Saudi filmmakers highlight vital mental health issues on-screen

Saudi filmmakers highlight vital mental health issues on-screen
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The Bottle. (Supplied)
Saudi filmmakers highlight vital mental health issues on-screen
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Jameel Jeddan. (Supplied)
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Updated 22 September 2022

Saudi filmmakers highlight vital mental health issues on-screen

Saudi filmmakers highlight vital mental health issues on-screen
  • ‘Jameel Jeddan’ and ‘Lithium’ shatter taboos with laughs, empathy
  • 1 in 3 adults in Kingdom diagnosed with a disorder in their lifetime

RIYADH: Mental health is still often considered a taboo subject in the region and across the world, with explanations ranging from the superstitious to the criminal, but it is now being highlighted and normalized by Saudi filmmakers with their movies and television shows.

In her most recent work, Saudi writer, director, and actress Sarah Taibah packs a collection of laughs, empathy, and thought-provoking elements into the TV series “Jameel Jeddan.” The show is a coming-of-age story that takes viewers on a journey of love, trauma, and loss, to ultimately accepting reality, alongside quirky anime references and challenging of stigmas.

Taibah plays the main character, Jameel, who wakes up from a five-year coma and is forced to finish her last year at high school, rejoining a society with which she no longer identifies. As a coping mechanism, she begins to form an animated alternative reality.

“I think mental health is a very private experience that one battles with on a daily basis, secretly, without necessarily sharing it,” Taibah told Arab News.

She believes it’s important for films and shows to feature protagonists struggling with mental health issues — “something very relatable yet misunderstood in society.”

What Taibah and fellow filmmaker and director of the show, Anas BaTahaf, do is present the story — and mental health issues — in a palatable way for mass audiences. Saudi viewers often respond well to comedy or action, perhaps explaining why Saudi cinema often lacks sensitive stories.

In Saudi, about one in three adults have experienced a diagnosable mental disorder during their lifetime, according to the Saudi National Health & Stress Survey. Awareness is often the first step in both helping people understand they need help, and in offering help to those who need it.

According to a recent study by the British Board of Film Classification of young people between the ages of 13 and 18, 78 percent believe that film and TV play an integral role in spreading awareness about mental health issues. In addition, 68 percent said that positive portrayals in entertainment media can help destigmatize these issues.

Another example is that of the upcoming Saudi feature film “Lithium,” which centers around individuals living with bipolar disorder, suffering silently in society. The film aims to present the condition in a positive and honest manner.

The film won support at the Red Sea Fund last month, which aims to provide a more diverse set of movies to global audiences and better serve both Saudi and Arab filmmakers.

“Mental health is still considered a taboo (subject) around the world. These misconceptions should be fixed as some movies tend to show mentally ill people as violent or dangerous to society. More awareness should be maximized around mass media channels and especially among social media influencers,” Talha B., the film’s co-director, told Arab News.

Whether mental health disorders are the main plot driver or incorporated into minor plotlines, they can aid in understanding the psychology and nature of these conditions, creating a community driven by compassion and empathy, he said.

“Everyone suffering from mental illness deserves a chance to be an active member of our society. We believe stories can help break down difficult subject matters like the importance of mental health. Telling stories like ours can help the medicine go down, so to speak,” he added.

Globally, several movies and shows depict mental health issues with recent work including “The Queen’s Gambit,” “BoJack Horseman,” and “Atypical.” However, such work is a rarity in the region.

Still, many Saudi creators acknowledge the need to spotlight mental health on-screen in order to create a greater impact through cultural scenarios that resonate with the Saudi public.

“Nowadays, there is a great need for screening short movies that discuss mental health issues. People need to watch these kinds of movies to understand that all mental issues start within. If the target audience were educated enough about the subject, then they can deal with the problem,” Dr. Mohamed Sobaih, co-director of the stop-motion animation “The Bottle,” told Arab News.

The short animation, initially produced by cinematic arts students at Effat University, examines the life of a man living in a constant loop of his deepest fears, haunted by his worst anxieties.

