‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films

‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films
Psychological horror ‘Three’ stars newcomer Saud Alzarooni as a child who is believed to be possessed. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 December 2023

‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films

‘Three’ director Nayla Al-Khaja on why she is forging ahead with horror films
  • The psychological horror stars ‘Oppenheimer’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Jefferson Hall and newcomer Saud Alzarooni
  • Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival to thrill audiences with ‘Three’

JEDDAH: Widely recognized as the UAE’s first independent female filmmaker, Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival to thrill audiences with her latest psychological horror movie “Three,” which is also her debut feature-length film.

“Three” follows a young boy who is believed to be possessed. Ahmed (Saud Alzarooni) is being bullied at school and starts behaving strangely, leading his mother Maryam to believe he must be cursed. She takes him to a traditional healer, after which his condition worsens. A British doctor (Jefferson Hall) is initially skeptical but soon immerses himself in the boy’s culture in a bid to save the child's life.

The director’s previous work includes short films “The Neighbor,” “Malal,” “Animal,” and “The Shadow,” and she spoke to Arab News about why this was the right time for her first feature, which boasts a running time of 94 minutes and features a mix of English and Arabic on screen.

“All my life, all I wanted to do is do a feature film, but there was never a story where I felt passionate enough to take that first step,” she said, adding the major hurdles she faced initially were not creative, but financial.

“We live in the UAE. We don’t really have a very robust local film (industry). Where do you begin? How do you raise money? How do you find the right producer? How do you package the film so it has a chance to succeed? The deals, sales agents, pre-sales, all that stuff that no one ever teaches you.”

Widely recognized as the UAE’s first independent female filmmaker, Nayla Al-Khaja is heading to Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival. (Supplied)

Just before the pandemic, Al-Khaja pulled the plug on her own company, giving her the space and time to create content.

“This huge weight was off my chest. I was starting to write … and at that point, I had already shot the concept film of ‘Three,’ which is called ‘The Shadow,’ which is running on Netflix right now,” she said.

“I already had a concept film, which obviously made it a little bit easier to raise funds. So once that happened, COVID-19 hit, the world took a massive pause. It was a catastrophe for many people. But as a new mom, it was the perfect timing. So, I took that time to flesh out my feature film.”

Overcoming obstacles seems to be a pastime for Al-Khaja, who wears many hats, from director to producer to fundraiser.

“I’m an all-rounder. I’m actually very good at raising funds,” she said, before detailing how she managed to “slash the budget by half without slashing the value of the film and the quality … by simply changing a few things.”

Nayla Al-Khaja on the set of 'Three.' (Supplied)

She added: “The first thing was going from 123 pages to 98 pages and then changing countries altogether. Taking a leap of faith and shooting in Bangkok — that slashed our budget.”

Considering the blood, sweat and tears that went into her first feature film, it is telling that Al-Khaja opted for a spine-tingling thriller.

“Pure entertainment,” she laughed, when asked why she chose the horror genre.

“I think it’s really new in the sense that we don’t have a big body of horror work. I think Arab comedy is very popular, and … drama, but not horror. And yes, definitely I would like to pioneer this.

“With horror, you don’t need a cast. You don't need … these famous people. You can do it very low budget. So, the chances of actually a horror (film) making its money back is quite high.

“And I think there will come (a time when) a horror (film) will break the glass ceiling,” she said, adding that historically film distributors may not have had faith that “foreign language horror would travel like English films do.”

Jefferson Hall in 'Three.' (Supplied)

She said: “I think that the whole shift of streamers coming on board buying foreign language (films) is probably changing the face of how one perceives a foreign film, whatever the genre may be.

“It’s such an important part of Arab culture — like the jinns and black magic.

“We’ve always had exorcism in Christianity and other different religions, but never in my own. We didn’t want to label it as exorcism in Islam. But if you speak to any sales agent outside the UAE and you say ‘exorcism in Islam,’ they all raise their eyebrows. That shows you that it’s an area that’s never been really tapped into internationally.”

