LONDON: For all the “Star Wars” universe’s recent movie missteps, its TV storytelling has never been in a better place — recent shows such as “The Mandalorian,” “Visions” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi” have been some of the most enjoyable material to slot into the galaxy far, far away since George Lucas originally put pen to paper in the 1970s.
But that comes with an added layer of pressure too, like that hanging over “Andor” — the latest show to be added to the growing pantheon of “Star Wars” small-screen entries. The series is a prequel to a prequel, in fact: “Andor” charts the origins of Cassian Andor, the (then) haunted Rebel soldier who sacrificed his life to help steal the plans to the Empire’s first Death Star in “Rogue One.”
In “Andor”, Cassian — played again by Diego Luna — is a wayward soul, angry at the universe for reasons (presumably) yet to be revealed, and desperate to find a way to fight back against the growing tyranny sweeping across the galaxy. That is, until he meets Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård), a member of the Rebel Alliance who believes that Cassian may be a key addition to the burgeoning resistance.
Of the first three episodes, there’s little more to say than that, largely because “Andor” is redefining the notion of a slowbuild show. We’re treated to flashes of Cassian’s youth, and reasons why he hates the Empire so much, and we learn about his life on the planet Ferrix, which finds itself under the heel of an authoritarian regime in a drawn-out introduction that has little action.
But what we do get is the “Star Wars” universe painted in detail more intricate than we’ve seen before. There are no Jedi, no sprawling space battles or (cough) trade disputes to drive the story forward, so “Andor” treats us to a gritty, realistic look at what it might actually be like to live in this fantastical universe.
For “Star Wars” fans, it’s a wonderful tour through a level of minutiae never glimpsed before in live action. And while the lack of fireworks early on might deter casual viewers, or those not familiar with the franchise, that level of expectation that surrounds new “Star Wars” outlets will probably be enough to buy the show the time to realize its true potential.
Hamza Jamjoom, a Saudi filmmaker and producer of the winning film, accepted the award on behalf of Al-Husaini
Updated 10 December 2022
JEDDAH: Dec. 8 marked the closing ceremony of Red Sea International Film Festival round two, which celebrated storytellers and participants in the festival competitions who stepped out of their comfort zone to share their stories with the world.
Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, supermodel Naomi Campbell, Indian actor Hrithik Roshan, DJ Khaled, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, and Hong Kong actor and filmmaker Jackie Chan were among famous faces to appear on the red carpet.
Chan, who is known for his acrobatic fighting style, said that the ceremony night coincided with his 60th year in the film industry.
“I want to thank the RSIFF for this — it is where I can see so many good friends and new friends. Also, this year marks my 60 years in the film business, and I want to share this to the friends around the world,” he said.
Winner of the young rising star award was Jeddah-born Saudi actress Sarah Taibah, 33.
Taibah said: “I didn't know that I would be nominated, thank you Red Sea Film Festival. I feel amazing and grateful for being honored in my country and city.”
Saudi-Kuwaiti production “How I Got There,” an action drama by Zeyad Al-Husaini, won the Film AlUla audience award for best Saudi film.
Hamza Jamjoom, a Saudi filmmaker and producer of the winning film, accepted the award on behalf of Al-Husaini.
Film AlUla audience award for best film went to a Singapore-South Korean production “Ajoomma,” directed by He Shuming.
Meanwhile, Red Sea Virtual Reality features a selection of the latest leading VR storytelling and art projects from award-winning international artists and directors.
The strand was adjudicated by London-based Egyptian documentary filmmaker May Abdalla, Bangladeshi artist Naima Karim and Tribeca Film Festivals Immersive Curator Ana Brzezinska
Brzezinska said: “It has been a real honor to be here at the Red Sea Film Festival to judge the virtual reality election. It is a really amazing moment for this medium with an explosive approach to creative ideas. From the sprint of many projects, it was a real challenge to pick just two.”
The Silver Yusr for Red Sea virtual reality went to “Eurydice” by Celine Daemen, while the winner of the Gold Yusr for Red Sea Virtual Reality was “From the Main Square,” a German film by Pedro Harres.
The Red Sea short competition was judged by filmmaker Joana Hadjithomas, Saudi writer and director Shahad Ameen, and Nigerian actor Ozzy Agu.
The jury gave two awards to the Mongolian and French drama “Snow in September” by Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir.
The Silver Yusr for short film went to “Will My Parents Come to See Me,” by Somalian director Muhamed Bashiir Harawe. The Golden Yusr for Short Film went to “On My Father’s Grave,” a Moroccan and French film by Jawahine Zentar.
The Red Sea competition was headed by Oliver Stone, president of this year's jury.
The Silver Yusr for best cinematic achievement went to “Hanging Gardens,” a production of Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, the UK, and Saudi Arabia.
The Silver Yusr award for best actor went to Adam Bessa. The Silver Yusr for best actress went to Adila Bendimarad.
The best screen award was won by “ Childless Village,” by Reza Jamali from Iran.
