members of the film selection committee, which falls under the Cinema Professionals Syndicate, decided to opt out of the running for the Oscars, which will be held on March 12, 2023. However, some critics did voice their support for a clutch of films.

Art critic Faiza Hindawi, a member of the committee, told Arab News that one film which generated huge buzz was Nadine Khan’s “Abu Saddam.” However, the film failed to make the cut due to strict regulations about its release date.

“‘Abu Saddam’ was not on the list of the four films closest to nomination due to its non-compliance with the conditions and regulations stipulated in the awards, including the date of the screening. One of the conditions is that the film was shown in the year 2022 and, unfortunately, ‘Abu Saddam’ was shown last year,” Hindawi explained.

“We are bound by conditions that must be met in the works that are nominated, procedural conditions (as well as) technical conditions, meaning that the films that meet the procedural conditions are presented to us to choose from, and the list did not contain ‘Abu Saddam,’” she added.

A few of the titles floated for consideration this year included “Kira Waljen” directed by Marwan Hamed; “Qamar 14” directed by Hadi El-Bagoury; “The Crime” directed by Sherif Arafa; and “2 Talaat Harb” directed by Magdy Ahmed Ali.

Egyptian producer, scriptwriter and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Mohamed Hefzy added that despite a bevy of commendable films released in 2022, none were nominated due to the high standard of films that will compete from around the world.

Mohamed Hefzy shared his thoughts on the lack of an Egyptian submission this year. (AFP)

“The committee that made the decision included more than 30 filmmakers, and it is clear that the films presented to them did not live up to their expectations to be nominated for the Oscars,” he told Arab News.

“As a person who is a member of the Academy, and those who vote for the best international film, I can say that the level of the 90 films that compete every year for Oscars from all over the world are well-made films, so the competition is very tough, and in my opinion when there aren’t any Oscar-worthy movies worth nominating it’s better to not nominate any,” he added.

Previous films submitted for Oscars consideration by Egypt include “Soad” (2019), “Youm El Din” (2018) and “Sheikh Jackson” (2017), among others.


US band OneRepublic to headline new music festival in Abu Dhabi

US band OneRepublic to headline new music festival in Abu Dhabi
Updated 03 October 2022

US band OneRepublic to headline new music festival in Abu Dhabi

US band OneRepublic to headline new music festival in Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Just when you thought Abu Dhabi’s event calendar couldn’t get any busier, events organizer Live Nation has announced a new music festival headed to the UAE capital. Amplified Music Festival will take place on Yas Links from Nov. 11-13. Coming to the UAE for the first time, the three-day-long event will see international headliners OneRepublic, Ministry of Sound and CAS perform.

Performing on Nov. 11 will be American pop rock band OneRepublic, most famous for their smash single “Apologize.” The band recently released a new single, “I Ain’t Worried,” featured in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

On Nov. 12, festival-goers can witness the 15-piece Ministry of Sound Funk & Soul band presenting their celebrated live show, “Ministry of Sound Disco.”

On Nov. 13, alternative pop phenomenon CAS, who sold out two shows on their previous visit to the UAE earlier this year, will take to the stage as headliners.