French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa discusses his role in award-winning film ‘Harka’

French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa discusses his role in award-winning film ‘Harka’
Bessa’s success is all the more remarkable when you consider his backstory. (AFP)
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Updated 20 January 2023

French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa discusses his role in award-winning film ‘Harka’

French Tunisian actor Adam Bessa discusses his role in award-winning film ‘Harka’
  • ‘It’s heartbreaking. But it’s the truth,’ says Adam Bessa

DUBAI: “Your duty as an artist is to be the voice of people who don’t have a voice,” says French-Tunisian actor Adam Bessa. “The reality of the world is pretty simple. You have money, you exist. You don’t have money, you don’t exist.” 

Bessa is discussing “Harka,” director Lotfy Nathan’s powerful narrative debut. It’s a film that took both an emotional and physical toll on Bessa, who lived with gasoline smugglers on the border with Libya and isolated himself from the outside world in preparation for his role as an impoverished Tunisian street-seller. 

“You have to try to show the beauty, the importance, the struggle,” he adds. “Maybe the film is a comedy, so you show how funny people are. Maybe it’s a drama, so you show the reality of people’s lives. It’s just your duty to be the voice of those who don’t have one.” 

“Harka” is director Lotfy Nathan’s powerful narrative debut. (Supplied)

Bessa’s extraordinary performance in “Harka,” which had its Middle East and North Africa premiere at the RSIFF, has attracted widespread acclaim. In May he won the best performance prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard (shared with Vicky Krieps for “Corsage”), and last month picked up the Red Sea Competition Best Actor award in Jeddah. 

Working closely with Nathan, who won the Red Sea Competition Best Director accolade, Bessa spent the best part of four months preparing for the role of Ali, a young man who sells black market gasoline on the streets of Sidi Bouzid. When his father dies, Ali not only finds himself burdened with his father’s debts, he is also responsible for the wellbeing of his two sisters. Risking his life to buy gasoline on the border with Libya in a bid to make ends meet, he is nevertheless forced to turn over most of his earnings in extortion payments to the police. 

It’s a film that took both an emotional and physical toll on Bessa. (Supplied)

“We knew we had to take time to prepare, so we talked about the script and the character and then I went to Tunisia for maybe three weeks,” says Bessa, who was born in Paris to Tunisian parents. “I isolated myself and started to put myself in character. Then I spent two weeks on location with the smugglers. I spent time with them, went to Libya, really lived with them and then during the shoot I never stopped being Ali, because for me it was very hard to disconnect. He’s so special and so complex and he vibrates on something very special, so, for me, that was the way it had to be done.” 

Inspired by the true story of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation triggered Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, the film doesn’t offer any answers and certainly doesn’t provide any balm. Ali’s existence is harsh and upsetting, although for much of the film Bessa’s performance is remarkably restrained. He is often silent, or converses with only the minimal use of words. When we first meet Ali, he is siphoning petrol from one can to another and living a solitary existence in an abandoned construction site.  

Only Bessa’s face hints at the character’s inner desperation. When Ali does reach breaking point much later in the film, it’s a powerful and uncomfortable scene to watch. Bessa’s previously contained anger explodes with a level of ferocity that is disquieting.  

Bessa was born in Paris to Tunisian parents. (Supplied)

“Mentally, it was tough,” admits Bessa. “You put yourself out there and wherever curiosity takes you, you go. And characters like Ali, they live with you forever. Because it’s upsetting. Maybe it’s upsetting because that’s how the world works. Every day the things that happen to Ali are happening somewhere and it’s a burden for every one of us to admit it. Because as much as we live our lives, we’re all connected. So it’s hard to accept and it’s heartbreaking and sometimes it’s depressing. But it is the truth.” 

A self-taught actor, Bessa was the film’s only representative at the Red Sea International Film Festival, undertaking interviews with patience and humility and attending the movie’s two screenings. He was also ranked among Screen Daily’s Arab Stars of Tomorrow, alongside the likes of Moroccan writer and director Sofia Alaoui and Lebanon’s Dania Bdeir.  

