RIYADH: MBC Studios has started production of Saudi fantasy series “Rise of the Witches” with an all-local cast and crew.
The high-end production division of the MBC Group stated that it is producing the show based on a novel by Saudi author Osamah Al-Muslim.
“We are pleased that Saudi actors and artists are involved in this project,” Al-Muslim told Arab News.
“The project will mark a qualitative leap for Saudi drama, with budgets never before seen, and the subject matter will open up new avenues for drama, particularly fantasy, which has started to take off and dominate the scene.”
The location of the filming is NEOM, the burgeoning smart city in the northeast of the country, which is central to Saudi Arabia’s strategy to establish itself as a major center for film and television production.
According to MBC Studios, the city has built three specially designed sets for the show, which boasts the highest special effects budget ever for a Saudi production.
The series is set in ancient Arabia, and tells the story of an epic war between two rival witch covens.
It is a tale about growing up in a magical, male-dominated society where women are forbidden from using magic in any way. Witches study their art in secrecy, and start their own organizations to gain power and protect themselves.
The cast is led by Ida Alkusay and Sumaya Rida, portraying the two lead witches.
“It’s a different character than what I (usually would) play, which makes it very exciting. MBC studios did a tremendous job of making this production almost flawless in terms of comfort for the cast and crew. I am looking forward to this show and (am) eagerly waiting for it,” Alkusay told Arab News.
Award-winning entertainment and drama directors Craig Pickles and Declan O’Dwyer handle directing duties, and Zeinab Abu Alsamh of MBC Group serves as executive producer.
Film producer Dominic Barlow oversees production.
MBC Studios has brought in emerging local talent to work on the series as part of its strategy to build local film and TV development and production capacity.
The 10-part series will make its debut on Shahid, the MBC Group’s pan-Arab streaming service, later this year.
Egypt's sweetheart Dalida: A unique talent born from a rare cultural mix
For this week's edition of our series on Arab icons, the late singer’s brother explains how she captured hearts across the world with songs in several languages, including Arabic
Updated 07 October 2022
PARIS: In May 1987, the Cairo-born French-Italian singer Dalida — one of non-English-language-music’s biggest-ever stars — took her own life. Her 54 years had been filled with both great success and great tragedy. Three of her partners had previously committed suicide, and Dalida had attempted to take her own life in 1967 after the suicide of her lover, the Italian singer and actor Luigi Tenco.
Despite the trauma of her personal life, though, her career was a story of almost-unbroken achievement. She packed out venues across the world, her songs (sung in nine languages) sold in huge numbers, and she was even a hit on the silver screen in films including legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s 1986 release “The Sixth Day.”
In France, where she lived most of her adult life, she was an undisputed superstar — a poll in 1988 published in Le Monde ranked Dalida second, after General de Gaulle, among personalities who had the greatest impact on French society. She continues to influence pop-culture today, with many of her hits being remixed as dance numbers.
Here, her younger brother Orlando — with whom she co-founded their own record label in 1970, in order to give her more control over her career — shares his memories of his legendary sister with Arab News.
Tell us about growing up with Dalida. What was she like as a kid?
Dalida — who was called Iolanda at the time — grew up with my brother and me, the youngest. My name was Bruno, but when I arrived in France and started my career, I was given the name Orlando. We grew up with the same education, in the same neighborhood, the same atmosphere, and yet we were totally different. If my brother and I had a very joyful, very happy childhood, this was not the case for Dalida. She was a little sick when she was little (she had an eye infection and underwent several operations) and, growing up, she always had this desire to go elsewhere — a desire to know the world, to rise, to learn, to be cultivated. She always had this goal: ‘One day, you will see who I am.’ She wanted to ‘become someone.’ She built herself with this goal in mind.
How connected did she feel to Egypt?
We lived there; we were born there. We bathed in its atmosphere. Egypt, at the time, was a country of unique sweetness, with a cultural mix that was extraordinary — all these languages, all these cultures, all these religions, all these people who rubbed shoulders, who were dating… There was no discomfort, no aggression. There was such a sweetness of life. We had a beautiful childhood in Egypt. Dalida adored Egypt, she always remained faithful to it, and, moreover, after a few years, she began to sing in Egyptian.
What made your sister such a special talent?