Al-Khaja heaped praise on teenage newcomer Alzarooni.

She said: “He’s eager, he is prepared, agile, sensitive, just beautiful … I mean, he was 13 when we were rolling and … this is not an easy role.

“When we’re doing the exorcism scenes, there were no special effects, it was just his face. The way he shifts from one look to the other look, it was quite impressive.”

Newcomer Saud Alzarooni stars in 'Three.' (Supplied)

The power in this film, however, is the star of “Game of Thrones,” Jefferson Hall.

Al-Khaja said: “I was intimidated because he’s very seasoned. Christopher Nolan directed him in ‘Oppenheimer.’

“He fits the role so beautifully. The camera loves his close-ups.”

Al-Khaja is now working on her next feature film “Baab,” for which Oscar-winning Indian composer AR Rahman is creating the score.

Meanwhile, audiences in Jeddah can look forward to a psychological horror with heart in “Three.”

Art auction at London’s Dorchester Hotel raises over $200,000 for Palestine

Art auction at London’s Dorchester Hotel raises over $200,000 for Palestine
Updated 03 March 2024

Art auction at London’s Dorchester Hotel raises over $200,000 for Palestine

Art auction at London’s Dorchester Hotel raises over $200,000 for Palestine
  • A miniature sculpture of Banksy’s “Flower Thrower” fetched the highest bid of £16,000

LONDON: A prestigious art auction in London has raised £165,000 ($208,800) for nonprofit organizations providing medical aid in Gaza and advocating for Palestinian human rights, its organizers said on Sunday. 

Voices of Palestine, which took place on Feb. 25 at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, featured 15 pieces of Arab artwork, including a miniature sculpture of Banksy’s “Flower Thrower,” painted by Palestinian artists. This piece, originally sold at the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, fetched the highest bid of £16,000.

The proceeds from the auction are earmarked for two primary causes: supporting Fajr Scientific’s comprehensive healthcare initiative in Gaza, and the efforts of the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians.

The event hosted a panel discussion featuring a high-profile list of speakers. (AN Photo/Tamara Turki)

Egyptian activist and Editor-in-Chief of Scoop Empire Rahma Zein told Arab News: “These kinds of events are important to reiterate the message that we need to empower ourselves to have the right kinds of discussions as to how to do that, be it economically or politically.”

The 30-year-old went viral in a video confronting CNN’s Clarissa Ward for her reporting at the Rafah border. She was then invited to appear on Piers Morgan’s TalkTV show to discuss Palestinians’ suffering.

She added: “Right now there is a void; there is an empty space because the veil has fallen.

“We’ve seen that these institutions that we deemed as prestigious, these news outlets that we deemed as prestigious, are no longer the case; they’re duds.

“Now is the time to look inwards, and look regionally and see so that we’re not looking at token politicians that look like us but speak in the name of Zionism or appease the colonizers.

“We need to empower ourselves. We need to own back our narrative and these are the events to do so.”

Fajr Scientific CEO Dr. Mosab Nasser has detailed a $55 million post-war plan aiming to enhance Gaza's medical infrastructure by adding 120 hospital beds, numerous operating rooms, and intensive care units over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the ICJP focuses on strategic legal actions and advocacy to align foreign policy with the realities Palestinians face, guided by international law.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot and South African High Commissioner to the UK Jeremiah Nyamane Mamabolo. (AN Photo/Tamara Turki)

The event hosted a panel discussion featuring a high-profile list of speakers including Rahma Zein and Nasser alongside Palestinian Ambassador to the UK Husam Zomlot, award-winning journalist Ahmed Eldin, surgeon Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sitta, and Israeli-British historian Avi Shlaim.

The panelists tackled a wide range of issues on Israel’s war in Gaza, which has killed over 30,000 people. Eldin spoke on the democratization of the media and its role in challenging Western narratives about Palestine, while Abu-Sitta shared harrowing experiences of treating patients under siege in Gaza, including Israel’s bombing of hospitals.