Bessa’s success is all the more remarkable when you consider his backstory. He received his acting break in Algerian director Sofia Djama’s “Les Bienheureux” while working as a fishermen in the south of France.   

“It’s not that easy, you know,” he says. “I wanted to be a football player, it didn’t work. I studied law, I didn’t like it. Then I started working. I was passionate about cinema and tried to get into the business, but it was very complicated, so I stopped trying and went to work as a real estate agent. You make a living for yourself and then all of a sudden you get an opportunity. For me, that opportunity was Sofia Djama’s film.” 

A friend of Bessa’s told him there was a casting call for “Les Bienheureux,” so he sent off a tape and eventually met the director in Paris. He hasn’t looked back since.  

“For most people there’s a certain path. But so many stories don’t follow a set path. If you’re passionate about something and you don’t really listen to what everybody tells you to do and you just follow what you want to do, your road becomes weird and narrow and people are like, ‘Oh, what a journey’. But I think everybody would have a weird journey if they just followed their heart. If you follow what you like and what is inspiring to you, then your road becomes something special.” 

He went on to star in the Matthew Michael Carnahan-directed “Mosul,” which followed an Iraqi police unit during the battle to liberate the city from ISIS, and will soon reprise his role as Yaz Kahn in Netflix’s “Extraction 2” alongside Chris Hemsworth. He is also set to star in Tunisian-Canadian film director Meryam Joobeur’s “Motherhood,” which is due for release this year. 

“The clear idea is always to follow my instinct,” says Bessa of the directors he works with. “That’s how I went through life, how I grew up and why I’m where I am now. I follow my instincts. Good story, good director, whatever the name is. I don’t go by names, I don’t go by hype, I go by feeling. If the people inspire me then I’ll work with them. If I feel like we can do something great together, then I’ll do it. If I don’t feel it, then I don’t do it, you know? Even if you fail, when you chose something yourself it doesn’t feel like a failure, it just feels like your life. When you listen to others and you fail, you have regrets, and I hate regrets.” 

What’s next? More films, for sure. But maybe directing one day? 

“Absolutely, why not?” he replies. “Not now, but maybe in the future. It’s a question of stories. It’s not a question of doing things because you’ve got to tick boxes. Maybe I’ll create a brand, maybe I’ll do something else. Maybe I’ll edit books. I don’t know what I’ll do. It’s what inspires me. That’s how I work. I hear stories, I hear people, so if I have an idea or if I meet someone who pitches me a story that I love and I’m comfortable, I’ll do it. It’s a question of people and the right time, the right moment — doing the right thing.” 

‘Dubai Collection Nights’ puts the focus on art events

‘Dubai Collection Nights’ puts the focus on art events
Updated 13 sec ago

‘Dubai Collection Nights’ puts the focus on art events

‘Dubai Collection Nights’ puts the focus on art events
  • Week-long initiative promises panel discussions, film screenings, visits to private collections, studios

DUBAI: The Dubai Collection has announced the launch of a week-long series of art events set to take place from March 25-31, the Emirates News Agency has reported.

The inaugural edition of “Dubai Collection Nights” will include panel discussions on institution building and collecting by influential art professionals, film screenings, unique opportunities to visit patrons’ private collections, and studio visits by acclaimed UAE-based artists.

It will provide insight into A.R.M. Holding’s corporate collection, illustrating how companies are increasingly becoming a part of Dubai’s creative landscape. 

The Dubai Collection is an initiative that aims to provide the public with a chance to explore important artworks, while also encouraging a new, long-term collecting culture in the emirate.

Muna Faisal Al Gurg, chair of the Dubai Collection’s Curatorial Committee, said: “Our new initiative, ‘Dubai Collection Nights,’ underscores Dubai Collection’s mission to build a community of committed patrons of the arts and ignite creativity across the city.

“It is created to offer a new platform for local audiences to explore the stories in the collection and connect our communities of artists, collectors, and art professionals.”

