Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’
Al-Banawi is on a mission to show the world that Saudi women are complex. (Getty Images)
Short Url
Updated 09 September 2022

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’

Cannes red carpet regular Fatima Al-Banawi: ‘I want to give my characters layers of imperfection’
  • One of Saudi cinema’s biggest stars returns in the road-trip thriller ‘Route 10’
  • Currently attending the Venice Film Festival, Fatima Al-Banawi starred in ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ – the second Saudi film to be submitted for Oscars consideration

DUBAI: Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi has made a career out of playing strong female characters. But that may not mean what you think. From her breakthrough role in 2016’s “Barakah Meets Barakah” to her latest Saudi thriller “Route 10,” the groundbreaking performer isn’t turning every part into Wonder Woman — instead, character by character, Al-Banawi is on a mission to show the world that Saudi women are complex, and that true strength is born from that complexity.

“Sometimes we think that portraying women as perfect makes them strong. To me it makes them flat,” Al-Banawi tells Arab News. “Women have different layers, and different sides. Women, like men, are imperfect. That’s what makes us human. I want to give my female characters layers of imperfection — sometimes naïve, sometimes selfish, sometimes arrogant — just like the best male characters. Otherwise, they’ll be soulless.”

Initially, “Route 10,” directed by Omar Naim (“The Final Cut,” “Becoming”) seems to be a basic genre film — all thrills, no depth. Al-Banawi plays Maryam, a woman traveling by road with her brother from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi to attend their father’s wedding — a trip that turns a lot more dangerous when a stranger starts hunting them, apparently set on killing them, turning a routine road trip into a race for their lives.

Looks, Al-Banawi argues, can be deceiving.

“I realized a long time ago that you can package things that are deep and meaningful and that hit a real emotional cord within different genres. I started my career with a rom-com, ‘Barakah Meets Barakah,’ that achieved that, and now, with ‘Route 10,’ I can do that with a thriller,” she says.

“I’m always trying to shuffle things, to repackage things. I say to myself, ‘I did this, so now I need to do this.’ I played a superstar on stage who wants the spotlight on her, so after that I wanted to play a naïve little girl. I want to tap into different elements of people — of women — that I can play and thus highlight on the silver screen,” Al-Banawi continues.

Six years removed from her breakout performance in Mahmoud Sabbagh’s “Barakah Meets Barakah,” which was only the second Saudi film to ever be submitted for Academy Awards consideration, Al-Banawi has honed her skills impressively, pushing herself as an actor and a person to make each role something both distinct and fully formed, a representation of who she is while also being something totally removed from herself.

For “Route 10,” she went as deeply into the character as possible, laser-focused on the fact that Maryam is a Saudi female doctor, and making choices in the moment that were unscripted to highlight the many facets of her being. At times, she embraced the principles of method acting, and just as the actor Marlon Brando famously would add certain physical flourishes to his scenes because he instinctually felt they would fit the character, Al-Banawi did too.

“In one major sequence, my character approaches the body of a policeman, and I insisted I feel the (pulse) of that policeman. There was resistance on set, people said a Saudi woman would not do that. I said: ‘No, I’m playing a doctor.’ I wanted to relate to all the female doctors both in Saudi Arabia and outside of Saudi Arabia, and those doctors have instincts. Doctors try to save who is in front of them, and if someone is injured, they act without thinking. As an actor, I do so much research that, when the time comes, I have to act without thinking. I had to become in tune with how doctors deal with every situation, and that was what fueled every aspect of my performance,” she explains.

Maryam may be a doctor with the strength to take charge in a life or death situation, but Al-Banawi stresses that the character has her flaws, too.

“She lives alone. She’s independent. But she longs for family,” she says. “She lost her mother a year ago. She’s grieving, but she never resolved her issues with all of these things. That fuels her actions in unpredictable ways.”

