Adel Emam: The biggest star in Arab cinema

Adel Emam: The biggest star in Arab cinema
Adel Emam attends the 14th Marrakech International Film Festival Opening Ceremony on December 5, 2014 in Marrakech, Morocco. (Getty)
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Updated 27 October 2022

Adel Emam: The biggest star in Arab cinema

Adel Emam: The biggest star in Arab cinema
  • For this week’s edition of our series on Arab icons, we profile one of the Arab world’s most popular stars
  • The Egyptian actor’s remarkable longevity is down to his talent and integrity

DUBAI: There are not many lives as full as Adel Emam’s. Put it this way: The Dubai International Film Festival has given him a Lifetime Achievement Award twice. A legend of stage and screen — both big and small — Emam is the crown prince of Egyptian pop-culture, a comic and dramatic actor who has appeared in 103 movies and more than a dozen TV series over an astounding career that has lasted more than 60 years. 

At 82, Emam may have taken a slight step back from the public eye, but the love the Arab world continues to show for him, and his influence on the generations of talent who grew up idolizing him, is as immense as it has ever been. 




Adel Emam with Hend Sabry in Marwan Hamed's 'The Yacoubian Building'. (Supplied)

“Everything in the world changes. The rhythm of speech changes. Life becomes fast too. And believe me, you can fool some people all the time, and you can fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,” Emam told Kuwait’s Zaman TV in the 1970s. “It is honesty that determines career longevity, and an actor’s esteem from his fans determines his continuation or his end.”

While Emam was waxing philosophical about another actor at the time, by his own metric it is his sincerity that has helped earn his following — both from those that watch his work, and those that have worked with him directly. 

His straightforward nature and honesty have long been the key to his comedic voice, too, allowing him to tackle hot-button issues such as gender roles in society (1966’s “My Wife, The Director General”); terrorism and religious extremism (1979’s “We are the Bus People,” 1992’s “Terrorism and Kebab,” 2006’s “Hassan and Marcus”); political corruption (2006’s “The Yacoubian Building”) and more, only come out the other side (mostly) unscathed. (Like many Egyptian celebrities, he has stirred controversy with his indelible satire, but no charges against him have ever stuck.)

For Marwan Hamed, Egypt’s top modern director and the man behind Egypt’s current all-time box-office champion “Kira & El Gin,” there’s simply no competition — there has been no bigger moment for him than collaborating on “The Yacoubian Building” with the man known as “Al Zaeem” (The Big Boss).

“Working with the Egyptian legend Adel Emam has been the greatest privilege I’ve had in my career,” Hamed tells Arab News. “Adel Emam is my childhood, teenage, and all-time, hero. Working with him was a great moment, and to work with such a great man and artist in my first film was an exceptional honor for me.

“His humanity, generosity and love were the highlight of this experience, and personally I learned a lot from him, whether from observing him or from the words of advice that he gave me,” he continues. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that the whole experience is the most memorable I’ve had, and every shooting day was full of value and true art.




Egyptian film star and comedian Adel Imam (L) applauds with his wife Hala al-Sharakani (R) the beginning of the first screening of his new film "Hello America" at the opening night 04 January 2000 in Cairo. (AFP)

In “The Yacoubian Building,” which became the most popular film in Egyptian history up to that point (a theme throughout Hamed’s career) and the best-received performance of Emam’s dramatic career, Emam cemented himself as Egypt’s biggest star, regardless of genre. He also helped launch the career of his own son, Mohamed Emam, his co-star in the film and now one of the biggest stars in Egypt in his own right. 

“I love him so much. I admire him so much. He's my idol,” Mohamed told Arab News earlier this year, while admitting that it hadn’t always been easy trying to build his own career. “It’s very difficult to become an actor when your father is the biggest actor in the world,” he said. “It was a big, big struggle at first. Slowly people grew to understand that I love cinema, that I don’t do this just because my father is a big actor.”

