DUBAI: US rapper Travis Scott, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, Dutch record producer Afrojack, US singer Charlie Puth, supergroup Swedish House Mafia and Egyptian star Ahmed Saad are set to headline MDLBEAST’s after-race concerts at Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Martin Whitaker, CEO of the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, said in a released statement: “We are thrilled to welcome MDLBEAST back as our official partner. The lineup of A-List artists and talent that will be performing over the weekend is the perfect complement to an already incredibly exciting weekend of racing and entertainment.”
COO of MDLBEAST and head of talent booking Talal Albahiti added: “We’re very excited and honored to come back to the FORMULA 1 STC SAUDI ARABIAN GRAND PRIX 2023 as an official partner. This new partnership further exemplifies that our experiences are on a par with the standards of global major international sports events such as this.”
Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib talks new film about an aspiring Saudi wrestler
Updated 12 sec ago
DUBAI: If Dubai has a face, it was probably drawn by Mohammed Saeed Harib. The Emirati animator, artist and filmmaker behind the new film ‘King of the Ring’ — now screening in cinemas across the Middle East — has become an icon in his home country, and is responsible for so much of how the city presents itself to the world, with the characters from his animated series “Freej” welcoming tourists on FlyDubai, his robot design having guided visitors through Expo 2020, and now the newly redesigned characters Modesh and Dana serving as the city’s mascots.
It's no wonder, then, that Harib focuses more these days on the message behind what he’s making. He hasn’t lost his sense of fun, of course, but while he may have set out 20 years ago with a goal to entertain and lovingly poke fun at his own culture, he’s become much more aware that he is a cultural ambassador, and as the region’s artistic voice begins to boom louder, what is being said matters just as much as how it’s said.
“I’ve found it very important to use my skills to make sure that there are good products for kids growing up,” Harib tells Arab News. “My animated series ‘Siraj’ may not get as much media attention, but it’s been (out for) years and it’s still shown in schools. It’s funny, because I’d would rather be known for that kind of work, honestly.”
At first glance, “King of the Ring” (Malik Al-Halaba in Arabic) may be an odd fit for an artist with those intentions. It’s the story of a Saudi man who aspires to be a pro wrestler, far from Harib’s usual wheelhouse. But beneath the surface it’s something more.
“When I was approached, they cautioned me that this was not a slapstick film — it was a heartfelt story. I said, ‘Perfect, that’s exactly what I want to do.’ I wanted an action-comedy with some soul in it,” says Harib.
That was easier said than done, of course, especially in the circumstances Harib was handed. The film was shot in Abu Dhabi halfway through 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and ‘unprecedented times’ led to a production no one could have prepared for.
“Abu Dhabi was by far the most restrictive city during the pandemic, and so we had to adjust accordingly. It was a bit surreal checking into a hotel and having them repeat back to me, ‘So you’ll be staying here 90 days?’ And just as that was sinking in, Saudi Arabia stopped all flights, and we lost our lead actor,” says Harib.
He didn’t have much to compare this to. His last live action film, 2019’s “Rashid & Rajab,” was made over a six-year period in intimate locations near his home, with actors and crew he’d known for years, and producers he counts among his closest friends. “King of the Ring” was a major film, with an international cast — the first large-scale co-production between Saudi Arabia’s MBC, Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation and Vox Cinemas. And even with all that weighing on him, a pressing question jumped into his mind: ‘How the heck do I capture pro wrestling?’
“I was a big fan as a kid, but I haven’t really focused on it for years, and never with a filmmaker’s eye. But I became obsessed. We ended up having to build a wrestling ring in one of the board rooms of the hotel, just to practice the routines over and over again because I was so adamant on understanding what every movement meant,” says Harib.
“In the film, the wrestling starts very amateurish, both in its choreography and how it’s filmed. Then as the film goes on, my best directing comes just as the wrestling gets really good as well. We all were learning as we went — we grew up with the character,” Harib continues.
The director pushed himself further than he ever had before, guided through a harrowing experience by the yearning to become a better filmmaker than before he started — a goal he accomplished. It’s probably why he connected so strongly with the soul of the film, the chronicle of a man battling the limitations his society has placed on him.