Benedetta Ghione, executive director of Art Dubai, said: “‘Dubai Collection Nights’ is the first dedicated initiative that will bring together the wider Dubai Collection community in the city for the first time.

“The lineup of activities is an important opportunity for our local audiences to see the collection and connect with Dubai-based artists and patrons.

“Talks and debates will bring to the fore the voices of professionals and collectors committed to changing the landscape of institutional collecting, whilst every day during the week-long event there will be an opportunity for the public to see artworks and learn more about the collection.”

Part-Arab models share Ramadan greetings on social media   

Part-Arab models share Ramadan greetings on social media   
Updated 23 March 2023

Part-Arab models share Ramadan greetings on social media   

Part-Arab models share Ramadan greetings on social media   

DUBAI: US Dutch Palestinian catwalk star Bella Hadid, Moroccan Italian model Malika El-Maslouhi and Dutch Egyptian Moroccan model Imaan Hammam took to Instagram on Wednesday to wish their followers a happy Ramadan.  

Hadid, who also unveiled a new campaign with French luxury label Louis Vuitton on Wednesday, shared colorful artwork that read “Ramadan Mubarak.”


A post shared by Bella (@bellahadid)

“I wish the most peaceful month ahead (sic),” she wrote in her caption.  

Her father, Palestinian real estate mogul Mohamed Hadid, replied to her in the comments and wrote: “Love you Bella. The happiest and most peaceful month for you, me, our family and loved ones InshAllah.”  

El-Maslouhi used her platform to ask people to support Moroccan mothers this Ramadan through the Rif Tribes Foundation, a youth-led humanitarian and cultural organization dedicated to the people of the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco.  

“A great idea from a great foundation of Moroccan youngsters that want to help their country. Donations are always welcome, especially this month,” she wrote on Instagram Stories.  

The model starred in two campaigns for Ramadan — with Louis Vuitton and British label Pepe Jeans.  

The Pepe Jeans campaign, which she released pictures of on Thursday, was shot in Marrakech.  “A campaign that captures the beauty of the desert,” the collaborated post read.  

Meanwhile, Hamam shared a series of posts on her Instagram Stories to educate her 1.5 million followers about the Holy Month.   

Public Art Abu Dhabi aims to bring accessible art to UAE capital

Public Art Abu Dhabi aims to bring accessible art to UAE capital
Updated 23 March 2023

Public Art Abu Dhabi aims to bring accessible art to UAE capital

Public Art Abu Dhabi aims to bring accessible art to UAE capital
  • A digital media work by South Korean collective, d’strict, was unveiled on launch day

ABU DHABI: With its dozens of islands and more than 30 sophisticated cultural venues – from Louvre Abu Dhabi to Manarat Al Saadiyat and Qasr Al Hosn – the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi is emerging as a leading arts hotspot in the region, and possibly the world. Adding to its roster of cultural projects is Public Art Abu Dhabi.

Launched on March 20, it's a community-focused initiative, supported by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, aimed to enhance the quality of living by dotting the city with various forms of public art that is accessible to all. 

"We've built the foundations in Abu Dhabi. We're ready," Reem Fadda, the director of Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi, said in a speech at the initiative's official launch at the Cultural Foundation. "Public art has always had a place in Abu Dhabi and we have infrastructure to build upon that even further. . . We don't want you only to come to our sites and museums, we will take art to you. You will walk in the streets of Abu Dhabi and encounter art. You will recognize your city through the lens of art." 

The initiative consists of three main components, which will be spread throughout the capital and demonstrated in the coming years. Manar Abu Dhabi, meaning "lighthouse" in Arabic, will launch in November 2023 as a "year-long light art platform that activates the city and celebrates its natural beauty through light art installations," explained Fadda. The other element is direct commissions by artists from the region and abroad, whose works will embellish Abu Dhabi's corniche, parks, schools, roundabouts, tunnels, and historic sites. 

