DUBAI: It is reportedly estimated that 5.7 million Syrians have become refugees since war erupted in their country back in 2011. Fleeing the conflict, many attempted to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats, and if they were lucky, reached European shores.
Among the many asylum seekers who fled were Syrian sisters and swimmers Sara and Yusra Mardini, whose real-life story has been turned into a much-talked-about film, “The Swimmers,” currently streaming on Netflix.
Directed by Welsh Egyptian filmmaker Sally El-Hosaini, “The Swimmers” follows teenagers Sara and Yusra (portrayed by Manal and Nathalie Issa respectively), who are skilled swimmers, thanks to the professional training of their father and coach (Ali Suliman).
Sara is the cool, rebellious and tough sister, who does not believe she will achieve big things in life. Yusra is soft, sensitive, but disciplined with her eyes on the prize. She wants to compete at the Rio Olympics in 2016. “Swimming is where I belong,” she says in one scene.
Initially, their life in Damascus carries on, despite distant bombings, power cuts, and harassment from security officials. As the environment becomes increasingly dangerous, the Mardini family decides that Sara and Yusra should leave for Berlin with their DJ cousin, Nizar (Ahmed Malek), with the hope that the rest of the family would follow.
The journey is long, arduous and humiliating. They join other refugees, including children, departing from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. They are packed onto a boat for the journey. But trouble arises where the engine dies in the midst of choppy waters.
With the boat sinking, the people begin throwing their possessions overboard. There is a heartbreaking moment when Yusra has to drop her medals into the water. Will she ever achieve her dream? The pivotal moment of the film happens with Sara and Yusra bravely jumping into the water and leading the boat and fellow passengers all the way to the island.
With a cast of new faces, the film is gripping, well-paced, and at times, quite intense. There are tearjerking moments of despair, as well as hope and kindness, found in the camaraderie of the refugees. Later they would receive similar help and support from Sven (Matthias Schweighofer), who trains Yusra for the Olympics at a swimming club in Berlin.
Visually, the film features several powerful and memorable shots, taken from above and below, that emphasize the magnitude of the conditions which the sisters had to overcome.
If there is a film to watch before the year ends, “The Swimmers” is it. It is a reminder of the determination of the human spirit, and that sometimes in life, with its twists and turns, achieving things may eventually occur, but in a way one could never imagine.
US actress Tessa Brooks shows off Saudi label Eman Alajlan in Los Angeles
Updated 05 February 2023
DUBAI: US actress, social media star and dancer Tessa Brooks showed off a sleek look by Saudi designer Eman Alajlan at the 2023 MusiCares Persons of the Year event in Los Angeles over the weekend.
The 23-year-old multi-hyphenate showed off an all-black ensemble by Alajlan at an event that honored retired American record executive Berry Gordy and legendary Motown singer Smokey Robinson at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The pair of creatives are the architects behind a generation of soul-pop hits and they stood side-by-side on Friday night to accept a double-billed MusiCares Persons of the Year honor. MusiCares is non-profit wing of the Recording Academy and holds the annual gala ahead of the Grammy Awards, which took place on Sunday night.
Brooks opted to show off a Saudi design on a red carpet that welcomed the who’s who of the entertainment industry — performers who took to the the stage at the event included Brandi Carlile, Jimmie Allen, PJ Morton, Trombone Shorty, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Mumford & Sons, Isley Brothers, Michael McDonald, The Temptations, Rita Wilson and The Four Tops, Molly Tuttle and more.
The model and actress also recently posted about her visits to Saudi Arabia, where she attended the Red Sea International Film Festival in December before jetting back to the Kingdom to visit the historical site of AlUla in January.
“Sunrise in AlUla,” she captioned a carousel of shots on Instagram in which she can be seen basking in the Saudi sun wearing a toweled robe.
Alajlan, who has a store in Riyadh, established her label in 2007 and specializes in couture, bridal and pret-a-porter dresses. She has dressed a number of regional celebrities for international events, including the 2019 Venice Film Festival when Saudi actresses Mila Alzahrani and Dae Al-Hilali hit the red carpet in her creations.
Famed historian Lucy Worsley explores Agatha Christie’s life at Emirates Literature Festival in Dubai
Updated 05 February 2023
DUBAI: In a sold-out, hour-long session at the Emirates Literature Festival, British historian and broadcaster Lucy Worsley and Icelandic thriller writer Ragnar Jonasson talked about all things Agatha Christie (1890-1976), the venerable British detective author. Actively writing for more than five decades, the best-selling “Queen of Crime” led a remarkable life and career of highs and lows.