“This story sheds light on struggling personalities — people who are fighting to find their voice when society dictates that you don’t go against the grain. There are judgmental figures around you telling you how you should act, how you should look, how you should betray yourself or what line of business to go into. We made this film to be a family picture because we want parents and kids to see this journey and gain something from watching this man fight to be something different and succeed,” says Harib.
Coincidentally, this is not the first film from the Gulf this year to deal with pro wrestling. “Sattar,” from Telfaz11, was a record-breaking hit in the Kingdom, but is substantively different from “King of the Ring.” While the former’s over-the-top comic sensibility fitted more with its YouTube comedy origins, Harib’s film is aimed at a very different audience.
“Last week, one of the stakeholders from Telfaz11 came to our premiere in Saudi Arabia, and he came up to me afterwards to tell me how happy he was that he’d come,” Harib says. “This was a film that kids should see, with a clear message. ‘I can’t recommend our film ‘Sattar’’, the man said, ‘if they’re not of a certain age. It’s wonderful both these films exist!’”
“Sattar” has singlehandedly redrawn the cinema landscape in the region, offering a roadmap towards the untapped commercial prospects for Saudi-related films in the Kingdom. In the UAE, on the other hand, “Sattar” didn’t perform nearly as well, showing that there is still work to be done in crafting films that appeal to both Emiratis and Saudis in equal measure.
“I hope we arrive at a point where we can enjoy each other’s films, but people need to know that while we are part of one family, we have differences,” Harib says. “There are many unique cultural nuances. The Emirati population, for example, did not have the same YouTube culture that has shaped Saudi appetites over the last decade. That material is a hard sell to audiences who are unfamiliar with it, and vice versa. There is a lot of work to be done in navigating these differences.”
And those differences, of course, are ever-evolving. Harib is working on a new season of “Freej,” and he’s constantly marveling at how different the country is from when he started the show in 2006. The characters he created barely exist in real life, as the Emirati people continue to evolve with the times, and cultural traditions begin to change with them.
“I’m working on a film about this now actually — an animated feature — and it’s my passion project. I’ve spent so long servicing companies, or governmental organizations, but this one is for me. It will take some time, though,” says Harib. “Perhaps in five years, we can sit down for an interview about it, and try to figure out how much the Gulf has changed once again.”
Simone Fattal explores the many cultures of the Mediterranean in Venice
The Lebanese artist’s installation also highlights the links between Venice and the Gulf
Updated 18 min 40 sec ago
Rebecca Anne Proctor
VENICE: Paris-based Lebanese artist Simone Fattal’s latest work is currently on display in the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice, Italy.
Fattal’s powerful installation is titled “Sempre il mare, uomo libero, amerai!” which translates from Italian to “Always the sea, freeman, you will love!” from the poem “Man and the Sea” by Charles Baudelaire, which describes the waves of the sea as the mirror of the soul. The sea, notes Baudelaire in his poem, is a natural and feminine element that generates and nourishes. Fattal’s work similarly offers a poignant and loving reflection of the Mediterranean, its constant changes, and the cultures it has separated and unified.
“Through my work I try to transcend the actual surface of things to make it more meaningful by recollecting old myths and stories,” Fattal tells Arab News. “I think this reconnection can bring a lot to a person, inside. There were hard times before us and there are hard times ahead of us.
“I create abstract art because it offers silence and silence is a constituent to art otherwise you can’t really go into it — art needs to be meditative,” she continues.
The works are part of the exhibition “Thus Waves Come in Pairs,” a line from the poem “Sea and Fog” by the late Etel Adnan. It runs at Ocean Space in Venice until Nov. 5 alongside other new commissions by Petrit Halilaj and Alvaro Urbano.
“There are many Mediterraneans: the geographical, the historical, the philosophical … the personal, the one we swim in,” Adnan once said. “It’s an experience to swim, it is something you can’t explain to somebody who never swam. This feeling of being held up by this water.”
Fattal’s installation comprises two sculptures that occupy the empty niches of the church’s large Baroque altar. One is “Young Boy,” an abstract figure colored burnt yellow. The other is “Bricola,” a large ceramic sculpture with rich natural hues inspired by the eponymous Venetian wooden poles used to guide boats through the city’s canals evocative of navigation. It also includes two monumental abstract figures “Máyya and Ghaylán” — a pair of lovers celebrated in classical Arabic poetry, whom Fattal separates and joins by rectangular glass plates on the ground evoking a golden sea — and “Contrast,” a series of pearly spheres made from pink Murano glass onto which Fattal has engraved an inscription in lingua franca, a mestizo language drawn from Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic that was once spoken by pirates, merchants, prisoners and slaves along the shores of the Mediterranean. These spheres lie on the floor on the opposite side of the space from the altar.