The event drew 450 attendees, with tickets sold at between £150 to £250.

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi kicks off with call to ‘create a world of understanding’

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi kicks off with call to ‘create a world of understanding’
Updated 03 March 2024

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi kicks off with call to ‘create a world of understanding’

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi kicks off with call to ‘create a world of understanding’
  • World-renowned Syrian poet Adonis gave the first keynote speech of the summit
  • Mohamed Al-Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi, stressed his desire to ‘create a world of understanding’

ABU DHABI: Culture Summit Abu Dhabi kicked off its sixth edition in the UAE capital with a diverse program of keynote speeches, creative talks, panel discussions and cultural performances.

On the first day of the three-day event, held under the theme of “A Matter of Time,” the summit explored the role of culture in creating collective memories while looking at alternatives to the linear concept of time.

Mohamed Khalifa Al-Mubarak, chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi, at Culture Summit Abu Dhabi 2024. (Supplied)

In his opening remarks, Mohamed Al-Mubarak, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Tourism - Abu Dhabi (DCT Abu Dhabi), said, “‘A Matter of Time’ is the theme for this year's Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, which serves as an invitation for us all to reflect and pause. Culture Summit is more than just words — issues will be discussed and tangible solutions will be found for global communities. Culture will allow us to understand each other, respect each other, accept and preserve each other’s culture. Once we attain this level of harmony, we will create a world of understanding.”

Al-Mubarak also made a call to attendees to make connections at the conference. “These are not just words in summits like this. Our job is to make sure we find platforms and other solutions to be a positive voice for our youth,” he said. “They will be the catalyst to make sure all of our actions and all of our fruits bear.”

Al-Mubarak then introduced world-renowned Syrian poet and philosopher Adonis, who gave the summit’s first keynote speech where he framed the relationship between people and time, exploring both in the context of technological advancements.

“Time is a creation and we are living in an era of technological advancements and modernism, enslaving us where it should have set us free. At the culture summit, we share one common goal with distinct yet similar views on culture, poetry and art. We are living in an era where nature and creativity are the need of the hour. Technology cannot be creative, cannot think, breathe or feel — technology is not the problem but relying too much on it is,” said Adonis.

"When man lives according to his creative nature, they will be a source of continuous innovation," he continued. "Understanding that is the key to a person's relationship with himself, to others and the world."

Emirati celebrity singer and Goodwill Ambassador at Large Hussain Al-Jassmi also took part in a conversation with Egyptian talk show host Mona Al-Shazly. “The UAE is a strong enabler for creative talents, including emerging artists. I personally received great support from the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who I believe was the first supporter of creative talents in the UAE. In addition, the UAE is the best example of coexistence and harmony, embracing residents of more than 200 nationalities — you can walk across any walkway in the UAE and come across five different dialects and languages.”

Nobel Prize in Literature winner, playwright, and professor of theater at NYU Abu Dhabi Wole Soyinka sat in conversation with Manthia Diawara, professor in the department of cinema studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to discuss the intricacies of African culture as well as issues around identity, as well as his thoughts on restitution.

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi, which runs until March 5, is organised by DCT Abu Dhabi.

Elie Saab unveils Fall/Winter 2024 line at Paris Fashion Week

Elie Saab unveils Fall/Winter 2024 line at Paris Fashion Week
Updated 03 March 2024

Elie Saab unveils Fall/Winter 2024 line at Paris Fashion Week

Elie Saab unveils Fall/Winter 2024 line at Paris Fashion Week

DUBAI/PARIS: Lebanese designer Elie Saab unveiled his Fall/Winter ready-to-wear 2024-25 collection at Paris Fashion Week on Saturday, with a showcase of darker colors in a suitably wintery palette.

Figure-hugging olive green gowns were shown off on the runway, with deep purple and a muted dark blue also punctuating the new offering.


