NEOM: From deep blue ocean and pristine beaches to lofty mountains, Neom’s unique geography and topography serves as a new epicenter for the region’s media, film and gaming production.
Over the past 18 months, Neom Media Village and Bajdah Desert Studios have supported more than two dozen productions including the $153 million movie “Desert Warrior,” directed Rupert Wyatt.
The first Saudi movie “Within Sands” was filmed at Neom by one of Kingdom’s leading producers. “It’s in competition at the Red Sea International film festival and we’re hoping it wins one of the main prizes,” said Wayne Borg, managing director for Media Industries, Entertainment and Culture at Neom, told Arab News.
“We also finished filming last week the upcoming Bollywood movie ‘Dunki,’ starring Shah Rukh Khan … and booked a 200-episode-a-year Saudi soap opera ‘Exceptional’ produced by MBC Group,” he said.
Borg said Neom’s media hubs were impressive. “We have facilities, for instance, we have four sound stages, 2,500 square meters each,” he said.
“Our studios are being built to be world-class production facilities with set production offices, construction warehouses, prop shops, wardrobe, and SFX facilities.
“Film and ancillary equipment including cameras, heavy-lift drones, telehandlers, boom lifts, scissor lifts and trackways are available on both sites.”
By the end of 2026, “Neom will have a full-fledged ecosystem” and the media hubs will be approximately 1 million square meters with “with somewhere between 45 and 50 sound stages, tenancy space, gaming, studio space, industry learning space,” said Borg.
The Kingdom has boosted producer confidence with increased incentives.
“We have a very competitive and globally attractive production incentive scheme where we offer a 40 percent plus cash rebate production incentive scheme for feature films, reality series, TV and commercials. At present, cast and crew are rolling from one production to the next,” said Borg.
“We can handle between three and four productions at any given time and are starting to build our crew depth. And we help productions and assist in terms of bureaucracy and government services to create a streamline and as efficient process as possible with a team that understands what is needed so we can make it happen on budget and on time every time.
Borg said that directors and producers wanting to use Neom should “reach out to us, to the team, either online or through our website, and leave details. And we’ll be in contact with you to set up a meeting to discuss your project, what your needs are, and how we can help bring that production to life at Neom.”
“We’re working to achieve a fully integrated media hub both physically and technologically, which will create huge opportunities. There’s been an inability for talent and creatives to come together previously and collaborate, and it is now clear that this industry thrives best in a collaborative environment. We want to give you a real red carpet, not a red tape experience.”
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 with 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.”
Lebanese influencer Karen Wazen spends the day with Angelina Jolie in Guerlain initiative
Updated 03 February 2023
DUBAI: Lebanese influencer and entrepreneur Karen Wazen took to Instagram to share a photograph of herself with Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie at a cocktail event hosted by French label Guerlain in Paris.
“This was very special,” the eyewear designer said in a caption to the post.
“As part of my ongoing collaboration with the maison I was honored to attend an intimate cocktail (event) at Guerlain’s iconic boutique — 68 Avenue des Champs-Elysees — with Angelina Jolie, as well as Guerlain’s experts from its bee conservation program,” Wazen told her 7.9 million followers.
“Together we discussed the brand’s bee conservation program, including the Bee School, founded by Guerlain and led by its employees, a volunteer program developed to educate young children across the world on the bee’s importance to ecosystems and biodiversity for which I am excited to host here in the Middle East in 2023,” she said.
In March 2022, the By Karen Wazen founder was announced as the first regional ambassador for the beauty house.
Wazen is representing Guerlain’s full skincare line as a long-time advocate for the brand. The Dubai-based influencer has said she shares the same principles and passions as the house, including sustainability, and both aim to empower women across the region.
“I am very proud to become the Middle Eastern ambassador for Guerlain,” Wazen said at the time. “As a house whose DNA and heritage are in complete, authentic alignment with my own ethos, I look forward to this beautiful and exciting new chapter together.”
“For Christmas, she asked me what I was going to ask Santa for and so I said I wanted a new pancake pan. I ordered myself, via Santa, this cool pancake pan — each little circle pancake is a different animal, so she can have lion pancakes or llama pancakes. It’s really fun,” Hadid added.
Unlike what you might think, Hadid does not have a strict workout routine. Running after her daughter is her exercise, she said. “We walk a lot. We do yoga together. With lifting her and running around all day and going to the park, I get moving,” she said.
The model also said that she has found an easy way to keep her busy schedule in control. She said she is skilled at organization, scheduling and making sure her many projects get the time they need.
“That also helps me give a lot of time to Khai,” she said. “(My schedule) is so janky. It can be like Khai’s craft paper. This month it’s (on) a yellow piece of paper. And it’s literally a square calendar with six lines to make seven days. I take a picture on my phone, and I edit through the month then I’ll do all the edits and rewrite it the next month.”
In September, Hadid celebrated her daughter’s second birthday at an intimate party, sharing a picture of a multi-layered cake decorated with characters from Peppa Pig, which seems to be Khai’s favorite cartoon show.
Khai’s name is a nod to Hadid’s Palestinian grandmother Khairiah.