Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi: ‘A filmmaker needs to understand the human soul’ 

Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi: ‘A filmmaker needs to understand the human soul’ 
Saudi filmmaker Tawfik Alzaidi’s masterful directorial debut 'Norah' is the first Saudi film to be shot entirely in the Kingdom’s historic AlUla region. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 November 2023

Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi: ‘A filmmaker needs to understand the human soul’ 

Saudi director Tawfik Alzaidi: ‘A filmmaker needs to understand the human soul’ 
  • The Saudi filmmaker’s debut feature, ‘Norah,’ has the industry buzzing ahead of its premiere at the RSIFF 

DUBAI: What happens to a dream deferred? That is the central question of “Norah,” Saudi filmmaker Tawfik Alzaidi’s masterful directorial debut, and the first Saudi film to be shot entirely in the Kingdom’s historic AlUla region. The movie is set in 1996, decades before Saudi Arabia opened itself up to the world and began to directly support its now-thriving artistic community, and follows a teacher named Nader, whose ambitions of becoming an artist himself are drying up like a raisin in the sun.  

While Nader, played by Saudi actor Yaqoub Alfarhan (“Rashash,” “Scales”) knows that he may never achieve his dreams, and has taken an ill-fated job as a teacher in a rural town that will never accept him, he refuses to give up on the dreams of others. He takes a young girl named Norah (Maria Bahrawi) under his wing, helping her discover that there is more to life than the limited choices that have been placed in front of her, and that her own artistic expression, not to mention her own voice as a powerful woman, may someday be embraced by her country even if his may never be.  

Alzaidi’s own story is much like Nader’s, albeit with a happy ending. He, too, grew up in a time when the idea of becoming a professional artist felt like a fantasy. He, too, refused to give up on his passion despite the lack of opportunity. But at the 2023 edition of the Red Sea International Film Festival, his dream will finally be achieved. After 20 years of waiting, he will premiere his first feature-length film at the country’s biggest celebration of the artform, thanks in part to the support of the Kingdom he loves so much.  

“To me, this is the only way I ever wanted this to happen. We talked about debuting the film at places like Venice or Toronto, but I refused. This is a film about the power of our artists, and so we had to embrace the power of our audience. We will show the world that we are a true force of nature. Audiences here waited so long to have great cinematic creations of our own, and our time is finally here,” Alzaidi tells Arab News.  

“When I’ve showed this to people in private screenings, they always say to me that this movie contains one thing above all else: the truth. I am so happy that our truth can now be told. Filmmaking brings together all the tools of artistic expression together, so I believe there is no better way to tell our stories,” he continues.  

Alzaidi’s own passion for storytelling was born the day that he saw George Miller’s 1980s classic “Mad Max II” when he was nine years old. He was never formally educated in filmmaking, nor did he feel he had to be, as all it really took was the dedicated study of masters like Stanley Kubrick, alongside a healthy number of cheesy B movies (the latter so he could “learn what not to do”). But first and foremost, great cinema is not born out of technical skill, it is about an understanding of narrative.  

“When I first watched ‘Mad Max,’ at that age, I didn’t know anything about filmmaking, but I experienced a whole range of feelings. I realized the significance of cinema in incorporating reality into our own creativity. I saw films as parallel universes that draw on reality as it passes through the artist. Then, as a teenager, I wanted to be a filmmaker,” AlZaidi explains. 

“A person who makes films needs to understand the human soul, and the power of story. Sure, they need to be educated, knowledgeable, and curious, but it’s also about their qualities as a person — their optimism and their pessimism, and their yearning to discover, and that is found everywhere in their lives. For me I gain just as much from watching a great film as I do reading a book by Murakami,” he continues.  

Alzaidi started the script for “Norah” in 2015, guided over the last eight years first and foremost by a desire to make a truly cinematic film, as everything else that he saw releasing was either an extension of the country’s YouTube culture, or its television.  

“All these other films are not on the cinematic level,” he says. Even from that first draft, he was writing with his male star in mind, though he had no idea how he would find the right Norah — a character named after, though not directly inspired by, his own mother. 

“I had been friends with Yaqoub for years, and we’d always discussed doing something big and  cinematic together, so there was never anyone else who was going to play Nader. Norah, however, was more difficult. I had an image of her in my mind, but I didn’t know if she existed. It was so difficult to find,” says Alzaidi. 

He interviewed actress after actress on Zoom, but no one matched the character’s spirit, or understood what drove her. 

