Arab hopefuls shine during Miss Universe preliminary rounds in El Salvador

Arab hopefuls shine during Miss Universe preliminary rounds in El Salvador
Miss Universe Lebanon Maya Aboul Hosn hit the stage in El Salvador. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 November 2023
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Arab hopefuls shine during Miss Universe preliminary rounds in El Salvador

Arab hopefuls shine during Miss Universe preliminary rounds in El Salvador
  • Fans in the Gulf region can tune in on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. on the official Miss Universe YouTube account to watch the finale

DUBAI: Three contestants from the Arab world put on a show during the preliminary rounds of the 72nd Miss Universe pageant in El Salvador over the weekend.

With the final competition set to take place on Nov. 18, hopefuls from around the world hit the stage for the preliminary catwalk round and the national costume portion of the event this weekend.

Miss Universe Bahrain Lujane Yacoub, Miss Universe Egypt Mohra Tantawy and Miss Universe Lebanon Maya Aboul Hosn all showed off glamorous evening gowns and national costumes.

Yacoub’s national costume paid tribute to Bahraini pearls.

“Miss Universe Bahrain @lujaneyacoub’s message on her national costume is the preservation of Bahrain’s Pearl Heritage,” the model posted on Instagram. “Natural pearls are one of the world’s great treasures and a key part of the Gulf country’s culture and economy. She is wearing a farasha (butterfly) cut modern jalabiya embellished with pearls by couture designer Carla Fuentes,” the statement added.

For her part, Tantawy paid tribute to the Nile.

“The name of the national costume is Wafaa el Nil Meaning ‘fidelity of the Nile’ … Mohra Tantawy’s message on her national costume is the preservation of the Nile.
The Nile has played a critical role in the history of Ancient Egypt. Famous as the longest river in the world, ‘Wafaa el Nil’ is also the name of the Egyptian festival that celebrates the flooding of the Nile. One of the main reasons the flooding was so treasured was that the flooding would leave behind black silt, the silt was rich in minerals and vitamins that made the land very fertile allowing the crops planted not only to grow but to flourish in what was otherwise desert all around,” read a statement posted on her Instagram page.

The three models spoke to Arab News ahead of the competition and gave their supporters a glimpse of their challenges and goals.

“I am no longer speaking for myself, but for the entire GCC on this global stage. It’s forced me to look at many important issues and see where Bahrain stands on things, as a collective,” Yacoub said.

Tantawy is still wrapping her head around the events of the past few months. 

“I never expected myself to be here. I didn’t grow up with pageantry. It wasn’t something that was instilled in me at a young age, but I am a strong believer of what is meant for you will find you and that is exactly what Miss Universe Egypt did, it found me,” she said.  

Meanwhile, Aboul Hosn hopes to use her platform to be a role model in the Arab world. 

“My main cause is to be a role model for every girl. I come from a very humble family. I’m not a wealthy princess. I worked hard to achieve what I want. And that’s what I want every girl to know. If you work hard, you can achieve your dreams and goals,” she said. 

The 72nd Miss Universe is taking place on Nov. 18 evening in El Salvador, so fans in the Gulf region can tune in on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. on the official Miss Universe YouTube account


Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 
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Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 
  • The Tunisian filmmaker and actor’s latest feature was shot in Saudi Arabia, but will ‘resonate anywhere’ 

DUBAI: There are two things that cinema can do better than any other form of artistic expression. First, it allows us to immerse ourselves in parts of the world we’ve never seen, and second, it empowers us to empathize with people we’ve never met. Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine’s lyrical directorial effort “To My Son,” which will hold its world premiere on December 3 at the Red Sea International Film Festival, excels at both. After scoring a huge global distribution deal the night the fest began, it is now poised to introduce the world to a part of Saudi Arabia never before immortalized on the big screen.  

For L’Abidine, a cross-cultural performer who has long been one of Arab film and television’s most beloved stars, the Saudi-set film is a “love letter” to a country that has fully embraced him. It also marks a welcome return to a festival that helped launched the now-thriving next phase of his career, after his debut feature, the unforgettable politically-charged drama “Ghodwa,” screened to great acclaim at RSIFF 2021.  