There will also be Public Art Abu Dhabi Biennial, taking off in November 2024, which will be co-curated by Fadda. "We are hoping to manifest a lot of public art commissions and also present artists' work across the city, and we are hoping to able to do that through community engagement," she said. 

As the speeches of the launch came to an end, audience members were invited to step outside of the building to witness the unveiling of the initiative's first public artwork. Sitting atop of the building is "WAVE," a digital media work by South Korean collective, d’strict, that has implemented "an anamorphic illusion technique,” according to the press release, whereby, “the 2D installation recreates perpetually surging three-dimensional waves," It's a fitting theme, corresponding to the emirates's pristine azure waters. 

US actor Eyas Younis talks Casting Arabia and stellar TV career   

US actor Eyas Younis talks Casting Arabia and stellar TV career   
Updated 23 March 2023

US actor Eyas Younis talks Casting Arabia and stellar TV career   

US actor Eyas Younis talks Casting Arabia and stellar TV career   
  • The actor has nabbed roles in US TV shows ‘Unforgettable,’ ‘Homeland’ and ‘NCIS: LA,’ among others
  • Eyas Younis is also the founder of Casting Arabia, a regional platform that connects filmmakers with acting talent

RIYADH: From Wall Street, to pharmaceutical sales to a bona fide career in acting, US actor Eyas Younis, who is of Jordanian descent, is no stranger to reinventing himself — and with the launch of his new platform Casting Arabia, he hopes to help other performers chart their own paths to success.  

The platform came to life in January, after 18 months of meticulous planning, and with more than 1,700 applicants already on the waiting list, it is clear that there was strong demand for such an initiative in the Middle East.  

Eyas Younis (left) at the Ignite forum in Riyadh. (Huda Bashatah)

“Drawing on my background in business, I created a free online platform named Casting Arabia,” Younis told Arab News on the sidelines of the recent Ignite forum in Riyadh.  

On the portal, any filmmaker can post the roles needed for the cast and crew of their upcoming project, and members of Casting Arabia can apply.  

On the flipside, actors and other creative talents in the industry can create non-public profiles and submit themselves for the opportunities posted on the site. 



A post shared by Eyas Younis (@eyas.younis)


“This is the system in the US on many of the platforms, like backstage, actors, and other casting networks that keep your profile private. By doing it this way, you empower the talent to pick the roles they resonate with,” Younis explained.  

The website also features free learning tools, including short and snappy videos on how to take the best headshot, as well as tips for analyzing a script — and more.  

It is a valuable tool for up-and-coming actors, made all the more meaningful as Younis himself was once a struggling actor.  



A post shared by Eyas Younis (@eyas.younis)


Coming from a background in finance, armed with an MBA, Younis worked on New York’s Wall Street until the market crash of 2008, when he returned to Jordan and took up a position at a pharmaceuticals giant in Amman.  

“But still, the nagging voice in my head kept searching for excitement, a break from (the) boring corporate world,” shared Younis. One day, he spotted an ad for an acting working on Facebook and, upon arriving, realized it was an open audition. 

As daunting as that may sound to the rest of us, Younis gave it a shot — although he admits nerves took over and he sent his brother, who had accompanied him, home, saying “‘I am too nervous for you to sit next to me. Go home.” 



A post shared by Eyas Younis (@eyas.younis)


He memorized the lines, sang terribly and gave a less-than-stellar performance, but by sheer luck a director named Deema Amr who had just secured her first feature film witnessed the audition and later told him “you were horrible, but there is something there, you should explore it,” according to Younis, who laughs at the memory.  

She called him in to audition for a supporting role in “A 7 Hour Difference” — he landed the gig and never looked back.  

“I didn’t take the decision to pursue it proficiently. It was a good beginning but it was that feeling of ‘ahhh, this is where I found myself,’” he said. 



A post shared by Eyas Younis (@eyas.younis)


However, the producer of the film continued to call Younis, offering audition after audition, and he went on landing parts.  