Al-Banawi didn’t always dream of becoming an actor. She studied psychology at Effat University in Jeddah before traveling to Harvard University for her post-graduate degree in theological studies. She focused on women, gender and Islamic studies, diving into religious texts and related materials and becoming fascinated in how important storytelling was throughout history.

She started tracing those lines to the present day, contemplating how the storytelling of ancient times aligns with the storytelling of the contemporary world — a passion that drove her, after graduating, to theater; becoming a storyteller herself. It was, she says, never her plan to become a movie star. When a script for what could become an Academy Award submission comes across your desk, however, plans change.

“I didn’t know this was going to come my way. Maybe I was manifesting it. I didn’t see cinema as my future. Honestly, I’m really surprised with where I am today. Throughout all this change, I’m still trying to figure out my path,” says Al-Banawi. “I want to lead, but usually a leader has experience — usually a leader knows where to go. I’m leading as I’m experiencing. I don’t know the route, but I do have a strong impulse to be true to myself, to not compromise, and to be clear-minded at all times. Those principles are my guide forward, and I’m happily surprised with where they’ve gotten me,” she adds.

As the film industry in Saudi Arabia, and the wider Arab world as a whole, continues its rapid development, with a diverse array of voices showing they have unique stories to tell, Al-Banawi is taking care not to rush her own development to try to match the pace of others, selecting projects that suit what’s best for her own journey.

“Things are changing fast, but I don’t need to be as fast as change. I need to be as fast as I need to be to grow,” she says. “It’s not about taking on as many roles as I can, it’s about diversifying, putting together a skill set and mastering it. Then, I can allow that to be contagious, in a way; to spread it, to share and grow collectively with those around me rather than just individually. I envision bigger things for both myself and us all.”

Next, Al-Banawi’s path leads her to writing, directing, and co-producing her first feature film, “Basma,” which she’s aiming to release by the end of 2023. While taking on a feature herself is a daunting task, one that fills her with a range of emotions, she knows exactly how she’s going to do it: By allowing herself the same complexity as a person and an artist that she allows her characters.

“I’m a vulnerable and fragile person right now. It’s my first feature. As an actor, I’ve read so many scripts. I think, ‘Who am I to write my own?’ But now I’m just allowing myself to be vulnerable, taking this as a form of strength. Everything I’ve learned on set has led to this moment, has fueled who I will become as a writer and a director, and as a leader. I’m putting together a team of extraordinary people, and it will be amazing to watch them shine,” says Al-Banawi.

“I can’t talk about my own contributions too much,” she adds with a smile. “Let’s wait and see what I bring to the table.”


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 51 min 12 sec ago

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.

“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.


Mayyas choreographer Nadim Cherfan addresses historic ‘America’s Got Talent’ win at Lebanon event

Mayyas choreographer Nadim Cherfan addresses historic ‘America’s Got Talent’ win at Lebanon event
Updated 02 October 2022

Mayyas choreographer Nadim Cherfan addresses historic ‘America’s Got Talent’ win at Lebanon event

Mayyas choreographer Nadim Cherfan addresses historic ‘America’s Got Talent’ win at Lebanon event

DUBAI: Celebrating the historic win of Lebanese dance troupe Mayyas on the “America’s Got Talent” stage, founder and choreographer Nadim Cherfan appeared at a special question-and-answer session at the US embassy in Beirut.

“I never thought. I never planned. I never dreamed. I just went for it,” said Cherfan about the group’s meteoric rise over the past year.

The 45-minute Q&A session was broadcast on YouTube as part of the US Embassy’s Meet the Artist series. The broadcast also featured a special performance by the Mayyas — their first since winning the US talent show.

“I promise the girls I will be with them forever, that’s how I say it,” Cherfan said. “The girls will be changing over the years, some of them will be following their own dreams, but the Mayyas should live on, it’s not anymore about any of us — it’s a national pride. So we have to keep on sending this message.”

