RIYADH: Saudi horror movie “The Cello,” which was scripted by Turki Alalshikh, chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, premiered at Riyadh’s Boulevard City this week.
The film is an adaptation of a novel written by Alalshikh, who is a renowned Saudi poet and writer. Directed by Darren Bousman of “Saw” fame, the horror film stars Jeremy Irons and Tobin Bell, as well as Elham Ali and Samer Ismail.
“The Cello” is the first Arabic international horror film. It tells the story of an aspiring cellist who encounters the perilous consequences of his instrument.
Renowned for his expertise in directing horror films, Darren Bousman shared his experience of creating a movie in the Kingdom with Arab News.
“It kind of opens my mind up and it lets me approach things differently than I would if we were in the US, but all of these actors are such pros, and they are all so amazing.”
US producer Lee Nelson collaborated with Bousman and the actors, and was greatly impressed by their commitment and diligence.
Nelson said: “They were devoted to their craft, really, and dedicated and worked very hard to bring the characters to life in an authentic way.”
Bousman and Nelson aimed to create a successful film that authentically portrays Saudi culture.
Nelson said that having the film be authentically Saudi was “crucial.”
He added: “As visitors and guests, we wanted to be respectful and maintain the authenticity of the working environment. Therefore, we actively listened and took in a lot of feedback.
Bousman said that actors used both Arabic and English on set to overcome the language barrier and ensure smooth and natural dialogue.
“There was a lot of having to listen and learn to figure out to find that balance …. so, we rehearsed the scenes in English and then the next minute they would be doing the whole thing in Arabic.”
Bousman praised Alalshikh’s remarkable efforts to develop the entertainment sector in the Kingdom. “I honestly will say that Turki Alalshikh was so integral in this; he basically shepherded us through this universe, and it was amazing getting to experience Saudi through his eyes.”
Saudi actress Elham Ali said that being a part of the horror film cast felt like a natural fit for her.
“I’m a huge fan of horror movies. I felt like I belong because I’m a fan of this type of artistic work. Today we are taking international steps. I am colleagues with international artists like Jeremy Irons and Tobin Bell, and director Darren Bousman.”
Ali added that the film serves as a stepping stone toward a more promising future for the Saudi film industry.
She said: “We are just an image that conveys the creativity we have. I was happy to see myself on the screen at this international level, with this lens, with this spirit, with something that I, Elham, saw in myself that was different.”
The movie showcases the talent of Syria’s Samer Ismail, British Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons and US star Tobin Bell.
“The Cello” will be released across the Kingdom on Sept. 14.
Arab movies ‘Inshallah a Boy,’ ‘Bye Bye Tiberias’ join Oscars race
Updated 29 September 2023
DUBAI: Jordan has submitted Amjad Al-Rasheed’s movie “Inshallah a Boy” and Palestine submitted Lina Soualem’s documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias” for consideration in the Best International Feature Film category at the 96th Academy Awards, it was announced this week.
This means that both films are considered for the shortlist. If the Arab movies get shortlisted, they could then get nominated for an Academy Award.
“Inshallah a Boy” was the first Jordanian film to compete in the Cannes Film Festival in May. The feature film was chosen to compete in Cannes Critics’ Week, a subsidiary event that ran alongside the 76th edition of the festival.
The film, titled “Inshallah Walad” in Arabic, portrays the narrative of a young widow, Nawal, and her daughter, who are about to lose their home.
The 90-minute film was shot last year in the Jordanian capital Amman over the course of five weeks. It received a Jordan Film Fund and Royal Film Commission production grant in 2019, as well as a post-production grant in 2022.
In the much-hyped documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias,” Soualem, who is French, Palestinian and Algerian, captures the stories passed on by four generations of Palestinian women in her family, one of whom is her mother Hiam Abbass, the actress whose credits include “Succession,” “Ramy,” “Inheritance” and “Munich.”
Soualem accompanies her mother and questions her choices as Abbass returns to her native Palestinian village 30 years after she left in her early 20s to follow her dream of becoming an actress in Europe, leaving behind her mother, grandmother, and seven sisters.