But while his last film was a deeply personal exploration of his home country’s political landscape in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, “To My Son,” in which he also stars as a British-Saudi father named Feisal, is a leap outside of his lived experience — which has filled the 51-year-old with a range of emotions ahead of the film’s premiere. 

“I’m thrilled to debut ‘To My Son’ in Jeddah. It’s exciting to share this story with this amazing community, a film that aims to capture humanity as well as the beauty of this astounding place. But there’s also a bit of excited nervousness, to be honest, because it’s so different from anything I’ve attempted before,” L’Abidine tells Arab News. 

Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine in his debut feature ‘Ghodwa,’ which screened at RSIFF in 2021. (Supplied)

“My last film was about Tunisia, it was an idea born from my own culture. But with this film, I’m exploring a place I’m still discovering even years after first coming here. That carries with it a huge responsibility, which I kept at the front in my mind while making it. I knew that I had to do right by this place, these people, and this culture. It’s always challenging to step out of your comfort zone, but I’m always most attracted to making the choices that feel the least safe and easy, because that’s where I thrive,” he continues.  

The film is set primarily in the Abha, a lush, mountainous city in the southwest of the Kingdom that is beloved by Saudis but largely unknown to an international community that has only just begun to explore the country. L’Abidine first found himself there three years ago filming a hit MBC series and was amazed by the place.  

“I really didn’t know what I was in for. You have certain clichés in your head about Saudi Arabia, and then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of these huge green mountains, all with a very distinct quality to them, and so many historical places to discover. You feel really feel you’re somewhere unlike anywhere else in the world. After I left, I couldn’t get this place out of my head,” he explains.  

Dhafer L'Abidine on the set of ‘To My Son.’ (Supplied)

After the release of “Ghodwa,” L’Abidine was meeting with a producer friend, who was himself considering doing a film in Saudi Arabia. He and L’Abidine began to brainstorm, coming up with an idea that became the bones of the story that the film now explores — the story of a Saudi man living in London who, still mourning the death of his wife, decides to return with his son to the home he left 12 years ago. The man’s father, however, still resents him for having left the family, and refuses to accept him back into the fold.  

“As we sat there and explored the concept, it became clear we needed to really highlight that these are people from two different worlds. And Jeddah and Riyadh — as they’re so cosmopolitan and modern — couldn’t capture that difference. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be set in Abha.’ I was brought back to this place that I fell in love with that helped me see Saudi Arabia in a different way and I knew that would be valuable to this story, so I went away to write and it all developed from there,” says L’Abidine.  

   

While Abha helped inspire the story, what became more important to L’Abidine as he developed the film was that it not become a glorified travelogue or tourism campaign. The place, rather, had to serve as a character of sorts on its own, one that could help bring viewers deeper into the emotional journey of the people that live in it. And as he got further into his research of the place’s history, it he realized how universal their struggles really are.  

“Ultimately, this film is an exploration of the humanity that we all share within us, no matter where we’re from. They could be from Abha, Jeddah, Tunis, or Marrakesh. I wanted to make a film that would resonate anywhere, a film that shows that the struggles of the people of Abha — a place cinema has never taken us — are rooted in the same shared experiences that define us all as human beings. We all share stories like this, and the more we focus on that, the closer it brings us,” says L’Abidine.  

In zooming in on characters locked in the struggle between individual fulfillment and duty to family, and in exploring generational divides that require honest discussion in order to get to the heart of what divides them, L’Abidine soon realized this wasn’t just a story about Saudi Arabia, or Arab societies. It was a story about all of us, even himself.  

Quickly, it became clear to him that once again he was making a film about fathers and their children, this time at a period in his life when he is raising a 13-year-old daughter in London who is herself growing up in a world so different that which shaped him back in Tunisia. In the end, as much as he thought he was stepping outside of himself to find the truths of another culture, many of the answers were to be found in his own experience all along.  

“Storytelling is always personal, whether you intend it to be or not. There’s so much in our heads that we have to resolve. And in raising my daughter, there’s so many lessons I’ve had to learn, so much perspective I’ve gained,” says L’Abidine. “I wanted to explore that journey through the main character from both sides, because I think so many people can relate. We all share stories like this.” 


Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia's emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia's emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival
Updated 03 December 2023
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Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia's emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

Johnny Depp praises Saudi Arabia's emerging film landscape at the Red Sea International Film Festival

JEDDAH: The ongoing Red Sea International Film Festival played host to Hollywood star Johnny Depp as he graced the MENA premiere of "Jeanne Du Barry," a French historical drama directed by French actress and filmmaker Maïwenn, who also stars in the film.

The festival's second day unfolded with the screening of this opulent portrayal of the life of Jeanne du Barry, a working-class courtesan, featuring Depp as French king Louis XV.

During the festival's third day, Depp expressed his admiration for RSIFF, praising the Kingdom for opening up various expressive and creative outlets, emphasizing on its thriving youth culture.

“I believe that what's happening here in in Saudi with regards to various sort of expressive outlets, creative outlets – art, cinema everything – is opening up sort of beautifully. I also think that since opening up, like giving more opportunity to anyone and everyone. What seems to be really thriving beautifully here is youth culture,” he said to Arab News.

Depp found inspiration in the festival's theme, "Your Story, Your Festival," believing it instills hope and confidence in aspiring filmmakers.

Reflecting on his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, where he attended the MDLBeast music festival, Depp said, “It was  like having some drape taken away from my eyes.”

He expressed enthusiasm about the expanding landscape of the filmmaking industry in the kingdom, praising its beauty, mystery, and rich history.

Depp told Arab News, “Just the idea of shooting the film here. It's so beautiful. And there's such mystery, there's so many beautiful vistas and visually stunning but the history… the history that's here is fascinating.”

“I would come here happily to make a film. The word artist is not one that I use for myself, but you can use it for filmmakers. And everybody seems to understand the artists’ lane,” he said.

The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor. (Supplied)

The film takes audiences on a journey into the court of Louis XV, where the king becomes infatuated with Jeanne du Barry, a courtesan introduced by an ambitious count seeking royal favor.

Depp delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louis, displaying desiccated charisma, while Maïwenn expertly embodies Jeanne, a woman with wit, intellect, and ambitions of her own. The narrative unfolds into a genuinely devoted partnership, marked by real power, until Louis's demise leads to Jeanne's downfall.

In an interview with Arab News, filmmaker Maïwenn shared her deep connection with her character.

“I have spent years dedicating my time reading about her, all her memories, major events, famous sentences. I know everything by word," she told Arab News.

Maïwenn's dedication to the character spans 16 years, creating a film that she describes as a liberating experience, allowing her subconscious to roam freely.

 

Intrigued by the multifaceted nature of Louis XV, Depp delved into the intricacies of portraying a monarch who had to adapt to different roles within the royal court and on the international stage.

He said during the interview that it was a quite an unusual concept to play a role in French, and his immediate thought was that perhaps a French actor would be more fitting for the role, considering the context.

Despite initial reservations about playing a French character, especially in French, Depp embraced the challenge under Maïwenn's encouragement.

RSIFF extended post-production assistance for the historical drama, marking the foundation's inaugural venture into co-producing a French film. The movie celebrated its global debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

During the festival's opening night on Nov.30, Depp was in attendance alongside notable figures such as Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Diane Kruger, Maya Diab, Alessandra Ambrosio, Aseel Omran, and many others. It was a memorable and star-studded event.

The Red Sea International Film Festival continues to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films: Special Screenings; Red Sea: Competition; Red Sea: Shorts Competition; Festival Favorites; Arab Spectacular; International Spectacular; New Saudi/ New Cinema: Shorts; Red Sea: New Vision; Red Sea: Families and Children; Red Sea: Series and Red Sea: Treasures.


Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal

Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal
Updated 03 December 2023
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Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal

Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal

JEDDAH: Hollywood movies “Fourth Wall” and “Chasing Red” are set to be filmed in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla in 2024 as part of a 10-project deal between Film AlUla — the Royal Commission for AlUla’s film agency — and global media company Stampede Ventures.

The announcement was made at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Saturday. Stampede Ventures CEO Greg Silverman and executive director of Film AlUla Charlene Deleon-Jones gave further details of the three-year deal, which also includes the previously announced dramatic comedy “K-Pops!”