The inscription on the spheres is taken from the text of the earliest evidence of lingua franca, “Contrasto della Zerbitana” (The Conflict with the Woman of Djerba), a 14th-century poem about an argument between a sailor and the mother of a woman he mistreated, set on the island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia.
Poetry, as Fattal demonstrates in these new works, serves as a vehicle for past and present transmission from one language and culture to another. She portrays the complexities and forgotten memories that shape the colonial past and neocolonial present of the Mediterranean and its varied cultures and peoples.
“I wanted to link my work here not only to the church and the Mediterranean but also to the Gulf and the history of pearl trading there,” she tells Arab News. “I was also interested in how the Arab world connected to Venice through the trade of pearls — that’s where Venetian women once got their pearls: from the Gulf.”
Fattal also stresses that the works demonstrate other materials and skills that originated in the Orient, including glass blowing and velvet. Her works, at once poignant and melancholic, aim to resurrect the crucial historical link between Venice and the Orient, the East and the West, and show how the result of such trade is still with us — through cultures, traditions, languages, and art.
As Fattal notes: “All that you see in Venice that is beautiful are symbols of exchange of beauty that took place via the Mediterranean Sea.”
REVIEW: ‘The Legend of Zelda’ is a sprawling masterpiece
Updated 08 June 2023
LONDON: In 2017, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” broke records and received glowing critical acclaim. It sold about 30 million copies and set the benchmark for open world exploration games for the Nintendo Switch.
The recent release of “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom” had big shoes to fill, but it has already surpassed expectations, selling over 10 million copies within three days of its release.
There is a trend in games reviews to estimate how much time a game will take to complete, but with the new “Zelda” game this is almost impossible. Talk on social media is replete with gamers who have already spent 60 hours on it without really proceeding along the main narrative arc of the story.
Indeed, such is the enormity and complexity of the world that you are dropped into that it is almost a daunting game to invest in. But if you have the time — and, of course, the portability of the Switch allows for a supreme flexibility — then a world of wonder awaits.
Within five minutes of taking on the role of Link, the famous elfin like hero, you have lost the Princess Zelda that you have sworn to protect, had your sword reduced to a useless husk, and lost an arm in the process of unleashing an ancient evil lying dormant below Hyrule Castle.
Link awakes in a kingdom in the sky tended to by a benevolent ghost who replaces the missing limb with a powerful version of his own allowing Link a series of game changing powers. These are the essential difference from previous Zelda titles as the new arm allows Link to manipulate his environment, build unique weapons, reverse time, and ascend through solid structures.
The new powers are then unleashed on the vast open world of Hyrule and the floating islands in the sky above. Here more traditional challenges await from solving puzzle shrines, defeating a range of enemies, and completing a seemingly infinite number of quests from the major to the minor.
In addition to Link’s new arm powers, the game introduces “Zonai devices” that allow the hero to build rafts, gliders, sleds and more to navigate the huge gaming arena. However, a quicker alternative is to fast travel between shrines, but far more rewarding is the capture and taming of wild horses who can be named and stabled.
World exploring rewards curiosity and the approach to crafting ranges from making clothes suitable for the variety of environments, putting together all manner of weapons, to cooking meals that can see you through the tougher tests that lie ahead.
The storyline is the classic good versus evil, but the impact of the release of the evil — what the characters call “the gloom” — is skilfully done and makes the landscape feels suitable distinct from the game the preceded it.
This Zelda may not be a pickup and play, but its magnificent depth can easily be lost within.
Saudi radio host Big Hass launches new show to support regional talent, ‘Catch A Vibe’
Big Hass is a mainstay on the Arab hip-hop scene and has worked artists from across the world
His first guest on his new show is Syrian singer-songwriter and producer Ghaliaa Chaker
Updated 08 June 2023
DUBAI: The UAE-based Saudi hip-hop promoter, producer and radio host Hassane Dennaoui, aka Big Hass, is launching a new radio show on Saturday, June 10.