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“The Elie Saab ready-to-wear Fall/ Winter 2024-25 collection is a never-ending song where the melodies of Graceland resound beyond Elvis (Presley),” the fashion house declared on Instagram.

Besides gowns, the designer also offered a variety of chic tailored separates, with a glittering coat with razor-sharp lapels contrasting well against the soft curves and floral elements of another all-white overcoat.

Guests included influencers such as Olivia Palermo, Nathalie Fanj and Tamara Kalinic.


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Elsewhere at a rainy Paris Fashion Week on Saturday, luxury label Hermes explored the meaning of “quiet luxury.” This season the narrative took a darker, more introspective turn as creative head Nadege Vanhee-Cybulski offered brooding black leathers that evoked the deep, reflective tones of the late French painter Soulages.

Nipped buckles and gentle ribbing on skin-tight pants demonstrated Vanhee-Cybulski’s adeptness at blending Hermes’ storied craftsmanship with innovative design. Amidst this darker palette, muted flashes emerged, weaving poetically through the collection, The Associated Press reported.

Braving the persistent Parisian drizzle, K-Pop star Sandara Park led the pack at Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, captivating the audience in a punk-tinged corset adorned with pearls. The opening ensembles transported the audience back in time amid contemporary fusions, channeling the essence of a serf, the medieval agricultural laborer. The designs incorporated leggings, jockstraps resembling codpieces, mystical talismanic pendants, and tear-shaped cutouts on thick knit sweaters.


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Meanwhile, elegant sophistication, minimalism, and a hint of nonchalance continued to define Carven. The storied house, originally founded by Marie Louise Carven in 1945, evolved under the guidance of various male creative directors since its reboot 2009 and 2018. Stepping into this lineage as the first female leader since its reboot, Louise Trotter presented her second collection Saturday, skillfully weaving together the brand’s 1950s origins with a minimalist aesthetic reminiscent of the 1990s.

The show opened with a statement piece: A brown round-shouldered coat that was both loose and indicative of the new direction Trotter is steering Carven towards.

This piece set the stage for a collection with dimensions and perceptions — for example, a striking dress featured a trompe l’oeil effect, cleverly designed to appear two-dimensional.

Art Dubai spotlights the Global South and art as healing

Art Dubai spotlights the Global South and art as healing
Updated 03 March 2024

Art Dubai spotlights the Global South and art as healing

Art Dubai spotlights the Global South and art as healing

DUBAI: Long a crossroads for cultures from the Far East, South Asia, Europe and the Americas, Dubai’s strategic global location has made it a pivotal place for cultural exchange. Art Dubai’s 17th edition, which wraps up on March 3, further exemplifies the Gulf city’s unique location and cosmopolitan nature, particularly for artists and cultural platforms from the Global South.

The “Global South” has been a buzzword for some time, largely denoting various countries around the world that are sometimes described as “developing” with the majority, although by no means all, situated in the Southern Hemisphere, largely in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Work by Saudi artist Abdulsattar Al-Mussa at Art Dubai. (Supplied)

Art Dubai this year welcomes more than 120 gallery presentations, drawn from more than 60 cities and over 40 countries across four sections: Contemporary, Bawwaba, Art Dubai Modern and Art Dubai Digital. Over 65 percent of the galleries hail from the regions that make up the Global South.

“Art Dubai has been focusing on the Global South for the last eight years,” Pablo del Val, Art Dubai’s artistic director, told Arab News. “We are trying to deepen the conversation about the Global South is as well as about issues regarding displacement and how the Global South is present in the outskirts of Paris and Los Angeles.

“For us, the Global South is really a state of mind more than a state of geographic belonging,” added Del Val. “We are very interested in illustrating how this idea reflects the times in which we are living.”


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Of equal importance, stresses Del Val is this year’s Bawwaba gallery section curated by Emiliano Valdes under the theme “Sanación/Healing.” It will feature a series of new performances and activations focusing on ideas of spirituality, introspection, community and the power of art to help human beings navigate challenging times by embracing unity. 