The film will screen in the Documentary Competition section of the 67th BFI London Film Festival, set to take place from Oct. 4 – 15, 2023.
Jordan and Palestine are not the only two Arab countries that submitted movies for the Oscars.
Egypt has selected Mohamed Farag-starring “Voy Voy Voy!” while Yemen has selected director Amr Gamal’s “The Burdened” and Tunisia is competing with Kaouther Ben Hania’s “Four Daughters.”
Morocco has selected Asmae El Moudir’s documentary “The Mother of All Lies.”
Review: ‘Shayda’ – a personal, powerful debut from director Noora Niasari
Updated 29 September 2023
TORONTO: Based on writer-director Noora Niasari’s own experiences, “Shayda” is an intimate yet striking drama that shines a light on the courage and resilience of women and mothers, more specifically single and immigrant mothers.
Shayda (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi who gained critical acclaim for “Holy Spider” in 2022) is an Iranian woman who immigrated to Australia to accompany her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) while he finishes his university degree. Their relationship starts to get violent and in 1995, where this film begins, Shayda escapes with her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) to a women’s shelter. The story takes place during the two weeks of the Persian New Year, also known as Nowruz. What should be a joyous time celebrating with loved ones, Shayda has to deal with legal proceedings to gain full custody of Mona but while that’s underway, the courts allow Hossein unsupervised time with Mona. This unnerves Shayda because if Hossein wanted to, he could kidnap the child and flee.
At the women’s shelter, Shayda tries to bring some normalcy to an abnormal situation for Mona and herself by participating in the customs of Nowruz. They put together their Haft-Sin and make decorations around a small table. Mona, however, has her heart set on fire jumping with the Iranian community, which is one of the events that marks the new year. Shayda is hesitant because it means having to meet the judgmental eye of her community. The shame and criticism a woman gets for leaving her marriage —even if it means protecting her life and that of her child — is a topic that Noora Niasari isn’t afraid to tackle because those cultural pressures are still prevalent today.
While Zar Amir Ebrahimi shines in the titular role, it is Selina Zahednia as Mona who is the real star. It is a difficult role but the young performer is emotionally intelligent and hits all her marks creating a standout performance.
Overall, it’s a fine piece of Australian cinema that will tug at your heart strings and open your eyes to an underrepresented community and stories we don’t often pay attention to.
“Shayda” played as a part of the Centrepiece program at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.
Kuwaiti director Zeyad Alhusaini, US actor Ron Perlman on ‘How I Got There’
‘All the best filmmakers break the rules,’ says Zeyad Alhusaini
Updated 29 September 2023
DUBAI: Great artists make the art they feel is missing from the world. For filmmakers, however, that’s easier said than done. For years, Kuwaiti director Zeyad ‘Zee’ Alhusaini was told that, to succeed, he had to either make a standard Hollywood movie, or another film highlighting Arab misery. He dreamed of something different — a cross-genre epic that merged the spirits of the films and the region he adored. He knew, deep down, that Gulf audiences craved a new path forward just as much as he did.
Ten years after starting that journey, Alhusaini has been vindicated. His debut feature, “How I Got There” — a Saudi-Kuwaiti co-production — has just become the highest-grossing domestic film in Kuwait’s history, a few months after winning the Audience Award for Best Saudi Film at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah. And after signing with international talent agency UTA, he’s now set to become a major voice in global film for years to come.
“Years ago, when I first became a filmmaker, I met with all the major studios. But I had to ask myself: Do I want to just make a film, or do I want to make a film that changes someone’s life? I chose the latter. That’s what drove me, and that’s what still drives me today,” Alhusaini tells Arab News.
“In both the region and the world, we’re in dire need of new perspectives to reinvigorate this medium. For cinema to move forward, we need a new wave, and I hope to be part of that evolution,” he continues.
Alhusaini has always been something of a maverick. When he studied film at Columbia University in New York, he would often get into arguments with his professors, who would tell him again and again to follow the so-called ‘rules’ of what makes a good screenplay, a notion that the filmmakers he adored, including Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, never adhered to.