About being a group from Lebanon and his early inspiration to become a dancer, Cherfan said: “When you live in a country that has some struggles, you have to go deep to the heart to escape reality. I used to travel all around the world and experience a beautiful sensation that I can speak an international language and I can express myself whether I am angry or sad in this way, so I think dancing saved my life in a way.”

“As soon as I opened my eyes to this world and I started realizing that there’s something called theater and dance and music, I was completely taken away from the first second,” he said.

The Lebanese dance company Mayyas won “America’s Got Talent” season 17, taking home the $1 million prize and the chance to headline a Las Vegas show.

In June, the group made their “America’s Got Talent” debut and impressed judges Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara so much that they received a golden buzzer and fast track to the live shows.
 


Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveils summer 2023 collection in Paris

Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveils summer 2023 collection in Paris
Elie Saab showed off his latest collection at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. (AFP)
Updated 02 October 2022

Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveils summer 2023 collection in Paris

Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveils summer 2023 collection in Paris

DUBAI: Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveiled his spring/summer 2023 collection at Paris Fashion Week over the weekend.

The line featured stylistic call-backs to the 1960s with its babydoll dresses, miniskirts, crop-tops and jabot collars. However, the designer managed to retain he floaty, contemporary Saab touch he has become famous for.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ELIE SAAB (@eliesaabworld)

The first look from Saab at his Paris fashion show fused a 1960s angelic-white crop top and a maxi skirt with an ethnic look, thanks to a construction of interlocking motifs. This fusion of different eras continued throughout the show, which sent out 68 items, The Associated Press reported.

Elie Saab showed off his latest collection in Paris. (Getty Images)

Lace detailing was a big theme and became the front of a baggy pale tracksuit top. In an anachronism that defined this Saab spring aesthetic, it was worn alongside a sheer 1990s' tulle skirt. It had a great swag and could have very well been seen at a music festival in that decade.

Saab's spring aesthetic featured tributes to nature. (AFP)

Flashes of Barbie pink and citrus contrasted with psychedelic stripes on column silhouettes, sometimes making it feel like Saab was trying to put too much in the mix.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ELIE SAAB (@eliesaabworld)

However, the fresh white broderie anglaise, delicate crochet work and crisp cottons played into the summer theme that Saab sought to pull off, with the designer telling Vogue US that he “was just in the mood for something easy to wear, airy like a summer breeze.”

That sentiment was echoed on the fashion house’s social media accounts.

“The Elie Saab Woman drifts onto the scene in gentle warmth and movement. Her colorful confidence is embodied in the ready-to-wear spring/summer 2023 collection, exuding a timeless chic with a touch of garden freshness. Soft and sumptuous textures overlap into free-flowing expressions that carry her carefree assuredness throughout the day,” the label posted on Instagram alongside a video clip of the show.

The star-studded front row at the show featured the likes of Italian actress Monica Bellucci, US actress Eva Longoria, US influencer Olivia Palermo and Mohammed Al-Turki, the CEO of Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.

“Congrats to the Saab family for another beautiful show,” Al-Turki, who attended the event in an ensemble from Saab’s Haute Couture Men’s collection, posted on Instagram.


Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards
Updated 01 October 2022

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

DUBAI: Lebanese human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her actor husband George Clooney this week hosted the first-ever Albie Awards, an event created by the celebrity couple to honor individuals who, at great personal risk, have devoted their lives to justice.

The awards ceremony, which took place in New York City, is named after South African lawyer, activist, writer and former judge Justice Albie Sachs, who spent much of his life “defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws.”

Amal was spotted on the red carpet wearing a silver and gold beaded Atelier Versace column gown and strappy silver Aquazzura sandals, while George wore a black tuxedo. (AFP)

Amal was spotted on the red carpet wearing a silver and gold beaded Atelier Versace column gown and strappy silver Aquazzura sandals, while George wore a black tuxedo.

The event was attended by A-list celebrities including Oscar Isaac, Dua Lipa, John Oliver, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Ethan Hawke and Meryl Streep.