“The film started out as a final project for a course taught for Cinematic Arts students in Effat University. Us, the batch who made this film, wanted to make something really unique when we decided that the story should focus on what it’s like to suffer from mental health diseases,” said co-director Hadeel Moharram.

The short film was later remade based on feedback from viewers and was screened at the Saudi Film Festival in 2021, where it received rave reviews from audiences who acknowledged the need for seeing such narratives on-screen.

“People came to us after the screening expressing their emotions after watching the film — how they saw pieces of themselves in it and their loved ones. It’s a film after all, and films are for people, and what better way to express ourselves and tell stories other than this form of art,” Moharram said.

Haya Al-Hejailan, a Saudi well-being practitioner and psychedelic integration specialist, recently worked on the documentary “The Psychedelic Renaissance,” which follows the global developments in the field of psychedelic science, medicine, and culture since 2018.

The film, now seeking its final stage of funding, platforms top researchers and figures in the field and highlights two of the most popular psychedelic therapy treatments for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance dependence. It aims to destigmatize mental health conversations and educate the masses on alternative treatments.

“It raises awareness through psychoeducation, which empowers people to help themselves and help others. The media is a powerful tool for reaching a wide audience and talking about difficult topics in a manner that is digestible and resonant,” Al-Hejailan told Arab News.

She added: “Media representation reminds people suffering that they are not alone and that their suffering is valid — as valid as physical ailments — and it instills hope in people by showing them that this is a part of the human condition and can be effectively addressed and treated through a number of different avenues.”


Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
Updated 29 November 2022

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple

Twitter owner Musk signals new ‘war’ against Apple
  • Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax”

SAN FRANCISCO: Twitter owner Elon Musk on Monday opened fire against Apple over its tight control of what is allowed on the App Store, saying the iPhone maker has threatened to oust his recently acquired social media platform.
Musk also joined the chorus crying foul over a 30 percent fee Apple collects on transactions via its App Store — the sole gateway for applications to get onto its billion plus mobile devices.
A series of tweets fired off by Musk included a meme of a car with his first name on it veering onto a highway off-ramp labeled “Go to War,” instead of continuing onwards toward “Pay 30 percent.”
The billionaire CEO also tweeted that Apple has “threatened to withhold Twitter from its App Store, but won’t tell us why.”
Apple did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.
Both Apple and Google require social networking services on their app stores to have effective systems for moderating harmful or abusive content.
But since taking over Twitter last month, Musk has cut around half of Twitter’s workforce, including many employees tasked with fighting disinformation, while an unknown number of others have voluntarily quit.
He has also reinstated previously banned accounts, including that of former president Donald Trump.
Yoel Roth, the former head of trust and safety at Twitter who left after Musk took over, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that “failure to adhere to Apple’s and Google’s guidelines would be catastrophic,” and risk “expulsion from their app stores.”
Describing himself as a “free speech absolutist,” Musk believes that all content permitted by law should be allowed on Twitter, and on Monday described his actions as a “revolution against online censorship in America.”
He also tweeted that he planned to publish “Twitter Files on free speech suppression,” but without clarifying what data he had in mind to share with the public.
Though Musk says Twitter is seeing record high engagement with him at the helm, his approach has startled the company’s major moneymaker — advertisers.
In recent weeks, half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers have announced they are suspending or have otherwise “seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter,” an analysis conducted by nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters found.
Musk on Monday accused Apple of also having “mostly stopped advertising on Twitter.”
“Do they hate free speech in America?” he asked, before replying with a tweet tagging Apple CEO Tim Cook.
In the first three months of 2022, Apple was the top advertiser on Twitter, spending some $48 million on ads which accounted for more than 4 percent of the social media platform’s revenue, according to a Washington Post report citing an internal Twitter document.
Sarah Roberts, an information studies expert at University of California, Los Angeles, told AFP that “Musk didn’t understand that Twitter itself was a brand, had cachet.”
“Now companies don’t even want to be associated with it. It’s not even that they worry about the content. Twitter is a tainted brand, a brand non grata companies don’t want to be associated with,” she added.