“I gave each of them a questionnaire, and asked them to answer as Norah. No one could capture her, until we found 16-year-old Maria Bahrawi two weeks before shooting began in AlUla — a place I chose because it is a work of art by itself. She understood what it was like to want something more, and to not be sure if she would get it. When we auditioned, she had basically zero confidence, because she’d just been rejected for another role on the basis that she ‘couldn’t act.’ But I saw Norah’s spirit in her,” says Alzaidi. 

“Two weeks before we began filming, I cast her. Maria cried after we hung up, not because she got the part, but because she thought she hadn’t. Her mother told me the story later—it was because I hadn’t said one thing about the film, I had only asked her about her life. She literally couldn’t believe she had gotten it. But it was perhaps the best decision I made for this entire film. Maria is Norah,” he continues.

As many dreams as Alzaidi has for himself, with a new world opened up to him now as people rave about the film behind the scenes in the industry, he is most excited about young artists like Bahrawi. As he anxiously awaits the film’s first screening at RSIFF, he is thinking most about her and those like her, and the new world that is opening up to them. 

“I don’t think this is a film that’s trying to have one message — art is subjective, after all,” he says. “But when audiences of the next generation see this film, I want them to remember one thing: Believe in yourself. And if you have a voice, never stop fighting for it.” 

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards
Updated 17 June 2024

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

DUBAI: US singer Nicole Scherzinger attended the 2024 Tony Awards in New York on Sunday in a gown by Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran.

The pink-hued gown featured a sheer, embellished skirt, with rouching on the hips. Stylist Emily Evans finished off the look with -Cicada and Maison H jewelry.

Nicole Scherzinger showed off a rosy-hued Nicolas Jebran gown on the red carpet. (Getty Images)

Scherzinger — slated to star in a “Sunset Boulevard” revival on Broadway — sang the “In Memoriam” section, the Associated Press reported.

She sang “What I Did for Love” as the names of late Broadway heavyweights appeared, including playwright Christopher Durang and actors Alan Arkin,Glenda Jackson, Louis Gossett Jr., and Treat Williams.

“The Outsiders,” a gritty adaptation of the classic young adult novel, won the Tony Award for best new musical. The win meant Angelina Jolie, a producer, landed her first Tony, too.

Angelina Jolie, a producer on 'The Outsiders,' landed her first Tony. (Getty Images)

“Stereophonic,” the play about a Fleetwood Mac-like band recording an album over a turbulent and life-changing year, won best new play and had the night's most total awards at five. It was written by David Adjmi, with songs by former Arcade Fire member Will Butler.

Two special guests electrified the crowd — Jay-Z and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The latter, a producer of a musical about suffragettes, presented “Suffs.”

“I have stood on a lot of stages, but this is very special,” Clinton said. “I know a little bit about how hard it is to make change.”

In the first musical presentation, Alicia Keys appeared at a piano as the cast of her semi-autobiographical musical, “Hell’s Kitchen,” presented a medley of songs. She sang her and Jay-Z’s 2009 smash “Empire State of Mind,” joining the rapper on interior steps to wild applause, according to the Associated Press.

Later, newcomer Maleah Joi Moon won best leading actress for “Hell's Kitchen,” brushing aside a challenge from veteran Kelli O’Hara. The 21-year-old, who plays a role loosely based on Keys’ life, dedicated her award to her parents.

Jeremy Strong took home the first big award of the night. The “Succession” star landed his first Tony for his work in the revival of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 political play “An Enemy of the People.”

“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe cemented his stage career pivot by winning featured actor in a musical, his first trophy in five Broadway shows. He won for the revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” the Stephen Sondheim- George Furth musical that goes backward in time.

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign
Updated 16 June 2024

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

Jessica Kahawaty stars in Charlotte Tilbury fragrance campaign

DUBAI: Lebanese Australian model Jessica Kahawaty has posed in a digital campaign for British luxury cosmetics label Charlotte Tilbury.

The model and entrepreneur stars in a video campaign advertising the brand’s Love Frequency perfume, which is described as a floral woody musk fragrance for women and men.

Love Frequency was launched in 2024 and the fragrance was designed by French master perfumer Anne Flipo. The top note is pink pepper; the middle notes are rose and saffron; while the base notes are musk, amberwood, patchouli and cashmere wood.

Kahawaty took to Instagram to share the sun-drenched campaign video with her 1.5 million followers.

“My love frequency summed up in 1 scent (sic),” she caption the post, which sees the model walking among flowers and tall grasses while holding the pink-hued bottle of perfume.