This particular talent, we can’t explain it. She had many talents, which were enriched by her voice — this tone which belonged only to her, indefinable; this warmth of the voice, this burst of sunshine. Above all, I think her voice was born from the Mediterranean, it’s a voice tinged with the sun, from the Orient. And the fact that she was of Italian origin and sings in French meant that she had a peculiar accent. Since 1955, this unique voice and the personality that went with it have taken over the world. Dalida has created immortal titles in all languages. To talk about the Middle East, “Helwa Ya Baladi,” for example, has become an anthem for the whole Arab world, and “Salma Ya Salama” too. The hundreds of songs by Dalida, all different, make her unique, because everyone finds something that touches them, a slice of life or the presence of Dalida. She knew how to do everything. She passed with truly astonishing ease from a song like “Je suis Malade” or “Avec Le Temps” to songs like “Gigi L’Amoroso” or “Salma Ya Salama” or to disco. Perhaps thanks to her place of birth and this plural culture, which remained in her memory and accompanied her during her adolescence, she had the chance and the power to sing in all languages. She drew on this mix and it made her career. Dalida will remain unique.
What do you remember about her sudden success? How did it affect her? And you?
I was the witness to her story, and I became the witness to her memory. Dalida and I were accomplices — fans of theater, cinema and song. And I always encouraged her even though I was younger than her. I always accompanied her on her journey — her desires, her dream. I was always her confidant, even when she left for Paris. When I arrived in the capital in my turn, I sang a little too, but after five years I joined the adventure by her side and I never betrayed her — I served her and I keep doing it. So it was a career that we lived together, and I was a spectator, an admirer and also, later, her producer. In 1966, I became her artistic director and in 1970, we founded our own business. Even today, I take care of her as if she was still here. Dalida made me her universal legatee because she knew that I would continue to defend her memory and her interests, and that’s what I am doing.
When did you first notice that her depression was getting worse? Was it something she struggled with throughout her life?
She used to say, “I succeeded in my professional life, but in my personal life, I did not succeed.” Why? Because she gave everything to her job, to her audience. She wanted to be Dalida, so she became Dalida. She did everything for Dalida and put aside her private life, which suffered as a result. This is the reason why she could not keep the men in her life, because after a while the men saw Dalida in front of them, not Iolanda. She always put her job first, and that’s why she found herself alone. It couldn’t last.
Towards the end, she realized that she was alone, childless and without a companion by her side. She began to understand that giving everything for her career — even if it was what she had wanted — had taken away her life as a woman, a wife and a mother. And, little by little, all this led her to have dark thoughts, made her depressed. But despite the dramas, she also had a life full of joy, satisfaction and happiness.
She experienced this terrible tragedy in her life of having three partners who committed suicide. These are things that you can’t explain. After a while she had had enough, maybe she thought she had done everything, and had everything. I don’t think Dalida wanted time to do its work either; she wanted to escape from time. She wanted to leave in full glory and in full beauty.
What do you think she was most proud of?
Dalida was not proud. Despite her status as an international star — an icon even today — she was always a humble woman. She never thought she had ‘succeeded,’ so she kept it simple, knowing well who she was. It was Iolanda who built Dalida — this blonde international star — but also this timeless Dalida.
What kind of a cultural legacy do you think she left?
Dalida is one of those rare artists who had a passionate connection with her audience. People loved Dalida passionately, even new generations. Today, people who weren’t even born when she left us love her and listen to her songs. In Montmartre, the bust on Place Dalida, installed in 1997 following a decision by the mayor of Paris at the time, Bertrand Delanoë, has become a cult place. Statistics show that in Montmartre the two most visited monuments by tourists from all over the world are the Sacré-Coeur and Place Dalida. And now there’s even a tour that starts at Dalida’s house on Rue Orchampt, goes to her final resting place in Montmartre cemetery, and then back to Place Dalida where her statue is, which tourists come to touch like a lucky charm.
HIGHLIGHTS: Rare photos of Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979
Updated 07 October 2022
DUBAI: At the Riyadh International Book Fair, which ends Oct. 8, auction house Sotheby’s is showing a photo album of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Saudi Arabia in 1979. Here are three gems from that visit:
1. Here, she and her husband Prince Philip are welcomed by Prince Abdulmohsen bin Jiluwi (L), governor of the Eastern Province and Prince Majid bin Abdulaziz (R), governor of Makkah.
2. Queen Elizabeth II in Riyadh, walking with King Salman (to the right of the queen) and Prince Majid bin Abdulaziz (far right). To the left of the queen, her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, walks with Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz, then deputy governor of Riyadh (far left).
3. In this unique image, Queen Elizabeth II stands with three kings of Saudi Arabia: (from left) King Fahd (1982-2005), who was Crown Prince at the time of her visit; King Khalid (1975-1982), who was the ruler at the time the queen visited; and King Abdullah, who ruled from 2005 to 2015.