As a public figure, Emam has long been humble in nature, rarely pointing to himself as a leader.

“I am not a superstar, or a leader of any kind. There are no leaders in art. All I want is to use my talents to make people's lives better, if only in a small way,” he once said.




Adel Imam and Omar Sharif in 2008 at a press conference announcing their film 'Hassan and Marcus.' (Getty) 

That, of course, is likely why people trust his opinions. Interviewers have often found themselves asking for his thoughts on political or social issues, looking to him for guidance in the debates of the day. And he invariably answers candidly — and often bravely. 

In those conversations, however, he does not see himself as anything more than a voice in the crowd.

“The masses are the ones who move politics, and the problems of the masses are the things that move politics. It is not an individual who moves politics,” he told Zaman TV.

Born in 1940 in the city of Mansoura in Egypt, Emam studied agriculture at Cairo University, where he lost interest in his studies and became intrigued by the art, literature and theater that his friends were introducing him to. 

“I feel (acting is) in my blood,” he said to Kuwait’s Zaman TV. “I love it, and my connection is always with people in the audience. In film, the camera enters the heart through the eyes. The more heart you see, the more honest the artist.”




Emam studied agriculture at Cairo University. (Getty)

As popular as Emam is, there are many sides to him that are not common public knowledge. Compared to his contemporaries and co-stars such as Omar Sharif and Soad Hosny, his private life has remained relatively private. But those are the sides that his own son hopes to portray on screen someday, Mohamed told Arab News.

“There’s another side to him that people don’t see: The father. The man that I know best,” he said. “I would love to be able to tell that story myself someday.”

While Emam may have slowed down, his career is still going strong. He last starred in the 2021 film “Bodyguard,” and is set to star once again with his son in “El Wad W Aboh” in the near future.

As for persistent rumors of his ill health or retirement, The Big Boss himself is here to put them to rest. 

“Honestly, it’s a great feeling for a man to read his own obituary while he is well,” Eman joked to ET Bil Arabi last month.


Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion
US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba took to Instagram to celebrate her short trip to Saudi Arabia. (Getty Images)
Updated 17 sec ago

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

Jessica Alba lauds ‘beautiful’ Red Sea trip as Elle Macpherson celebrates Saudi fashion

DUBAI: US actress and business mogul Jessica Alba took to Instagram to celebrate her short trip to Saudi Arabia after she hit the red carpet at the Red Sea International Film Festival this week.

“A very quick but very beautiful trip,” she said in an Instagram caption posted alongside a carousel of images.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Jessica Alba (@jessicaalba)

“It is so important that women are able to be in control of their own stories and narratives — and tell them through our own lens. Thank you @moalturki and @jomanaalrashid for having me and empowering women in film by elevating so many voices that we need as storytellers in the world today,” she added, referring to the film festival’s CEO Mohammed Al-Turki and Jomana Al-Rashed, the CEO of the Saudi Research and Media Group.

“Film makers and entertainers are the dreamers that help the world see what’s possible. Let’s continue the dream of fairness and equality and compassion,” Alba concluded.

The actress — famously seen in movies such as “Sin City” and “Fantastic Four” — supported Middle Eastern labels during her trip by opting for an elegant embellished gown by Lebanese couturier Elie Saab when she attended the Dec. 2 Women in Cinema gala.

And she was not the only attendee flaunting regional labels.

Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson showed off an elegant jumpsuit by Saudi designer Arwa AlKadi, which she paired with a bag by Saudi brand Dania Shinkar.

“I am very impressed with the fashion in Saudi Arabia and I have chosen local designers for my trip both in Riyadh … and today in Jeddah at the film festival,” Macpherson wrote on Instagram.

Saudi designers are in the spotlight at this year’s edition of the film festival, with a number of high-profile names opting for homegrown labels for their red carpet outings.

Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio dazzled in a blue jumpsuit from Jeddah-based designer Yousef Akbar on the opening night, while British actress Jacqui Ainsley, known for her role in the 2017 film “King Arthur: legend of the Sword,” took to the red carpet wearing US-based label Dazluq, founded by Saudi designer Salma Zahran on the same night.


Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’
‘Dunki’ stars Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. (AFP)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

Saudi Arabia’s NEOM attracts first Bollywood shoot with ‘Dunki’

DUBAI: NEOM has attracted its first Bollywood shoot, with “Dunki,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, having filmed at the location.

The announcement was made at the second edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah on Sunday, with Wayne Borg, the managing director of NEOM, adding that 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera “Exceptional,” produced by MBC, would also be shot at one of the region’s new sound stages.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk)

Borg also addressed nearby competitor Abu Dhabi, which has turned into a hotspot for Hollywood shoots in recent years, saying: “I think our ambitions are much greater than theirs,” according to Variety.

Neom has hosted an estimated 26 productions over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” which stars US actor Anthony Mackie and is directed by Rupert Wyatt.


Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF
The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

Saudi director highlights mental health struggles in ‘Lucky You Are Mine’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: Saudi director Nora Aboushousha’s film “Lucky You Are Mine,” which sheds light on mental illness in Saudi Arabia, is screening at the Red Sea International Film Festival. 

The film, inspired by true events, is a love story between a newlywed Saudi couple who are working through their struggles to keep their bond alive and thriving. 

Aboushousha chose to represent mental health in her film because of the tremendous struggle the person affected, and people around them, go through. 

“Let alone if they lack the knowledge. As I watched more people around me and loved ones suffer from mental breakdowns, depression and anxiety, I started to notice how big of an impact it has not only on the lives of those suffering but their loved ones too. I witnessed a few relationships come to an end because of mental health issues,” she said. 

“Then I saw two (people) who decided to weather the storm ... it touched me and inspired me,” she added. 

Aboushousha said that stories in general have always been a means of escape and comfort for her. She has been touched by many writers; some films and books have helped her through tough times while others have shaped her personality. “Maybe my film can do the same to others,” the director said. 

The film's poster. (Supplied)

Aboushousha said that the challenges she faced were not gender specific, and her being a woman in the field did not make a difference. “The biggest challenge we faced was filming during Ramadan when most of talent and crew were booked with bigger projects.”

While making the film, Aboushousha enjoyed the support of her cast and crew, friends and family, and even some of the professionals in the industry whom she had never worked with offered help and advice when needed. 

“Raghad Al-Faisand and Hasan Qudus were generous with their time. We rehearsed daily for almost a month, in which Hasan would travel from Makkah to do the rehearsals,” she said. 

Speaking about some of the challenges, Aboushousha said that the “editor who was going to edit the film found himself stuck in Ramadan season, and my friend Ali Al-Attas volunteered to edit.”


Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
The 3-day program will take place in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah from Dec. 8-10. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief

Riyadh’s Hia Hub 2022 looking to go bigger and better, says editor-in-chief
  • Magazine’s annual conference is back with 2nd edition
  • 3-day program in Riyadh’s historic Ad-Diriyah to take place from Dec. 8-10

DUBAI: Expanding on a successful platform built in 2021, Hia magazine’s Hia Hub 2022 will offer more interactive experiences and celebrity talks at the event’s second edition in Riyadh, editor-in-chief Mia Badr told Arab News.

“Since its inception, Hia magazine has been in the service of representing and catering to the Arab woman, particularly the Saudi woman who is sophisticated, discerning, complex and multi-dimensional. Throughout our journey, we have always championed her voice, told her stories, engaged and inspired her with insightful and thought-provoking writing and exciting fashion trends. That said, Hia Hub was envisioned as a platform to bridge international and regional audiences," said Mia Badr, editor-in-chief of Hia Magazine, in an interview with Arab News.