“Then I was approached by Basim Ghandour for a short film, on set I decided I would quit. I remember (it was) March 15, 2011. I went to take acting classes in New York, but I wasn’t in a hurry to move there. I kept thinking there was too much competition. Who wanted another Arab actor? 

“I vowed never to play a terrorist and never will. But bravely, I signed up for an acting course at the (Stella Adler Studio of Acting). The intensive course program ran for several months, I attended various classes from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. daily. We covered everything from Shakespeare to acting for TV and film. It was very intense… I remember I decided after the course that there would be more opportunities for me in the US than in the Arab world. I just had that feeling that I could do it here,” he said. 

“After selling my car and furniture and quitting my job, I moved to New York in May 2011. I got a manager in July and booked a play in September. I was on the prime-time TV show ‘Deception,’ playing an Albanian mafia boss… so, in less than a year, I was on TV. 

“I still remember when I called my mum and said I would be on TV, and she knew I wasn’t coming home,” he added. 

Cue roles in CBS’s “Unforgettable,” “Homeland” and “NCIS: LA” and it’s safe to say that Younis has found his calling.

What to watch in Ramadan: The latest slate of TV shows to hit your screens this month

What to watch in Ramadan: The latest slate of TV shows to hit your screens this month
Updated 23 March 2023

What to watch in Ramadan: The latest slate of TV shows to hit your screens this month

What to watch in Ramadan: The latest slate of TV shows to hit your screens this month

DUBAI: It is no secret that Ramadan TV series are among the most eagerly anticipated of the year, with fans across the Middle East — and the world — settling in to watch the latest hot new show after iftar each evening.

This year, regional production houses are offering up a slate of shows, including classic comedies, heart-felt roadtrips and even a docuseries focused on Anas Bukhash, who is famous for his YouTube talk show #ABTalks and has interviewed the likes of American Palestinian Netflix star Mo Amer, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, Gigi and Bella Hadid’s father Mohamed, and Mohammed Diab, director of Marvel’s “Moon Knight,” among others.

‘A Sitdown with Anas and Hala’ 

Starring: Anas Bukhash, Hala Kazim 

Where: OSN 

With #ABtalks, Anas Bukhash has cemented himself as a top Arabic-language interviewer, inviting stars from across the region onto his show for a series of often-heartfelt conversations about the human experience. In “A Sitdown with Anas and Hala” he hosts a very special guest — his own mother. The six-episode docuseries will follow Anas and Hala as they discuss grief, creating boundaries, and making connections, all on a quest to find their inner selves. Airing weekly in 30-minute episodes, each installment will find the two in their home as they discuss life, the universe, and everything.  

‘Gaafar El Omda’

Starring: Mohamed Ramadan, Zeina, Hala Sedki 

Where: MBC Shahid 

Love him or hate him, Mohamed Ramadan is the prime Arabic-language television season’s biggest star, each year turning in a role that becomes both must-watch and hotly debated, driven either by his on- or off-screen antics. Two years ago, his period piece “Moussa,” set in 1940s Egypt, was condemned by his peers after a seemingly unflattering portrayal of Egyptian comedy icon Ismail Yassine. Last year, “El Meshwar,” a series in which he plays a man in the throes of a curse, was also poorly received by many. “Gaafar El Omda” looks to be a return to form for the talented leading man, reuniting him with writer Mohammed Samy, who previously crafted the acclaimed Ramadan 2020 hit “Al Prince.” This time around, he plays a rich businessman and village elder named Gaafar, who offers a woman a loan on the condition that she become his wife for 400 days.  

‘El Keteeba 101’ 

Starring: Asser Yassin, Amr Youssef, Khaled Elsawy 

Where: MBC Shahid 

After a huge hit last year with “Suits Arabia,” an Arabic-language remake of the popular American legal series, Asser Yassin is back with a gun in his hand in “El Keteeba 101,” a military drama that pairs him with acclaimed actor Amr Youssef (from 2016’s massive hit “Grand Hotel”). The series is set in the Sinai Peninsula in 2014, as the Egyptian Army’s 101st Battalion wages war against terrorist organizations, striving to overcome what appear to be impossible odds. Yassin has cemented himself as one of the best action stars in the Arab world, especially after his 2022 hit “The Eight,” and a pairing with Youssef should prove impossible to resist.  