Hollywood star Rami Malek says ‘Amsterdam’ was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience
The Egyptian American actor, Christian Bale, and acclaimed filmmaker David O. Russell discuss Russell’s latest movie
Updated 07 October 2022
DUBAI: Rami Malek was searching for this. After the Egyptian-American actor won an Academy Award for his acclaimed performance as Queen’s late frontman Freddie Mercury in 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he didn’t want his meteoric rise to plateau. He wanted to work with the best artists in the world, he wanted something that felt unlike anything else, he wanted a project with a message he believed in. He wanted “Amsterdam.”
The film, which opens in the Middle East this week, is the latest from David O. Russell, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker behind “The Fighter” (2010), “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012), and “American Hustle” (2013). In Malek’s eyes, it is all he had hoped for and more. It’s a film aimed at the best of us, following three people seemingly broken by a society that appears to have no use for them, who choose love — for themselves, for each other, and for the world around them — to fight for what is right, however oddly they go about it.
“You’ve probably heard this, and I hope it’s not a cliché to say this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is a film that just spoke to me,” says Malek, who filmed “Amsterdam” after becoming a Bond villain in “No Time to Die” and a police investigator opposite Denzel Washington in “The Little Things,” both released in 2021.
“It’s based on something as simple as weighing love versus hate, and that resounds throughout the film. It delivers as this great comedic thriller, along with this shocking, untold history, but all the while has these themes that just resonate with all of us,” Malek continues.
That’s not to say that “Amsterdam” is as bright and cheery as you may first expect, based on the effervescence of its leads, which include Oscar winners Christian Bale and Margot Robbie. The film, set in the 1930s, follows three people dealing with post-war injuries attempting to solve the murder of a young woman that happened right in front of them, and take down the larger conspiracy that is bent on pinning the crime on them, among other horrid deeds the trailer doesn’t want to spoil. Malek plays Robbie’s brother — an eccentric, extremely wealthy philanthropist.
While the film gets extremely dark at times, for Russell, that’s exactly why he needed characters that would not feel tainted by the darkness all around, and a handful of the most charismatic actors in the world to play them. It’s an idea he got from watching Jack Nicholson star in Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974).
“I didn’t understand the importance of this when I first saw ‘Chinatown,’ to be honest. But I noticed they had a sense of humor, they had a love of life, they had a confidence, and a gleam in their eye. They had tragedy from their past. But, nevertheless, it did not stop them,” Russell tells Arab News.
For Bale, the only way to move forward from tragedy is by finding that gleam in your eye.
“Hope and optimism are really truly the only answer because, as I think it still says in the film, the alternative is no good,” says Bale.
Filling out the cast is a true murderer’s row — pardon the pun — of talent, with Anya Taylor-Joy playing Malek’s wife, Taylor Swift their close family friend, and Robert De Niro as a retired general, with a three-time Oscar winner behind the camera — cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” “The Revenant”), affectionately known in Hollywood as ‘Chivo.’
“This cast is an orchestra, and everybody’s playing their own instrument and it’s gorgeous. It was one of those sets where you’re not running back to your trailer, because you want to watch what’s happening. And beyond all this, these are people that are at the top of their game,” says Malek.
In the film, Amsterdam becomes a metaphor for the happiest time in their lives, the place they are fighting to get back to. For Malek, looking back on his experience in filming it, his own ‘Amsterdam’ is now the set of the film itself.
“I think when we were done with this film, I asked myself, what is my Amsterdam? What is that moment where I had emotion, but I also had this great connection with human beings that led me to a place where I was able to transcend? And I think for me, that will be a part of a film that will have audiences feeling that as they walk out. That is something that will be a sacred thing for me long after this film premieres,” says Malek. “And yeah, it’s going to stand the test of time.”
Saudi style star Tamara Al-Gabbani on how to stand out at Paris Fashion Week
Influencer collaborated with Net-a-Porter for many looks during fashion week season
Al-Gabbani pulled off number of fashion-forward ensembles with help of stylist Wafa Nasser
Updated 06 October 2022
Shyama Krishna Kumar
DUBAI: Saudi designer and fashion influencer Tamara Al-Gabbani is back from her “manic and exhilarating” Paris Fashion Week trip and it was one for the books, she told Arab News.
“It’s like that feeling you get after doing CrossFit for 10 days and you can’t feel your legs anymore,” she said.
She attributed part of the intense nature of the trip to having her stylist and assistant both miss the trip for various reasons.
“The main challenge was definitely that I didn’t have my stylist and assistant with me. Unpacking alone took me six hours. The second challenge was that we didn’t predict that the weather would be cold and rainy. We didn’t really prepare for that,” she added.