She taught herself to read at 5 years old, wrote 66 detective novels, surfed in Hawaii, and survived infidelity and a painful divorce. She sold over 2 billion books and was knighted by the queen in her 80s. One can say that Christie was a fighter, and the pen was her weapon of choice.
Both Worsley and Jonasson are long-time admirers of Christie. Worsley has a new biography about the writer, while ever since his teens, Jonasson has translated more than a dozen of Christie’s novels into Icelandic. “You go back to the books again and again, just like comfort reading,” he said.
“Somebody like Agatha Christie can sometimes be put into this box that’s marked with the words ‘difficult women.’ You aren’t immediately likable, aren’t immediately knowable, aren’t all sweet and light,” Worsley told the Dubai audience. “It strikes me that very often when a woman is put into that category in people’s minds it’s because she is breaking the rules as they are perceived for women at the time.”
Worsley, who wrote her book during the pandemic, had access to Christie’s family archive and conducted research at her Georgian holiday home in Devon, England. Christie began seriously writing her books in the 1920s, often dubbed the “golden age of crime fiction.” Worsley believes it was the First World War, when Christie was a nurse, that kicked things off for her.
“She turned to writing detective fiction during the quiet hours in the hospital dispensary, when she was waiting for the prescriptions to come in,” she explained. “It was her job to mix up the drugs and produce the medicines (and) poisons that could either save life or take life.”
During her peak years, between the 1920s and 1940s, Christie always seemed to outshine other contemporary crime authors. “She was simply the best one,” said Jonasson, complimenting her genius plots. “The others were writing very good detective stories, but she always had this extra layer of a twist at the end…Her ideas are sometimes so simple that you explain them in one sentence.”
The session also delved into Christie’s personal hardships, including her infamous 1926 disappearance, when she hid away from society for 11 days as a result of her first husband’s adultery. In the later years of her life, suffering from the early stages of dementia, Christie’s books were not as successful as her previous ones.
But there were some positive points too. Her adventurous trips to the Middle East gave the world all-time classics, such as “Death on the Nile” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” It was in Iraq that she would meet her second husband of 40-plus years, archaeologist Max Mallowan. Interest in Christie’s writings remains high, as films and TV shows inspired by her books continue to be in production. Not only do these attract longtime fans but also, and perhaps most importantly, they introduce her work to younger generations.
Al-Saif said his work would take visitors on a journey to Africa to learn about the tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia.
“The focus of these nations in my work is to illustrate their fascinating lifestyle and heritage. They distinguish themselves from other tribes with unique body paints, scarification and lip and ear plates,” he said. “These body modifications and beautifications, as they consider them, have a deep-rooted heritage and reasons.
“I wish I could find the words to describe what it feels like to visit these tribes and I aspire to convey a little bit of their beauty in this exhibition,” he said.
One of his favorite pictures to be showcased at the exhibition is “Glance” — a photograph taken of the Karo tribe.
“This picture was taken (in) the first few minutes when I reached the Karo tribe land,” he said. “The picture captured a child’s curiosity to see me for the first time, which had a similar reflection of my curiosity when I saw them.”
“Glance” was awarded an honorary award in the Sheikh Hamdan International Photography Competition in 2016.
Al-Saif’s infatuation with photography started in early 2007 when he was only 20 years old.
He started experimenting using his father’s compact camera at first. He then bought his first DSLR camera in 2009 and started taking professional photos of Saudi Arabia’s local communities and cultural heritage, especially in his home city of Al-Ahsa.
“As a child, I was curious and liked to try new things. Similar to photography, I have practiced swimming, football and drawing,” he recalled. “However, the love for photography kept growing inside me until I had the chance to get my own camera when I was 21 years old. At this age I knew that I had the passion and the drive to pursue photography professionally.”
Al-Saif considers photography an integral part of his identity. He believes that travel photography has made him “a different person.”
“I learned to see all things with a beautiful eye, and I became more accepting with respect to the difference in people, cultures and religious beliefs,” he explained.
However, being a travel photographer does come without its challenges. “One of the main issues is the restriction that is imposed in some regions or countries as well as safety. The other thing is expenses of these trips that limit our travel duration and frequency,” he explained.