The Res Sea competition jury prize went to “Within Sand,” a Saudi feature film telling the story of a young man making his way through the desert with the help of a wolf.
“The film is based on actual events that happened in Saudi in early 1900. There is a responsivity to reflect the Saudi culture in the most appropriate way,” director Mohammed Alatawi told Arab News.
The Silver Yusr award for best director went to Lotfy Nathan for his film “Harka.”
The Golden Yusr for the best feature film went to “Hanging Gardens,” by Ahmed Yassin Al-Daradji.
The festival’s third edition will be held next year in Saudi Arabia. The ceremony concluded with a live performance by Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.
Though RSIFF festivities and sessions have come to an end, visitors can still enjoy their weekend watching movies from the festival and meeting red-carpet stars.
Culture ministry signs deal to support Saudi pop music
The MoU included a discussion on producing Saudi pop music
Updated 09 December 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture signed a memorandum of understanding with international companies to develop and produce Saudi pop music, host musical events and train Saudi talents.
The signing ceremony took place at the ministry’s headquarters in the Jax neighborhood in Diriyah, where the ministry was represented by Acting CEO of the Music Commission Sultan Al-Bazei.
The MoU included a discussion on producing Saudi pop music, building a musical ecosystem, discovering Saudi talents and developing Saudi pop content, or S-pop, through a Saudi and Korean creative team of writers and producers.
Also discussed was the possibility of establishing a music education center, a training center, and studios for recording music and video clips.
The agreement falls within the efforts of the ministry and its affiliated entities to advance the cultural sector in the Kingdom, support Saudi creatives and empower them with the necessary skills to further their careers.
This is the second feature from Jung, whose debut work, “A Girl at My Door,” premiered at the 2014 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard and went on to win several awards at other festivals.
“Next Sohee” was inspired by a real-life incident.
At 138 minutes, the movie may be a trifle long, but it explores a pressing issue with a lot of sensitivity.
The film follows Sohee (Kim Si-eun), a high school student, who is thrilled to land a job as an internet service provider in a big company. But a few days into the role, she is shocked when her supervisor commits suicide in her presence. Her new boss is a brutally rude woman, who never misses an opportunity to humiliate Sohee despite her excellent record.
Added to this toxic mix are abusive clients, who often take out their dissatisfaction with the firm on her. In another scene she sees her boyfriend being pushed around by his boss outside his workplace.
Sohee eventually runs away, but shock and hurt take a heavy toll, and she ends her life.
An investigation led by detective Yoo-jin (Doona Bae), who had a personal relationship with Sohee, enrages the boss and the company leaders, who would rather ignore the issue.
The film is a slow-burning expose of workplace ills and the causes behind them.
However, some may find the narrative overly dramatic and exaggerated. For instance, Sohee gets angry with her boss and pushes her to the ground. Is this possible? July is trying to make a point, but this appears a bit over the top.
Egyptian actor Mohamed Farrag — ‘I used to put so much hate on myself’
The Arab actor — currently starring in MBC’s ‘Room 207’ — has overcome self-doubt to become one of the Arab world’s most-acclaimed leading men
Updated 09 December 2022
DUBAI: Mohamed Farrag did it the hard way. That’s why it feels different. As Arab News sits with the acclaimed Egyptian actor over lunch in Dubai, the proof is in the way that passersby greet him — they are not just meeting a star, they are meeting an artist whose work they deeply admire.
MBC Shahid’s new series “Room 207” is perhaps Farrag’s finest work yet, and is just beginning to light a fire across the Arabic-speaking world as we speak — establishing him firmly as a leading man, and vindicating his entire approach to acting.
“If there’s one thing I want to change about this industry, about the mentality of acting in Egypt, it’s this: Anyone can be well known — if I kill somebody, I’m going to be well known — but what’s the purpose of that fame?” Farrag says. “Fame shouldn’t be a goal, it should be a side effect.”
At 39, Farrag has reached the point where he’s earned the right to make such proclamations. After all, he was vital to the success of Mona Zaki’s super-sized 2021 Ramadan hit “Newton’s Cradle,” which became the most-watched Egyptian series of the year and continues to find an audience on Netflix, with many declaring it the best Arab series in years.
“Room 207,” since its first two episodes debuted on October 31, is being rated even higher, pulling in big enough audiences to make a second season a foregone conclusion even with only half the first having aired.
That a series that moves Farrag directly into the spotlight would get that sort of immediate reaction is no surprise. He’s built years of goodwill from committed, scene-stealing performances across film, television and theater. What is perhaps surprising about the show is that it it’s a homegrown Egyptian horror series that has become hugely popular. In general, horror is a genre in which only imports receive acclaim in the Arab world.
“When I was first sent the script, I picked it up to glance at it before I went to bed. I ended up finishing it at 3 a.m. and immediately called the producer, waking him from a sound sleep. I told him that no one was going to do this project but me. I made that vow to him. I needed it to happen,” says Farrag.