The model also recently unveiled her latest campaign with Boss. In March, she shared polaroid-style pictures from the shoot with her Instagram followers and wrote: “Double B, Every Me. Because there’s more than one way to be a BOSS.”

In the images, she wore a brown bomber jacket paired with a crisp white shirt, complemented by a black bag adorned with a chunky gold buckle and chain. Her brunette locks were in loose waves.

Earlier this year, Kahawaty took to social media to share images from her collaboration with Italian luxury label Versace for the month of Ramadan, days after the influencer worked on a Ramadan campaign with New York-based label CH Carolina Herrera.

The campaign featured a curated edit of modest wear from the New York-based label, combining distinctive patterns and vibrant color schemes.

The model and restauranteur — she founded Dubai’s Mama Rita eatery alongside her mother — shared a series of images promoting Versace’s Ramadan edit with her Instagram followers. Kahawaty was pictured in a pink floor-length dress with bell sleeves that boasted a neckline adorned with intricate pink, white and silver beads and crystals. Completing the look, Kahawaty is seen clutching a matching mini pink embellished purse while her voluminous brunette locks were styled in a 90s blowout.

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving
Updated 16 June 2024

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

Review: Survival game ‘Pacific Drive’ puts the fear back into driving

LONDON: The driving survival game “Pacific Drive” (PlayStation 5, PC via Steam) is set in the eerie landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Developed by Ironwood Studios, it blends driving mechanics with survival horror elements, creating a captivating and challenging experience.

Players navigate a dilapidated station wagon through a hazardous, post-apocalyptic environment known as the “exclusion zone.” This area is cut off from the rest of America by a 300-meter-high wall designed to contain a strange phenomenon called the “instability,” which sees the environment change unpredictably with deadly consequences.

The setting, inspired by the Pacific Northwest’s dense forests and rugged terrain, plays a crucial role in the game. The vehicle is not just transportation but a lifeline; maintaining and upgrading it is essential as players encounter various obstacles and supernatural threats.

The eerie ambiance is further enhanced by the game’s sound design, blending environmental sounds with a haunting score.

Survival in “Pacific Drive” involves scavenging for resources, managing the car’s condition, and making tough decisions about when to push forward or retreat. Resource management is balanced with exploration, requiring players to weigh the risks and rewards of venturing into unknown territories. The narrative unfolds through scattered notes and radio transmissions, providing glimpses into the world’s backstory.

Visually, the game excels with detailed environments and realistic lighting effects. The sense of isolation and vulnerability is palpable as players drive through abandoned towns and desolate landscapes.

With a game time of roughly eight hours, “Pacific Drive” is not without its flaws. The repetitive nature of resource gathering, and vehicle maintenance can become tedious over time.

However, it offers a fresh take on the survival genre with its unique driving mechanics and atmospheric setting. The exploration, strategy, and horror elements make the game a compelling experience for players seeking something different.

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London
Updated 15 June 2024

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

‘Bridgerton’ star Simone Ashley flaunts Suzanne Kalan jewels in London

DUBAI: British actress Simone Ashley took to the red carpet at the “Bridgerton” Season 3 - Part Two special screening in London in a diaphanous Del Core dress and sparkling jewelry by Lebanon-born designer Suzanne Kalan.

The drop earrings hail from Kalan’s eponymous brand. Born in Lebanon, the designer has Armenian family heritage and has been creating jewelry for the past 25 years.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s peach-hued dress was plucked from Italian label Del Core’s Fall/ Winter 2024 ready-to-wear collection.

The drop earrings hail from Kalan’s eponymous brand. (Getty Images)

Kalan’s designs have been making the rounds on red carpets as of late. US actress Jessica Chastain sported the eponymous brand’s Bold Burst Rainbow Sapphire Tennis Necklace at the 2024 National Board of Review Gala in New York in January and entertainment reporter Zanna Roberts Rassi showed off a set of rings by the brand at the 75th Primetime Emmy Awards in the same month.

Also, US musician Andra Day attended the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala in New York on June 13 in extended hoop earrings by Kalan.

The “Bridgerton” cast has been hitting red carpets around the world to mark the launch of the latest season, which was released in two parts.

Irish actress Nicola Coughlan is the lead star of this season — the lead role in the hit series is revolving and season two saw Ashley take on the mantle of leading lady.

Coughlan chose two Middle Eastern labels for public appearances, including stepping out in a gown by Beirut-based label Sara Mrad at the premiere in Toronto in early June.