Despite having a photography career that spans over 13 years, Al-Saif believes he is only starting.
“The first thing I always tell myself and other ambitious youth is to start sailing in the world of exploration and travel, and to capture beautiful moments that you see with your eyes, to share experiences with the world,” he said.
Sabah, the ‘Empress of Lebanese Song’ who excelled in movies and music
For this week’s edition of our series on Arab icons, we profile one of the Arab world's most popular stars
Over a career spanning seven decades, the Lebanese legend appeared in almost 100 films and released more than 50 albums
Updated 04 February 2023
DUBAI: “Empress of Lebanese Song,” “Sabbouha” and “Al-Shahroura” (The Singing Bird). These are just some of the nicknames given to the Lebanese singer and actress Sabah, whose remarkable career spanned seven decades.
Sabah was born Jeanette Georges Feghali in November 1927 in Bdadoun near Mount Lebanon. She was the youngest of three daughters. Her family life was troubled — her father reportedly bullied and neglected her, and even tried to steal her earnings from her early movies. She once told an interviewer that she was crying one day because she hadn’t had any food and one of her uncles told her parents “that I had a beautiful voice when I sobbed.” Her traumatic childhood only got worse when her brother murdered their mother because he believed she was having an affair.
It was her talent that offered her a way out. Sabah started singing aged four, and released her first song in 1940, aged just 13.
Five years later, she starred in her first movie, the Egyptian film “El-Qalb Luh Wahid” (The Heart Has Its Reasons) and adopted her character’s name — Sabah (morning). Still a teenager, she quickly became famous across the Arab world. She went on to star in almost 100 movies and release more than 50 albums, becoming internationally famous — performing in Paris, London, Sydney and New York. She reportedly had around 3,500 songs in her repertoire and carried on performing well into her eighties, finally retiring in 2010 due to illness. She died in Lebanon on Nov. 26, 2014, at the age of 87.
Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Shafik made “El-Shahrourah,” a TV drama based on her life (Sabah was played by Lebanese singer and actress Carole Samaha), which aired in Ramadan in 2011. For background, Shafik talked with Sabah for hours about her life.
“I grew up listening to Sabah. She is a great artist, a great singer, a great actress. It was an incredible feeling the first time I went to meet her,” Shafik told Arab News.
“The (show) was based on her words. We — (writer) Fedaa El-Shandawily and I — sat with her in the hotel she stayed in until she died, and we would visit her daily. When the show was written, we read the episodes for her and it was exactly what she said,” he continued. “Her life was full of suspense and a lot of drama. At times, Sabah would tell us stories and cry, and at times she would recall memories and laugh.”
After the show aired, Sabah’s family reportedly filed lawsuits against the production house. But, according to Shafik, none of the cases came to trial because he had the recordings of his interviews with Sabah.
“Sabah herself did not file a lawsuit,” he noted. “Sabah cared for her professional career and did not care for her personal life, her family.”
The singer married 10 times and was rumored to be in multiple relationships throughout her life. “She was trying to find stability and make a family. Most of the men in her life wanted the rich and famous Sabah — not a family,” Shafik said.
In 2021, Sabah was among the Arab female artists featured in the Arab World Institute’s six-month exhibition, “Arab Divas, from Umm Kulthum to Dalida.” Maïa Tahiri, CEO of glob.art, the cultural platform that helped support the exhibition, told Arab News, “Umm Kulthum, Warda Al-Jazairia, Asmahan, Fayrouz, Sabah, Dalida … (these women) have influenced not only several generations but have created a bridge across cultures. It was very moving to see daughters with their mothers and grandmothers at the exhibition, sharing their memories and ideas, rocked by the famous songs of these incredible women who contributed so much to the Golden Age of the Arab world.
“Sabah is an icon, not just in the Middle East or the Arab World,” Tahiri added. “The fact that she acted in almost 100 movies and interpreted approximately 3,500 songs explains her global fame… Her freedom, her frankness and her love for fashion also explain the fascination people still have when it comes to her.”
Tahiri said that throughout her lustrous career, Sabah remained faithful to her dressmaker, William Khoury. “Even though she mostly performed in Egypt, it was extremely important to her to have her stage costumes made in her homeland, Lebanon. The exhibition put forward a large panel of Sabah’s outfits, revealing her appreciation for boldness,” she said.