The series is based on a novel by acclaimed Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, the third adaptation of his work since he passed away in 2018. The last, Netflix’s big-budget bet “Paranormal” (2020), failed to find an audience despite a massive promotional push, and while “Room 207” may share a passing resemblance, it’s resonating in a way that other adaptations have not, capturing what made Tawfik’s paperbacks fly off the shelves for decades.
“To be honest, I started to think we were headed for a season two during the second week of shooting. And I’ve never felt that way before,” says Farrag. “This project has a very special place in my heart. I don't choose to do anything I don't love, but this one is special. And it’s not because I'm the hero, it’s because it’s not like anything I’ve seen before. The vibes, the writing, the cast, the way we shoot — I truly love this.”
Perhaps the reason that Farrag is responding to it so strongly is that it taps into the precocious boy he once was, the boy who fell in love with television in the first place.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t want to watch cartoons, I didn’t want to play with my sisters. No. I was always watching TV — but very heavy series made for adults. It was drama, drama, and more drama all the time. I was like an addict, watching things meant for people far older,” says Farrag. “When I went to school, they asked every kid what they wanted to be. I said I wanted to be an actor. I didn’t even know what acting was, but I was committed.”
At home, Farrag and his sisters would watch movies on VHS until they found a scene they liked in particular. Then they would press stop, and Farrag would quickly scribble down the scene from memory. Then they would act the scenes out together and record their best performances.
“I still have the tape recordings of our voices from when we were kids. I still listen to them from time to time, when I miss the feeling. It was a feeling of innocence, of passion toward acting. Those were beautiful memories, and I still get emotional when I think about them,” says Farrag.
There have been many days since Farrag began his career that he has needed those tapes — needed a reminder that he was doing this for a reason. It is only in recent years, he admits, that he has truly felt like he’s ‘made it.’ For years, he felt insecure not only about his career, but also about his ability, often having difficulty watching his own films and series because of how harshly he would judge his own performances. But his ever-growing mastery of his craft eventually overpowered his self-doubt, and made him a fixture on screens across the Arab world.
“I think I’ve grown up now. Some elements have changed in my character, and it’s clear in my life, in my work, and in the way I see myself. I used to put so much hate on myself, but I’ve found a way out of that. I started to like myself, and I started to be able to watch my work up on the screen with pride,” he says.
Farrag is in a particularly reflective mood. Perhaps it’s because he just walked out of MBC’s offices, where he witnessed the ecstatic reactions that the company has had to “Room 207” so far, and how committed MBC already was to making a second season happen — and committed to Farrag personally as an A-list leading man for years to come. It was the kind of meeting that makes those harder truths easier to admit, knowing that the happy ending is already here. That boy recording his voice into the tape recorder is now a man helping lead Arabic television to places it’s never been before.
“I’ve always loved what I do. Even during the hardest moments, if I asked myself if I wanted to keep going, the voice inside me always repeated back, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ But it feels different now,” he says. “I’m filled with more pride than I ever was before. I love everything that I’ve done, but now I’m excited for the next thing even more. Acting is beautiful, man.”
Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy pays tribute to classic Arab singers with new jewelry collection
Updated 09 December 2022
DUBAI: The veteran Egyptian designer Azza Fahmy’s jewelry has become some of the most sought-after in the world. Her signature gold-and-silver pieces, embellished with Arab designs and engravings, have been embraced by Egypt’s top entertainers, including Soad Hosny and Yusra.
International stars such as Julia Roberts, Kerry Washington and Rihanna have caught on too. “When we explain to them what’s written, they’re happy, because it’s something new,” Fahmy tells Arab News from her base in Cairo. “I’m combining calligraphy, wisdom, and philosophy into what you’re wearing.”
Fahmy started out professionally in the late Eighties, and her hand-crafted work is informed by her passion for the culture and history of the Arab world; be it the poetry of Kahlil Gibran, the symbols of ancient Egypt, or Mamluk architecture. She likes to call it “intellectual jewelry,” that not only reflects her cultivated upbringing but her ongoing drive to inform the public.
“I was raised in a household that reads. Books are very important me. Through them, there were a lot of things I liked that affected me,” says Fahmy. “Our jewelry is intellectual because it holds an Arab identity that could change people’s lives, or delight them. I like to share my love of Arab culture with people.”
Fahmy recently launched a new music-themed collection that pays tribute to iconic Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and Algerian singers who flourished between the Sixties and Nineties. In this collection, everyone gets their due — the lyricists and composers behind each song are mentioned too. “The Golden Age of Arab Love Songs” features rings, bracelets, and necklaces studded with romantic lyrics sung by the likes of Warda, Fayrouz, and Sabah Fakhri.
A piece that is particularly close to Fahmy’s heart is an 18-karat gold and sterling silver ring, inscribed with words from Warda’s classic track “Batwanes Beek.”
“I come from the generation of Abdel Halim Hafez, Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and Farid Al-Atrash. They sang great songs,” explains Fahmy. “So I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I transport that nostalgia?’ Maybe it stirred something in people.”