What followed was an intense shopping exercise in Paris, while Al-Gabbani had her stylist Wafa Nasser go over all the choices with her on the phone.
“She was on the phone with me the whole time and we were selecting all the boots and everything we needed because of the change of weather conditions. And we were re-creating looks while I was in Paris and shopping right before the shoot, which was in a few hours and we had to do all this last minute over the phone,” Al-Gabbani said.
But even before she arrived in Paris, Al-Gabbani had her work cut out for her. Behind the glitz and the glamor of an influencer’s life is steady teamwork, rigorous attention to detail, and a lot of preparation.
“My stylist and I began our prep three weeks in advance. But because she was in Riyadh and I was in Dubai and then at New York Fashion week, we had to work virtually to put all my looks together. We worked online for five days straight to decide on all the looks. And this time, we collaborated with Net-a-Porter for most of the looks,” she added.
On her favorite styles from her Paris trip, Al-Gabbani picked out her Saint Laurent and Coperni outfits. The Coperni ensemble combined a yellow twisted cutout cady blazer with an eye-catching mint-green crochet skirt, all perfectly brought together with season-favorite Barbie pink Bottega Veneta heels.
The Saint Laurent look featured a more masculine silhouette with a single-breasted tailored blazer dress in denim. Al-Gabbani paired this with thigh-high white boots and chunky gold hoops.
Behind the scenes of ‘The Woman King’ with Hollywood superstar Viola Davis
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Viola Davis and other stars discuss their groundbreaking historical epic
The film is set to be released in Gulf cinemas on Oct. 6
Updated 06 October 2022
DUBAI: In the 26 years since she debuted on the screen, 57-year-old American actress Viola Davis has become the only Black American to win the Triple Crown of acting — an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony, had her star included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has even been named by the New York Times as one of the top 10 actors of the century. Never, though, has she been prouder of a film than she is of “The Woman King.”
“For the first time in my career, I had agency — agency to be able to control the narrative for myself, to have a character that reflected me,” Davis tells Arab News. “It’s a story in which I don’t have to make my blackness disappear in order to make the role work. It meant freedom — that’s what it’s meant.”
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), “The Woman King” is the sort of film that many have called for for decades — a historical epic in the style of “Braveheart” or “Gladiator” that centers on the story of African leaders. It is set in the real-life West African kingdom of Dahomey in 1823 and focuses on General Nanisca (Davis), the woman who would become Dahomey’s ‘king.’
For Bythewood, it’s the film she had been dreaming of making all her career. “‘Braveheart’ is one of my favorite movies, and I’ve always wanted to make our ‘Braveheart.’ So when the script came, I thought this might be the chance to do it,” says Bythewood.
Getting it made, however, was anything but easy. Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, fought for seven years, with Bythewood coming in during the last year to help assemble a cast that was worthy of such an ambitious project.
“To get from that desire to a green light is a lot. It’s a lot of fight. It’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a lot of casting. But I feel like it just happened at the right time. And certainly, I feel like all my work up until this point got me to a position to be able to do this story and tell it the right way,” Bythewood says.
The team assembled an all-star cast of up-and-coming talent, including Lashana Lynch (“Doctor Strange 2,” “No Time to Die”), John Boyega (the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy), and Thuso Mbedu (“The Underground Railroad”), each of whom took on different historical figures that showed the complicated nature of 19th-century Africa, in which prominent West African kingdoms worked with European slavers to sell those they defeated in battle, a practice they later rejected.
“I really had to learn about this history, and once I did I had a responsibility in portraying this man to not shy away from his conflicts, especially the conflicts that are quite negative,” Boyega says. “I had to be open to the reality of the wrong, for the sake of good portrayal.”
At the center of it all is Davis herself, giving perhaps the best performance of her career.
“This movie wouldn’t have gotten made without Viola. No one else can be Nanisca, and she’s everything she is off the screen as she is on the screen. She’s so powerful,” says Bythewood.
“She wants collaboration, and we had a great time building this character. She wasn’t familiar with fighting and stunts because she hadn’t done it before, but I have, so I brought my athlete mentality to her and let her know what it really feels like to be in a ring, to hit or be hit, to swing a weapon. Once we had that, we could really build her from there, and once we had Viola’s performance, we had our key ingredient,” Bythewood continues.
For Lynch, this was not just about telling the story of an African kingdom — it was the story of a Black woman-led society, one that has never been explored on screen before, and she and the crew felt a huge responsibility to do it correctly.