‘Road Trip’  

Starring: Saad Aziz, Saleh Abu Amra, Muhammad Al-Shehri 

Where: MBC1 and MBC Shahid 

Perhaps the greatest joy of the Ramadan television season is the surprises. In Saudi Arabia last year, that was “Road Trip” (Sikat Safar), a hilarious and heartfelt dramedy following three brothers who set off on the road after the death of their father. The second season reunites the trio of Mohammed Alshehri, Saleh Abuamrh, and Saad Aziz, this time to help their uncle run a small hotel that is threatened with demolition, all set in the gorgeous backdrop of the green southern part of the Kingdom. After Abuamrh’s widely-loved portrayal as the boss in the Saudi Arabian remake of “The Office,” expect this series to fully transition from underdog hit to Ramadan mainstay.  

‘Minho Waladna’ 

Starring: Ibrahem Al-Hajjaj, Fayez Bin Jurays, Khalid Al-Farraj 

Where: MBC Shahid 

Saudi comedian Ibrahim Al-Hajjaj is undoubtedly the most popular actor in the country at the moment, with his action-comedy “Sattar” still setting box-office records in the Kingdom, inching closer to number two on the all-time list overall, and his Netflix hit “Al Khallat+” still ranking in the country’s top five after nine weeks of release. Expect the second season of his Ramadan hit to be even bigger than the first, then. Here, Al-Hajjaj returns in a comedy following a conflict between two brothers who are attempting to run a company together but can’t seem to agree on how. Season two promises an unexpected love story, with Al-Hajjaj’s unique brand of physical comedy on full display throughout the month. 

‘Seroh El-Bateaa’ 

Starring: Ahmad Fahmy, Ahmed Salah El-Saadany, Shams 

Where: Starzplay  

After two decades behind the camera making only films, Egyptian director Khaled Youssef is making his hotly anticipated TV debut with this historical drama that follows a young man in search of the secret shrine of Sultan Hamed, supposedly in a village in the Egyptian countryside. The show is set across two timelines, one present day, and one in the French-Egyptian war of 1798, with parallel characters existing across both. A strongly political filmmaker who serves in the Egyptian parliament, Youssef’s films often tackle social justice and corruption with the gritty cinema veritè style and signature use of improvisation that has made him one of the Arab world’s most distinctive voices.  

‘Al Kabeer Awi’ 

Cast: Ahmed Mekky, Bayoumi Fouad, Mohamed Sallam, Rahma Ahmed 

Where: MBC Shahid 

Now in its seventh season, this long-running Egyptian hit continues to capitalize on the undeniable charisma of star Ahmed Mekky as the titular Al Kabeer, the mayor of Al-Mazareeta, a small town in the northern part of the country, as well as his twin brother, who returns to the country from the US to claim their father’s fortune. As the series has progressed, Mekky even added a third and fourth brother to the mix, while never losing audiences, even as the plots grew increasingly absurd. The latest season follows Al Kabeer after his latest marriage, and a mysterious potion transforms his grown son into a child. 

‘Bab Al Hara’ 

Starring: Nizar Abu Hajar, Nijah Sefkouni, Fadia Khattab, Tayser Iddriss 

Where: Starzplay 

No Ramadan TV list would be complete without the show that has become most synonymous with the season. “Bab Al Hara,” set to debut its 13th season, is still going strong, though many fans may debate in which season the show dropped from its peak. It follows the same family in Syria as the country continues its social and political transformation. In this season, set in 1945 and 1946, beloved star Nizar Abu Hajar returns as the characters grapple with an Evacuation Day that will see the final French soldiers leave the country ahead of April 17, 1946 — Syrian Independence Day. With Abu Hajar back front and center, will “Bab Al Hara” recapture its former glory? Stay tuned.