“Catch A Vibe,” which will air Saturdays and Sundays at 9 p.m. on Sharjah’s Pulse 95 radio station, will, Dennaoui says, “focus on the local and regional scene — all the artists, musicians, producers and music personalities based in the region.”
Supporting regional talent has been Dennaoui’s main focus for more than 15 years now. His Saudi radio show “Laish Hip-Hop?” — which focuses on Arabic hip-hop — has been running for over a decade now, but his new show will give him the opportunity to “get to know these artists on a personal level.” Each week, a guest will join Dennaoui in the studio to discuss “their challenges, their inspirations, their way of writing,” he explains.
“I want to find out about the human behind the artist and dive into questions that usually don’t get addressed on the radio,” he says. “The most exciting thing for me is getting to do these in-depth conversations: Why did they start doing what they’re doing? What’s the story behind a particular song or record? I also think it’s interesting to discover the challenges they’re facing — some will have family backup, some won’t. Some will prove their families wrong, some of them will have no issues with that at all.
“There’s such a diverse lineup of artists in the region and I think it’s going to be interesting to get to know them. Hopefully, when we’ve done 100 episodes and you take a look at them, you’ll see amazing diversity,” he continues.
Dennaoui intends to talk to up-and-comers and veterans on the show. If his guest has already recorded their own music, then the show will feature some of their tracks. But, he says, “I’ll be talking to artists who don’t have any original work out yet. And part of me doing that is also to prepare them, maybe — put them in a space where they can talk about it and get excited about it.”
His first guest on the show is the UAE-based Syrian singer-songwriter and producer Ghaliaa Chaker. “She’s really taken the region by storm with her authenticity and her incredible talent. She’s definitely one of the most talented artists here in the UAE. She’s incredible,” says Dennaoui.
“My main hope is to create a space where artists can really come in and express themselves,” he continues. “I also hope we’ll be able to export the talent that’s here across the region and eventually the world. I think it’s a duty to support regional talent.”
Dina Shihabi’s latest film to premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival
Updated 07 June 2023
DUBAI: Part-Saudi actress Dina Shihabi took to social media this week to promote her latest film “Catching Dust,” which premieres at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival on June 11.
The 96-minute feature was directed by Stuart Gatt and sees protagonist Geena, an artist and painter ready to dream big, tired of living in the desert with her controlling partner. At her wit's end, Geena is preparing to leave when a new couple shows up at the commune in a trailer from New York, eager to make a new life for themselves away from the city. Things turn dangerous for both couples as tensions boil over and egos come to a head as attempts to connect leave everyone frayed and on the edge of disaster.
Shihabi stars alongside US actress Erin Moriarty, who plays Geena, and Australian stars Jai Courtney and Ryan Corr.
Shihabi has a busy summer ahead of her, with her latest series “Painkiller” set to premiere on Netflix on Aug. 10.
The Riyadh-born actress recently took to Instagram to share a series of stills from the miniseries, which focuses on the origins and aftermath of America’s opioid epidemic.
“One of the best experiences of my life with a group of the most talented people that I will love forever. Can’t wait for you to watch,” she told fans.
Shihabi stars alongside US actors Matthew Broderick and Uzo Aduba, as well as Canadian actor Taylor Kitsch.
“Painkiller” is based on the book “Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic,” by Barry Meier, and a New Yorker article, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” written by Patrick Radden Keefe.
The series was created by US screenwriter Micah Fitzerman-Blue and actor and writer Noah Harpster, with US filmmakers Eric Newman, Peter Berg and Alex Gibney as executive producers.
Shihabi spent part of her childhood in Dubai. Her father is Saudi Norwegian journalist Ali Shihabi, and her mother Nadia is half-Palestinian and half-German Haitian.
She moved to the US in 2007 and was the first Middle Eastern-born woman to be accepted to the Juilliard School and New York University graduate acting program. She began appearing in short films in 2010, but her big break came in 2017 with the role of Hanin in the series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.”
Shihabi previously spoke to Arab News to share her advice for up-and-coming actors.
“Look around to the people that are around you right now and start making things. And focus, hard work, determination, passion (are important). Those are real things,” she said.
“I’m still working really hard to make the things I want happen and I don’t think it’s ever going to end. If you choose this life, you are choosing a life where you have to really work hard.”