“I remember one particular exchange. My professor told me: ‘I just want to help you write a better film!’ I responded, ‘I feel like you’re trying to make us all write the same film with different characters!’ I wanted to do something different, because all the best filmmakers break the rules,” Alhusaini says.
With “How I Got There,” Alhusaini took heavy inspiration from Scorsese films such as “Casino” and “Goodfellas” to craft something singular; the story of two best friends who stumble upon a gun shipment in Kuwait and try to get rich quick, only to be pulled into a dark world of crime and terror, with action, drama, suspense, and a surprising dose of comedy. Alhusaini aimed big, even writing in an American mercenary that he imagined could be played by American actor Ron Perlman, the star of “Hellboy” and “Sons of Anarchy.” To his surprise, Perlman was interested.
“In most scripts, you can predict where they’re going next, but in Zee’s script, I had no idea,” says Perlman. “I was hooked. It was truly great writing. We met in LA, and I could see that this was a serious filmmaker who was really dedicated to putting some heavy-duty stuff on the screen. And that's my language. I knew this was an adventure that I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in.”
The experience was eye-opening for Perlman, who, like most Americans, had only ever been exposed to the Arabian Gulf through sensationalist news stories, without having the chance to experience its culture first-hand.
“My understanding of the Middle East was strictly from headlines on CNN. That’s a problem. When everything’s coming through the lens of socio-political news stories, you’re not being immersed in real culture; they’re not shining a light on the true humanity,” says Perlman.
“One of the great privileges of my career is that I got this invitation to participate in a Kuwaiti-Saudi film, to see the human side of this amazing place. Zee gave me this incredible gift that few have gotten to experience: to be able to experience Kuwait and this region, to stand shoulder to shoulder with someone I never knew I would have a relationship with, as equals, and to present a work of art to the world with pride and love,” he continues.
Perlman, who has just returned to the US after attending the film’s Kuwait and Saudi premieres, stars opposite a host of talent from across the region. While there are some established names, such as beloved Kuwaiti veteran actor Jassim Al-Nabhan, Alhusaini primarily opted for up-and-comers who had yet to enter the film world, including Kuwaiti TV veteran Yaqoob Abdullah, Bahraini pop star Hala Al-Turk, and Kuwait-born Iraqi actress Rawan Mahdi, star of Netflix’s acclaimed series “The Exchange.”
“I spent three months with the actors, basically stripping away the habits of television and replacing them with new habits,” says Alhusaini. “That was crucial, because I wanted us to get to the point where we could have our own little language. When Ron came in, he made everyone so comfortable because he has this contented spirit that is just infectious. You can’t help but feel welcome around him.”
While Perlman, 72, admits he has grown more and more comfortable in his own skin as he’s gotten older, he doesn’t revel in being the guy on set that everyone looks up to.
“I don’t like being the elder statesman at all. My knees hurt, my ankles hurt… I remember being the kid they ordered to go get a cup of coffee for them. Those were the days!” says Perlman.
“On this set, a funny thing happened. We were all so curious about each other’s cultures that we kind of diminished our own experiences. The other lead actors might look at me like I’ve cornered the market on success, just because I've been around longer and I’ve done a larger number of projects. When that happened, I said to them, ‘You just gave a performance that blew my mind. That’s what you need to know. You don't need to hear anything from me. You don’t understand how special you are.’”
Alhusaini now counts Perlman as a friend, a welcome end to a journey that began when he first entered the script into the IWC Filmmaker Award at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2013, and began shooting the film in 2018.
Now, as he nears the end of a successful theatrical run in the region, he waits to see what the future holds for international release. He knows the right streaming partner could turn his film into the sort of cult classic that could inspire a new generation, just as the films of the 70s, 80s, and 90s inspired him.
“This has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but never for a second did I think to stop. I always wanted to find a way, because I knew this would be an important film. I matured as a filmmaker, I got to meet great people, and I got to present something that I feel is important for people of Kuwait and the Gulf,” says Alhusaini.
“For now, I need to rest, but the next journey begins (soon). My next film will be set in the US, and then I’ll return to the Middle East for the one after that, and so on, in a cycle. And if all goes well, Ron and I will be working together again on the next one, in a very different style,” he continues. “There’s so much left to do, but the new wave is coming.”