Participating artists in this section include a number of names from the so-called Global South, including Argentinian artist, choreographer and dancer Cecilia Bengolea, Kerala-born Berlin-based artist Sajan Mani, Debashish Paul from West Bengal in India, Palestinian artist Mirna Bamieh, Indian artists Mithu Sen and Emirati creative Hashel Lamki.

Hailing from cities including Sao Paolo, Bogota, Tehran, Dubai and Mumbai, among others, participating galleries at Art Dubai further build on the fair’s commitment to representing and championing art from the Global South. These include the Aisha Alabbar Gallery, among the first galleries in Dubai focused on contemporary and modern art by Emirati, local and regional artists that is exhibiting a solo booth of works by Emirati artist Alia Hussain Lootah; Dastan Gallery from Tehran, Iran, dedicated to promoting Iranian contemporary art globally that is presenting a dynamic group showing of emerging and established artists from Iran, including Reza Aramesh, Fereydoun Ave, Farah Ossouli, Sahand Hesamiyan and the Ghasemi Brothers; Gallery One from Ramallah, Palestine, showcasing works by Libyan artist Samira Badran and Palestinian Manal Mahamid; and Galeria Espacio Continuo from Bogota, Colombia, a gallery that opened in 2020 dedicated to showcasing an exclusive program of local artists that highlights dynamic abstract works by Miler Lagos and Ana María Rueda.

The Global South is additionally representing strongly in the fair’s Modern section,curated by Dr. Christianna Bonin, which traces the emergence of new modernisms across the Global South through works of modernists from Syria, Egypt, Uganda and Sri Lanka who exhibited and studied in the Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Another talent from the Global South who is playing a major role at the event is Goa-based artist Sahil Naik who devised the the fourth edition of the A.R.M. Holding Children’s Program. It will be launched launching at the fair before expanding to over 100 schools and 15,000 students.


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“He is going to be encouraging children to imagine little worlds and environments based on the ideas of their homes and the environment and how you actually constitute and lay out cities,” Art Dubai’s Executive Director Benedetta Ghione told Arab News. “He will ask them what makes a home, how do we imagine the future, etc... We these programs we try to encourage the children to think about the world through the lens of culture and creativity.”

“The children’s program continues to grow outside of the fair,” added Ghione. “For eight weeks after the fair, we are going into more than 100 schools and reaching over 15,000 children. This is a program that continues to grow and is now reaching all seven Emirates.”


UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination
Updated 02 March 2024

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

UK beauty brand explains Bella Hadid contract termination

DUBAI: British beauty brand Charlotte Tilbury this week responded to claims surrounding the termination of its contract with Bella Hadid, saying that the decision was not based on the US Dutch Palestinian model’s “personal views,” but because she is launching her own beauty brand.

A statement from the company, published in The Independent, said: “Bella Hadid and Charlotte Tilbury Beauty’s professional relationship has come to its end as Bella prepares to launch her own beauty brand.

“It is absolutely not the case that any personal views held by Bella impacted our contract or relationship with her.

“As a female-led business, Charlotte Tilbury Beauty continues to support Bella and looks forward to the exciting launch of Orebella later this year,” the statement added.

Last month, Hadid announced on Instagram that she is launching a brand called Orebella on May 2. 

While details about the brand and its offerings remain under wraps, WWD Magazine reported that Hadid’s trademark filing, dating back to 2022, hints at Orebella’s focus on scent-related products. These may include fragrances, incense, body lotions, oils, shampoo, conditioner and candles. 


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The model shared a 10-second teaser on Instagram showing a close-up of her face and culminating with the brand’s logo.

Hadid was named the face of Charlotte Tilbury in March 2023. 

Her debut campaign in June promoted the new Airbrush Flawless Lip Blur, a hydrating matte liquid lipstick formulated with hyaluronic acid to boost hydration. She joined a glittering roster that included actress Lily James, and models Jourdan Dunn and Kate Moss.