CHENNAI: It would not be a reach to say everybody knows of Elvis Presley — the king of rock and roll has been widely written about and has been the subject of many a film. But very few know about his young wife, Priscilla, and director Sofia Coppola made it her mission to share her story.
Coppola’s film “Priscilla” is based on the 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” penned by Priscilla Presley. Cailee Spaeny (“Mare of Easttown,” “Bad Times”) headlines the film while Jacob Elordi (“Euphoria,” “The Kissing Booth”) plays Elvis, who has been fantastically directed so as not to upstage his on-screen lover.
Having had its world premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the film then travelled to the recently concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. “Priscilla” is a fascinating work that fetched Spaeny the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in Venice.
The love story begins when teenage Pricilla Beaulieu meets Elvis Presley at a party. Seen through Priscilla’s eyes, the movie underlines the unknown side of the American legend as well as the couple's long courtship and a marriage that ran into turbulent waters and eventually hit the rocks. A journey from a German army base camp to the dream estate at Graceland in the US, “Priscilla” turns out to be a fantasy and a story of fame and love — as well as one of extreme control, co-dependence and the pitfalls of fame.
One of the first songs one hears in Coppola's work is Frankie Avalon's “Venus” wafting from a jukebox in a snack bar in 1959. The director has always had great choices in musical scores, but this song is thrillingly perfect.
Coppola then details the young lady’s struggle over the next 14 years to hold on to her man. Her's was a life lived in the overwhelming shadows of a legend, an entertainer par excellence who intoxicated her in no small way. The ups and downs of their relationship are well charted, and we see how it falls into addictions and power.
The film does not moralize, nor does it shy away from sadness. It does not take any easy routes and its lead star gives an intense performance.
Naomi Campbell stuns at Red Sea film premiere of ‘The Absence of Eden’
Updated 03 December 2023
JEDDAH: British supermodel Naomi Campbell was among the many celebrities spotted on the red carpet at the MENA premiere of “The Absence of Eden,” on the third day of Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival.
“I love what Red Sea has become and that it’s growing and growing and growing. And it’s really amazing and phenomenal what the team and Mo (Al-Turki) and Jomana (Al-Rashid) have created,” said Campbell in a video posted on the RSIFF Instagram page.
Starring Marvel actress Zoe Saldana, best known for her role in “The Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Absence of Eden” marks the feature directing debut of her renowned artist husband Marco Perego. The duo was also spotted at the screening. Also gracing the red carpet was the film’s other star, Garrett Hedlund.
Hedlund plays an ICE agent struggling with the moral dilemmas of his job who unites with an undocumented woman fighting to escape a ruthless cartel, played by Saldana, to save the life of an innocent girl.
The Red Sea festival runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and boasts 11 categories of films.
This year’s celebrity-studded festival jury is presided over by director Baz Luhrmann, joined by Swedish-American actor Joel Kinnaman (“Suicide Squad”); Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”); Egyptian actor Amina Khalil (“Grand Hotel”) and Spain’s Paz Vega (“Sex and Lucia,” “The OA”).
The festival began with a gala screening of Dubai-based Iraqi director Yasir Al-Yasiri’s “HWJN,” modelled on a YA novel by Saudi writer Ibraheem Abbas. Set in modern-day Jeddah, “HWJN” follows the story of a kind-hearted jinn — an invisible entity in Islamic tradition — as he discovers the truth about his royal lineage.
Lebanese actress Njeim spoke to Arab News on the red carpet, saying: “The festival marks a turning point for every ambitious Saudi filmmaker, providing excellent support for young talents to showcase their work at international festivals.”
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’
Updated 03 December 2023
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.
“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.
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
Updated 03 December 2023
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.
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.
Saudi Arabia’s cultural renaissance embraces metal music
Local band Immortal Pain fulfills growing appetite for genre among Saudi music lovers
Updated 03 December 2023
JEDDAH: Saudi metal band Immortal Pain delivered a loud and lively concert at Comic Con Arabia in Jeddah, with a huge crowd of fans cheering and singing along with them.
Friday night marked the second performance of the band at the convention. They have been in the rock and metal scene since late 2005, starting with two members and later doubling.
In a previous interview with Arab News, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Emad Ashoor said the band started with only him and the lead guitarist Rasheed Attar. Later, drummer Moayad Al-Shammari and bassist Anan Al-Sabban joined the group, and just last year, they signed a contract with Saudi recording company Wall of Sound: Dark Mode.
The Jeddah-based band has been throwing mini-concerts across the Kingdom. They have also released original music and are working on releasing more to their Saudi, Arab, and international audiences.
While they previously spoke to Arab News about their origins, this time the members shared insight into the dynamic of the group and how they work together on making their songs and music videos.
It all begins with inspiration.
“The four of us gather, talk about our latest encounters in life and how we felt,” said the drummer Al-Shammari. “Then we express everything in music. We let our instruments talk for us.”
On the unusual places or moments that can inspire, Al-Shammari said: “One day, I was passing by a construction site, and the sounds of wrecking and drilling inspired me somehow and I made a song based on the noise of the construction site.”
Ashoor, gifted with a poetic sense, takes over the next step of writing the lyrics.
So far, they have been writing lyrics in English, but they all agreed they were open to the challenge of writing in Arabic and were eager to experiment and evolve with their music.
The four of us gather, talk about our latest encounters in life and how we felt. Then we express everything in music. We let our instruments talk for us.
Moayad Al-Shammari, Immortal Pain drummer
Once the lyrics are in place, they decide upon a melody and arrange the song, deciding which riff goes first and which follows. The lyrics are recorded last.
When asked about the difficult times they have encountered throughout their career, the four agreed that starting was tough as metal music was considered a Western genre and was not popular locally. Although they have supportive families, they said it was hard for them to find an audience at the very beginning.
Their audience gradually increased from a few people to several dozen, and by the time they played at Comic Con last year and this year, they had amassed about 1,000 music fans.
“Rock and metal are both on the rise contrary to what Gene Simmons and the likes of KISS might think. They can go ahead and retire if it’s getting too loud,” bassist Al-Sabban joked when asked about the metal scene in the Kingdom.
“But the local and global scenes are growing,” he said, adding that Metallica would be playing in the Kingdom next week. “As we all know, when Saudi Arabia gets involved, it’s going to be bigger and better.”
When MDLBeast announced that Metallica would be performing in Saudi Arabia, fans from across the Middle East and North Africa bought tickets to see the legendary metal band.
Immortal Pain also told Arab News exclusively that after only releasing singles, they are officially going to record their first full album first thing next year. They also revealed that in 2024, they will hit the road on a tour across the MENA region, throwing concerts in the Kingdom, the UAE, and Egypt.
Al-Shammari proudly added that they have also received an invitation to perform in Germany, and while nothing is yet confirmed, they are hoping things will work and they will hold an international concert.
For updates about the band, follow their Instagram @immortal_pain_official.
Film AlUla, Stampede Ventures reveal films to be shot in Saudi Arabia under 10-project deal
Updated 03 December 2023
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.
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.
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.