Review: The world of ‘John Wick’ expands with prequel series ‘The Continental’
New Amazon show tells the story of the assassins’ hotel run by Winston
Updated 29 September 2023
LONDON: The all-action world of the “John Wick” franchise has a (mostly) serene haven at its heart: The Continental — a (mostly) safe place for the world’s top assassins to stay and, in the movies, an important location for many of the plot-driving set pieces that power the misadventures of Keanu Reeves’ titular hit man.
If you’ve ever wondered exactly how the super-discreet hotel came to be in the hands of proprietor Winston (played in the films by Ian McShane) then Prime Video has a show for you. “The Continental: From The World of John Wick” is a three-part miniseries that shows how a young Winston (Colin Woodell) was forced to leave his life in London, becoming embroiled in a world of eccentric assassins, hyper-kinetic shootouts and murky underworld dealings.
When Winston’s brother Frankie (Ben Robson) stages an elaborate heist at The Continental, the hotel’s then-owner Cormac (Mel Gibson) holds both brothers responsible, sending Winston out into 1970s New York to track down his errant sibling. With the pair reunited, the scene is set for a steady stream of stylish shootouts and close-quarter brawls as the brothers try to outrun wave after wave of Cormac’s goons.
Creators Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward and Shawn Simmons have crafted a grungy period piece packed with stylish set pieces and a lived-in alternate New York that oozes menace. Episode one director Albert Hughes (“Alpha”) turns in an impressive introduction — a pitched car battle with staccato editing and some stunning framing is a particular highlight — and fleshes out this new (yet somewhat familiar) world with aplomb. In fact, it’s almost a shame the “John Wick” movies have already set such a high bar for modern gunplay action flicks, or we’d be heralding “The Continental” as something truly new and exciting.
But while it’s well put together, and well-acted (Gibson’s one-note villain aside), it seems reasonable to question whether the “John Wick” franchise really needed a world-building prequel series centered around a supporting character. And there are only two episodes remaining to prove if the gamble was worth it.
Saudi Netflix drama-comedy ‘Crashing Eid’ tackles romantic taboos with heart
Updated 28 September 2023
DUBAI: Following hot on the heels of Netflix’s first Saudi original comedy series “Tahir’s House,” the global streamer has just announced another Jeddah-set original series that is tailor-made to get the Kingdom talking.
Created by Saudi filmmaker Nora Aboushousha (“Lucky You Are Mine”), “Crashing Eid” is family drama-comedy that tackles societal romantic taboos with both an irreverent spirit and a warm heart, set to debut worldwide on Oct. 19.
The show follows Razan (Summer Shesha), a Saudi woman living in the UK with her teenage daughter who plans to marry a British-Pakistani man under the assumption that her family will approve the pairing without question. When she returns home during Ramadan, with her fiancé following soon after as an uninvited guest, she soon finds that breaking with tradition may be harder than she had originally thought — to both hilarious and dramatic results.
Aboushousha, herself from Jeddah, is a rising star in the Kingdom, with her one-location lockdown crime series “Rahin Altaqiq” and drama comedy about rebellious young Saudi woman “Confessions” both becoming viral hits over the last few years. She is also no stranger to pushing boundaries, with her short “Lucky You Are Mine” winning a production grant by the Saudi Film Commission before debuting at the 2022 Red Sea International Film Festival in her hometown to strong acclaim.
“We started off with a concept of someone who is different from their family, and that grew into this story of a single mother who returns from abroad. We started wondering, what will inspire the clash with the rest of the family? And immediately we realized, ‘oh, she should come back ready to be married to someone from outside the culture!’ Everything fell into place from there,” Aboushousha told Arab News.
For Shesha, who steps into her first major lead role as Razan, the project inspired her not only because of the ways that the conceit allows each member of the family to flourish as they grapple with the events it sets into motion, but because the themes are so easy to relate to for so many people across the world.
“First of all, this show is awesome. I really think it is. That drew me to it to begin with. But it also mattered to me that this is on Netflix worldwide. This is a show with global themes of family, conflict and love. I really wanted a show that both felt specific and universal and this show has really captures that,” Shesha told Arab News.