That boldness carried over from her risqué dress sense to her personality. Lebanese radio presenter Chady Maalouf, who met Sabah many times between 2001 and her death in 2014, told Arab News, “Dealing with Sabah meant dealing with a very professional star, whether in punctuality, commitment or frankness and clarity in the answers.”
Sabah, he said, “was one of the first to carry the Lebanese dialect — through her songs — to Egypt and the Arab world, bringing it closer to the Arab public at a time when the Egyptian dialect was dominant in the world of singing and acting.”
Maalouf’s favorite interview with the star was his first, recorded in her house at the time in Hazmieh. “Sabah was always elegant, even at home,” he said. “The dominant color of the furniture and curtains was turquoise. She showed me some of her (ornaments) after our interview. One was a gift from Fayrouz and Assi Rahbani, and another piece was from the Egyptian actress Soheir Ramzi.”
An interview in 2006 he recalled “was one of the few times I saw Sabah sad. She had tears in her eyes, because our meeting coincided with an Israeli attack on Lebanon, and rumors were circulating in the press that she was celebrating her birthday when the country was being bombed.”
The conversation that has stuck with Maalouf the most, though, was when he asked Sabah why she didn’t move to the US where her daughter, son and two grandchildren lived.
“She replied: ‘I love them all very much, but there I will feel that I’ve become merely a grandmother and forget my glory, and that I am Sabah. I love myself and don’t like to be insignificant.’ Then she added, ‘I’m not selfish, but I love the artist in me,’” Maalouf said.
“I believe that this phrase really sums up her life: Janet Feghali loved Sabah and lived for Sabah. And she did it well.”
Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib pays tribute to Paco Rabanne
The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as "among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century"
Tunisian managing director of Paco Rabanne, Nadia Dhouib, paid tribute to the ‘legendary’ fashion designer
Updated 04 February 2023
PARIS: Tunisian managing director Nadia Dhouib this week paid tribute to the Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne, who died at the age of 88 on Friday.
Dhouib, who was named managing director of Paco Rabanne in March last year, shared a black and white picture of the fashion designer, best known for his metallic ensembles and space-age designs of the 1960s, on her Instagram stories, and wrote: “Legend.”
The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as “among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century.”
Rabanne dressed some of the most prominent stars of the 1960s, including French singer Francoise Hardy, whose outfits from the designer included a minidress made from gold plates and a metal link jumpsuit, as well as Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, who were pictured in matching silver outfits.
Among his most famous looks were the fitted, skin-baring ensembles worn by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s cult science fiction film “Barbarella.”
The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo, Paco Rabanne’s birth name, was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which now controls the fashion house.
“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” said Marc Puig, chairman and CEO of Puig.
“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre — the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know — and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?" the group's statement said.
Born in a village in the Spanish Basque region in 1934, his mother was a head seamstress at Balenciaga. He died in Portsall in Brittany.
Rabanne grew up in France, where the family moved after Spanish troops shot dead his father, who had been a Republican commander during the civil war.
He studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He started his career sketching handbags for a supplier to prestigious fashion houses including Givenchy and Chanel, as well as shoes for Charles Jourdan.
He then branched into fashion, designing garments and jewelry with unconventional materials such as metal and plastic.
His first collection, which he described as “unwearable dresses made of contemporary materials” were pieces made of strips of plastic linked with metal rings, worn by barefoot models at a presentation at the upscale Paris hotel George V.
The Paris cabaret Crazy Horse Saloon was his next venue, where models paraded his skimpy dresses and bathing suits while wearing hardhats.
While his innovation and futuristic designs won plaudits, his fascination with the supernatural prompted public derision at times. He was known for recounting past reincarnations, and in 1999, he predicted the space station Mir would crash into France, coinciding with a solar eclipse.
Surrealist Salvador Dali famously approved of his compatriot, calling him “Spain’s second genius.”
The designer teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching perfumes that served as a springboard for the company’s international expansion.
“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal,” said Jose Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division.
The label has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, under the creative direction of Julien Dossena, who has updated the house’s signature chainmail designs.
“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities,” the fashion house said in a statement.
The designer’s work with metallic plastic gave a “sharp edge” to women’s clothes, an effect that was “so much more than a New Look,” fashion historian Suzy Menkes said on Instagram Friday.
“It was rather a revolutionary attitude for women who wanted both to protect and assert themselves.”