“We are celebrating our 30-year anniversary this year, along with our second season of Hia Hub, and there is no other place that would be better suited than to host the event where it all started, and where it will continue to flourish and grow — here in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Badr said that the event is meant to reshape the boundaries of “leadership, entrepreneurship and creativity for the Hia fashion community.”

With the fashion industry exploding and growing at an exponential rate in Saudi Arabia, Badr is excited for Hia Hub to be at the center of the conversation.

“Local designers are gaining traction with brands and designers such as Mohammed Ashi gaining critical acclaim from global media; Hindamme; Mohammad Khoja’s brand currently has pieces on display in London’s V&A Museum; you’ve got young trailblazers like Arwa Al-Banawi, known for her fresh and contemporary RTW namesake brand who has collaborated with Adidas and Levi’s; all of them are making an impact on their home turf and gaining recognition on a wider scale,” said Badr.

When asked about her favorite speakers from this edition’s lineup, Badr refused to play favorites. “They are all exceptional in their respective fields, so it really comes down to what particular topic you are interested in. We’ve covered all topics of interest and relevance from female leadership, to how to build a beauty brand, sustainability, the rise of craftsmanship in culture, the new generation of creatives impacting the fashion sphere, styling and make up workshops and so much … there’s really something for everyone, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that they are all great!”

Some of the big-name speakers expected to attend the event include US fashion designer Zac Posen, iconic Hollywood stylist Law Roach, Emirati singer Balqees Fathi, French Moroccan fashion designer Charaf Tajer, celebrity stylist Cedric Haddad and Iraqi US beauty mogul Mona Kattan.

The speakers and topics were chosen with the cultural resonance in the region in mind. “We made it a point to have representation and diversity, inviting professional candidates from the region as well as from abroad to ensure a broad spectrum and different points of view for candid and thought-provoking conversations,” said Badr.

Guests can learn more about Hia Hub by visiting hiahub.com.


‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere
A still from the film. (Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2022

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

‘The Last Queen’ director talks pandemic delays, Red Sea premiere

DUBAI: When French Algerian director Damien Ounouri was in his late teens, he knew he wanted to go into filmmaking. It was the 1990s and Ounouri consumed films by major Western directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma.  

“For me, a new world opened in front of my eyes,” Ounouri told Arab News. “I felt that it was what I wanted to do in my life — to express my point of view, to tell stories and try to create emotions.” 

Fast-forward to 2022 and he is showcasing his latest directorial effort, “The Last Queen” — co-directed with lead star Adila Bendimerad — at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, which partly funded the project.  

The film has already been screened at film festivals in Venice, Montpellier and Hamburg, but the Dec. 5 screening marks its MENA region premiere.  

“The Red Sea Film Festival is quite important because it’s the MENA premiere,” Ounouri said. “We didn't screen it in Algeria yet. . . It's a new, natural market.”  

Set in 1516, “The Last Queen” is a historical drama, narrating the story of the legendary Queen Zaphira (played by Bendimerad), wife of the last king of Algiers, who defends her people against the arrival of the conquering pirate Barbarossa. 

“We don't know if she existed,” says Ounouri. “In Algiers, her story is well-known. . . Adila told me about her story, saying that this queen was fighting Barbarossa. Zaphira existed in books since the 17th century. With Adila, we worked a lot with a film that has a feminine angle. For me, it's not feminism, it's just humanism.”  

To properly capture this ancient era on film, shooting took place in Algeria's museums, mosques and palaces in the cities of Algiers and Tlemcen. The film is full of sumptuous costumes — around 2,000 outfits were made for the production.

The film was shot in Algeria's historic locations. (Supplied)
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Shooting began in March 2020, but everything ground to a halt due to the pandemic and filming resumed in October 2021. “There was a lot of pressure,” said Ounouri on the intervening period. “But we used this time to push the details and the quality. During one year-and-a-half, we worked a lot more on the set design and costumes and the film is better now.”