Coughlan donned a lavender silk organza mini-dress paired with a red mikado petal-like cape from the designer’s Spring 2024 couture collection. She accessorized with droplet-shaped earrings from London-based Ysso jewelry, which are hand-carved in Greece.

At the show’s premiere in Brazil in May, the actress wore a deep red gown by Lebanese fashion label Azzi & Osta. The gown featured an oversized hood, which she wore over her head, and long gloved sleeves adorned with gold embellishments.

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
Updated 15 June 2024

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel

Barclays suspends UK festival sponsorships after backlash over ties to Israel
  • Mass boycott of acts leads to suspension of relationship between bank, event organizer Live Nation
  • Move comes as protesters target Barclays bank branches across Britain

LONDON: Barclays and Live Nation have suspended a sponsorship agreement for the events group’s festivals for 2024 after a number of artists announced they would be boycotting them over the bank’s involvement.

Download, Latitude, and the Isle of Wight festivals are among those worst affected by the boycotts, with acts and fans critical of Barclays’ business relationships with companies supplying arms to Israel.

Comedians Joanne McNally, Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow said they would not be attending Latitude, as well as musical acts CMAT, Pillow Queens, Mui Zyu and Georgia Ruth.

The bands Pest Control, Ithaca, Scowl, Speed and Zulu all confirmed they would pull out of Download.

It follows a mass boycotting by more than 100 acts of the Barclaycard-sponsored Great Escape festival in Brighton in May.

“Following discussion with artists, we have agreed with Barclays that they will step back from sponsorship of our festivals,” a Live Nation spokesperson said.

It came after activists targeted Barclays earlier in the week, with the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign demanding a boycott over the bank’s “complicity in Israel’s attacks on Palestinians.”

PSC also claimed that Barclays “now holds over £2 billion ($2.536 billion) in shares, and provides £6.1 billion in loans and underwriting” to companies selling weapons to Israel.

The group Palestine Action targeted 20 bank branches with paint and rocks earlier this week, while the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has labeled it a “divestment and exclusion” target.

A spokesperson for the bank said in a statement: “Barclays was asked and has agreed to suspend participation in the remaining Live Nation festivals in 2024. 
“Barclays customers who hold tickets to these festivals are not affected and their tickets remain valid.

“The protesters’ agenda is to have Barclays debank defence companies which is a sector we remain committed to as an essential part of keeping this country and our allies safe.”

The protest group Bands Boycott Barclays said in a statement: “This is a victory for the Palestinian-led global BDS movement. As musicians, we were horrified that our music festivals were partnered with Barclays, who are complicit in the genocide in Gaza through investment, loans and underwriting of arms companies supplying the Israeli military. “Hundreds of artists have taken action this summer to make it clear that this is morally reprehensible, and we are glad we have been heard.

“Our demand to Barclays is simple: divest from the genocide, or face further boycotts. Boycotting Barclays, also Europe’s primary funder of fossil fuels, is the minimum we can do to call for change.”

Leeds-based band Pest Control said in a statement: “We cannot sacrifice the principles held by this band and by the scene we come from and represent, just for personal gain.”

Ithaca said in a statement: “Once we were made aware of Barclays’ involvement in Download we knew we could no longer participate. This moment of solidarity is an opportunity for festival organisers to reflect carefully on who they take money from and see that the younger generation of bands will no longer be silent.”

Comedian McNally wrote in an Instagram post last week: “I’m getting messages today about me performing at Latitude when it’s being sponsored by Barclays.

“I’m no longer doing Latitude. I was due to close the comedy tent on the Sunday night, but I pulled out last week.”

Fellow comedian Duker said in a statement: “I am committed to minimising my complicity in what I consider to be a pattern of abhorrent, unlawful violence.”

On its website, Barclays said: “We have been asked why we invest in nine defence companies supplying Israel, but this mistakes what we do.

“We trade in shares of listed companies in response to client instruction or demand and that may result in us holding shares. 
“Whilst we provide financial services to these companies, we are not making investments for Barclays and Barclays is not a ‘shareholder’ or ‘investor’ in that sense in relation to these companies.”

In relation to its dealings with Israeli defense company Elbit, Barclays said: “We may hold shares in relation to client driven transactions, which is why we appear on the share register, but we are not investors.”

Barclays signed a sponsorship deal with Live Nation for five years in 2023. There has been no suggestion yet that the suspension will affect festival sponsorship under the agreement in future years.