“Fourth Wall” follows a former child star from a popular TV sitcom who is kidnapped and wakes up in a complete recreation of the show’s set with the rest of the cast, where she must work through her trauma and recreate iconic moments from the series to stay alive and find a way out.

The announcement was made at the Red Sea International Film Festival on Saturday. (AN/ Huda Bashatah) 

Meanwhile, “Chasing Red” is a romance centered around straight-A student Veronica and wealthy playboy Caleb. It is an adaptation of a book by Filipino-Canadian author Isabelle Ronin and is being directed by Jessika Borsiczky, who told Arab News that the story attracted her because “romance is so universal, especially first love, and especially stories about women finding who they are and then finding who they are in relation to the world.”

Stampede Ventures will be among the first to use Film AlUla’s production facility, which includes a 30,000-square-foot soundstage, backlot, production support buildings, workshops, warehouses, recording studio and training and rehearsal space.

Jessika Borsiczky told Arab News that the story attracted her because “romance is so universal.”  (AN/ Huda Bashatah) 

There will be emphasis on using Saudi talent during the production process, Deleon-Jones said, adding: “One of the most significant parts of what we’re doing is the training and development, because this gives us an opportunity to really develop below-the-line crew in somewhere like AlUla, where traditionally the main careers open to you would have been agriculture. We have a young working population who are vibrant and digitally engaged somewhere which is seen as one of the more remote places, (and now) you have this whole new exciting career path.”

The key, she said, was to prove to talent in Saudi Arabia that the film industry is a “sustainable” career choice. Silverman echoed that, saying the deal was “designed specifically so that people can come in and get a chance to prove (themselves) and then there’s another movie coming in the next month that they can be pulled into.”

Silverman is an entertainment industry veteran known for his track record at Warner Bros. where he shepherded over 125 films to more than $38 billion in worldwide box office, most notably the “Harry Potter” series, Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy, Zack Snyder’s “300,” Todd Phillips’ iconic “Hangover” trilogy, and “Joker.”

Previous Hollywood productions shot in AlUla include the Gerard Butler-led action-thriller “Kandahar,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh, and “Cherry,” starring Tom Holland and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.


Celebrity-loved footwear designer Amina Muaddi opens pop-up store in Dubai

Celebrity-loved footwear designer Amina Muaddi opens pop-up store in Dubai
Updated 02 December 2023
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Celebrity-loved footwear designer Amina Muaddi opens pop-up store in Dubai

Celebrity-loved footwear designer Amina Muaddi opens pop-up store in Dubai

DUBAI: Celebrity-loved footwear designer Amina Muaddi revealed this week that she opened a new pop-up store in Dubai at Kite Beach.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

The shoemaker, who is of Jordanian and Romanian descent, has collaborated with clothing retail company Ounass for a four-week pop-up.

“I wanted to create a special experience for our community, a space that feels like an oasis from an outer world,” she wrote, sharing pictures of the place. “Visit the store and shop the collection starting Dec. 1 for the next 30 days. Happy shopping!”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by AMINA MUADDI (@aminamuaddi)

To celebrate the launch, Ounass hosted an exclusive A-list dinner that was attended by rapper Kanye West, his partner Bianca Censori, American singer Ty Dolla $ign and Lebanese actress Nadine Nassib Njeim.


The Weeknd donates $2.5m to Gaza

The Weeknd donates $2.5m to Gaza
Updated 02 December 2023
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The Weeknd donates $2.5m to Gaza

The Weeknd donates $2.5m to Gaza

DUBAI: The UN World Food Programme this week announced that its goodwill ambassador, Canadian singer The Weeknd — whose birth name is Abel Tesfaye — has donated $2.5 million from his XO Humanitarian Fund to aid WFP’s humanitarian response in Gaza.

The donation, which equates to 4 million emergency meals, will fund 820 tons of food parcels that could feed more than 173,000 Palestinians for two weeks, the organization said.

“This conflict has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe beyond reckoning. WFP is working round the clock to provide aid in Gaza but a major scale up is needed to address the desperate level of hunger we are seeing,” Corinne Fleischer, WFP’s director for the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe, said in a statement.

“We thank Abel for this valuable contribution towards the people of Palestine. We hope others will follow Abel’s example and support our efforts.”

The multi-platinum global recording artist was appointed a goodwill ambassador in October 2021.