Musk on Monday also called Apple’s fee on transactions through its App Store a “secret 30 percent tax.”
He shared a video released last year by Fortnite maker Epic Games that portrayed Apple as an oppressor in a mocking spin on a famous “1984” ad for Macintosh computers.
Apple has clashed in court with Epic, which has sought to break Apple’s grip on the App Store, accusing the iPhone maker of operating a monopoly in its shop for digital goods or services.
A federal judge last year ordered Apple to loosen control of its App Store payment options, but said Epic had failed to prove that antitrust violations had taken place.
Musk’s controversial moves at Twitter, along with the possibility he will need to sell more Tesla shares to keep the social media platform afloat, has taken shine off of the electric car company and its stock, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
“The Musk vs Apple new battle is not what investors want to see,” Ives said in a tweet.
“(Wall) Street wants less drama, not more as this Twitter situation remains the gift that keeps on giving for the Tesla bears with every day a new chapter.”

 


Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
Updated 29 November 2022

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok

Fox News reporter deletes inaccurate video after being challenged by Arab News reporter on TikTok
  • American sports reporter Jenny Taft said, ‘I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” while pulling a sarcastic and smug face
  • Lama Alhamawi explained that gender-segregated gates reflect respect for personal boundaries, and that journalists have a responsibility not to spread misinformation or biased rhetoric

LONDON: A Fox Sports reporter whose post on TikTok poked fun at gender-segregated entrances and security-searches at World Cup venues in Qatar deleted her video after being challenged by an Arab News reporter on Monday.

“I just had to go through a special gate in Qatar for ladies only. Um, I don’t feel that special,” Jenny Taft of Fox Sports said in the video while pulling a sarcastic and smug face.

Arab News reporter Lama Alhamawi took the opportunity to explain to Taft the reason for this and promptly put the American reporter firmly in her place.

“As a fellow reporter, as a fellow journalist that’s years younger than you, that’s traveled to different countries covering various topics around the world, I’m going to give you some advice,” Alhamawi said.

“As journalists, we have a responsibility to uphold. We have a responsibility to do our due diligence to fully understand and investigate a topic before spreading any information, misinformation or biased rhetoric, as you did in this video.

“Now, let’s talk about the special gate you talked about … It’s a matter of one word that perfectly explains the special gate: respect. It’s a matter of respecting someone’s boundaries, their beliefs, their religious beliefs. A woman does not want to be searched by men, a man does not want to be searched by a woman.

“It’s a matter of respecting someone’s religious beliefs and boundaries and making them feel comfortable as they’re entering this country. Now, you hinted at the idea that it was based on discrimination or sexism. But it’s far from that: It’s a level of respect. The best word to describe it is respect.

Alhamawi told Taft it is about providing a level of respect and not aimed at being discriminatory. 

“Now, judging by the way you conducted your video and executed it, that’s a word that’s foreign to you and something that you maybe don’t quite understand.”

Alhamawi garnered praise and support for calling out the veteran sports journalist.

“Absolutely spot on! I’m sick of seeing ignorant people judge,” one user wrote.

“Thank you Lama, for shedding light on this and for replying to it the best way possible,” said another.

Someone else wrote: “Beautifully said. Thank you for educating everyone with such grace.”

Following Alhamawai’s video and the barrage of supportive comments it attracted, Taft deleted her video.


Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
Updated 29 November 2022

Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2022. (AP)
  • Meta said the data had been “scraped” from Facebook using tools designed to help people find their friends through phone numbers using search and contact import features

LONDON: Irish regulators slapped Facebook parent Meta with a 265 million-euro ($277 million) fine Monday, the company’s latest punishment for breaching strict European Union data privacy rules.
The Data Protection Commission said Meta Platforms infringed sections of the EU rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, that require technical and organizational measures aimed at protecting user data.
The watchdog opened an investigation last year into news reports that data on more 533 million users was found dumped online. The data was found on a website for hackers and included names, Facebook IDs, phone numbers, locations, birthdates and email addresses for people from more than 100 countries, according to the reports.
Meta said the data had been “scraped” from Facebook using tools designed to help people find their friends through phone numbers using search and contact import features. The watchdog said it investigated the automated scraping carried out between May 2018 and September 2019.
The company said it had “cooperated fully” with the Irish watchdog.
“We made changes to our systems during the time in question, including removing the ability to scrape our features in this way using phone numbers,” Meta said in a statement. “Unauthorized data scraping is unacceptable and against our rules.”
Along with the fine, the commission said it also imposed on Meta a “range of corrective measures,” which weren’t specified.
When asked if Meta would appeal, a spokesman said, “We are still reviewing this decision carefully.”
It’s the latest in a series of punishments that the Irish watchdog has levied against Meta over the past two years.
The company, based in Menlo Park, California, has its European headquarters in Dublin, which makes the Irish authority its lead privacy regulator under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, in a system known as “one-stop shop.”
The Irish watchdog fined Meta-owned Instagram 405 million euros in September after it found that the platform mishandled teenagers’ personal information. Meta was fined 17 million euro fines in March for its handling of a dozen data breach notifications.
Last year, the watchdog fined Meta’s chat service WhatsApp 225 million euros for violating rules on sharing people’s data with other Meta companies.

 


Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films
Updated 29 November 2022

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films

Former Shahid exec launches regional production company The Yard Films
  • Jakob Mejlhede Andersen co-founded the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer
  • The executive team also includes Phil Rostom, a 15-year veteran of the industry in the Middle East and North Africa

DUBAI: Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, former chief content officer of MBC’s streaming platform Shahid, has teamed up with former Shine International CEO Camilla Hammer to launch The Yard Films, a regional production and development company.

The executive team behind the business, which will be based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, also includes Phil Rostom, an industry veteran who has worked across the Middle East and North Africa for more than 15 years.

The founders said the new company will develop and produce original scripted and non-scripted content for local and international markets, targeted in particular at millennial and Gen Z audiences.

Andersen, who was involved in the production of more than 200 Nordic and Arabic scripted and non-scripted projects during his tenures at Shahid and Stockholm-based streaming service Viaplay, said: “It’s our ambition to produce and deliver groundbreaking content for the buoyant Arabic streaming market.”

“We aim to work in partnerships with the excellent local creative scene across the entire MENA region.”

Hammer said that the company’s team believes “in partnerships within the region and internationally.”

She added: “There is a wealth of stories across the Middle East that have a strong interest not only from local but also international platforms.”


Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated
Updated 28 November 2022

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated

Iranian filmmaker Reza Dormishian barred from travel, passport confiscated
  • Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies

DUBAI: Iran has barred filmmaker Reza Dormishian from leaving the country. 

Dormishian was due to travel to the International Film Festival of India in Goa, where his film “A Minor” was scheduled to play.

On his arrival at the airport, his passport was confiscated. It is unclear if he was arrested and, if so, what the charges will be.

However, it is understood that the authorities’ action is the result of his recent social media posts about the Iranian government.

“Throughout the nationwide protests in Iran, Dormishian shared various posts on his Instagram account to show support for the significant developments,” sources close to him said, according to media reports.

In his most recent post, Dormishian had said: “I would die for a hair strand of Iranian people.

“I would die for the youth who are gone with the wind, from Balochistan to Kurdistan.

“What is my curfew worth?”

 

 

Dormishian is only the latest in a long line of filmmakers to face Iran’s arbitrary detention policies.

In July, acclaimed director Jafar Panahi was ordered to serve a six-year jail sentence, handed down a decade ago, after he attempted to find information about fellow filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had been detained earlier.

Last month, Iranian filmmaker Mani Haghighi was prevented from leaving Iran to attend the BFI London Film Festival, where his latest film “Subtraction” was being screened.

And earlier this month, co-directors Farnaz and Mohammadreza Jurabchian were barred from traveling to the Netherlands for the International Documentary Film Festival where their film “Silent House” had its world premiere.

Directed by Dariush Mehrjui and produced by Dormishian, “A Minor” played in India on Thursday and Friday last week.