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 
Filmmaker Dhafer L’Abidine and Saudi actor Ibrahim Al-Hasawi in Abha shooting ‘To My Son.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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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.” 


Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London
Updated 21 February 2024
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Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London

Celebrity-loved Atelier Zuhra presents new collection in London
  • The Omani label has dressed a number of international celebrities, including Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Paris Hilton

DUBAI: Omani label Atelier Zuhra showcased its Fall/Winter 2024 collection in London this week, delivering a showcase of glamour and style. 

Designer Rayan Al-Sulaimani, who is based in Dubai, put on a show for guests gathered at Cafe Royal in London with a runway showcasing glittering evening gowns infused with a hefty dose of drama. Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by FARHANA (@farhanabodi)

 

The color palette was varied and ranged from light hues — such as white, pink, silver and beige — to deeper tones like navy blue, emerald green, maroon and black. 

The designs stood out for the incorporation of crystals, intricate pearl work, beading, feathers, and luxurious fabrics. These elements reflected the opulence of the chandelier-filled hall where the runway presentation unfolded.

Voluminous capes, satin hoods, and feathered ensembles took center stage. (Getty Images)

The dresses were crafted from a variety of fabrics including tulle, satin, chiffon, velvet and organza. 

Netflix’s “Dubai Bling” star Farhana Bodi walked the runway. She graced the catwalk in a metallic pink form-fitting gown complemented by a satin hood trailing from the shoulders of the dress.

She shared the clip of her walking the runway on Instagram and wrote: “Your SHOWSTOPPER Bling Girl at the London Fashion Week (sic).” 

Chanel Ayan wore a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. (Getty Images)

She was also joined by “The Real Housewives of Dubai” star Chanel Ayan, who was dressed in a black sequined gown featuring a halter neckline. Completing her ensemble was a pink satin abaya-inspired coverup. 

Atelier Zuhra CEO and head designer Al-Sulaimani’s mother Mouza Al-Awfi founded the couture house in Dubai in 2015.  

“My ambition for the future is for the brand to be well recognized internationally. Over the next five years I hope to have Atelier Zuhra established in Europe – either in London or Paris,” Al-Sulaimani previously told Arab News.

The Omani label has dressed a number of international celebrities. US superstar Beyonce, US music sensation Mariah Carey, US socialite Paris Hilton, US singer Nicole Scherzinger, British supermodel Naomi Campbell and Saudi star Dalia Mubarak, who is signed with US record label Warner Recorded Music, have all been spotted in the brand’s creations.  


Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn
Updated 20 February 2024
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Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

Review: Jeremy Paxman’s ‘A Life in Questions’ is a humorous take on a media icon’s life with lessons to learn

RIYADH: In his 2016 memoir, “A Life in Questions,” Jeremy Paxman, the prominent British journalist and presenter, outlines how he has been inquisitive his entire life.

The autobiography uncovers Paxman’s early years, interviews with prominent figures, insights into journalistic integrity, political engagement, and the power of asking the right questions.

Paxman takes a humorous approach in recounting past experiences, notably an incident involving Marks & Spencer underwear. He described an occasion when he put his leg through his briefs, causing the elastic to detach from the cotton.

Paxman asked the other people in the gym: “Any of you blokes had any trouble with pants?" His concerns about the quality sparked a media frenzy, resulting in an abundance of underwear being sent to him, even from strangers.

The book showcases Paxman’s recollections over four decades of journalism. However, when considering his interviews, I hoped for more insights into his technique and style. Renowned for his unconventional approach, his interviews often left interviewees feeling unsettled or nervous, as if they were “quaking in their boots.”

At times, the narrative becomes monotonous, particularly in sections where Paxman delves into less compelling aspects of his career, making the reading experience somewhat laborious.

However, Paxman’s recounting of iconic interviews and behind-the-scenes anecdotes kept me from looking away. A notable interview showing his commitment to getting answers, which was widely praised, took place in May 1997, where Paxman questioned former Home Secretary Michael Howard a total of 12 times about his potential overruling of the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis.

The writing style can feel a bit disconnected, shifting between different times in Paxman’s life with abrupt transitions. This might make it a little harder to follow his story. Paxman’s memoir might be more relatable to those familiar with the UK’s political and cultural scene, as it assumes a certain level of knowledge about the figures and events discussed.

Learning from Paxman’s methods can help journalists develop their own style and ensure that they can engage with and extract valuable information from interviewees.

Overall, “A Life in Questions” is recommended for those fascinated by unconventional interviewing styles. It not only tells stories but also acts as a guide for journalists seeking to enhance their interviewing skills.


Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot
Updated 20 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla to add music studio to production lot

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla is adding a music recording studio to its production lot in June.

Film AlUla’s current production facility includes a 30,000-square-foot soundstage, backlot, production support buildings, workshops, warehouses, recording studio and training and rehearsal space.

AlUla is also home to the mirrored Maraya concert hall, a multi-purpose venue that plays host to international concerts.

The film commission will inaugurate a recording studio with audio and recording equipment comprising a control room and two soundproof booths that can be used by individual artists, choirs, rehearsals for film score production, music videos and orchestral work, Variety magazine reported.

Film AlUla’s Executive Director Charlene Deleon-Jones commented on the upcoming opening, saying: “Following the successful launch of our film studios last year, we are continuing to strategically expand the complex and become a one-stop destination for creatives, with the recording studio being a natural next step in this vision.

“We are delighted to welcome artists starting from June whom we have no doubt will be inspired by the magnificent surroundings and heritage that AlUla has to offer while making the most of our cutting-edge facilities to create magic,” she added, according to Variety magazine.

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.

The news comes after December’s Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah saw global media company Stampede Ventures announce further films in its 10-movie partnership with Film AlUla.

Hollywood movies “Fourth Wall” and “Chasing Red” are set to be filmed in AlUla in 2024 as part of a 10-project deal between Film AlUla and Stampede Ventures, in addition to the previously announced feature “K-Pops!”

There will be emphasis on using Saudi talent during the production process, Deleon-Jones told Arab News at the time, 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.”


First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 
Updated 20 February 2024
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First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

First film announced as Saudi Arabia launches Big Time Investment to fund Arab productions 

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Mona Zaki is set to star in a film portraying the life of legendary singer Umm Kulthum, which is the first film in a slate of productions as Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority announced the launch of a film fund named Big Time Investment, aimed at fostering the production of Arabic cinema.

The inaugural project under this initiative will be a biopic celebrating the life of Egyptian legend Umm Kulthum, who was referred to as “The fourth pyramid” by Arabs, as well as “The star of the East,” “Mother of the Arabs” and “Lady of Arabic Song.” 

Egyptian filmmaker Marwan Hamed has been tapped to direct the film titled “El Set,” with acclaimed Egyptian actress Mona Zaki set to portray Umm Kulthum.

The announcement regarding the fund took place in Cairo, where Turki Al-Sheikh, the chairman of the GEA, disclosed that the authority would serve as the main sponsor of the approximately $130 million fund. 

The Ministry of Culture will act as a co-sponsor, as reported by the Saudi Press Agency. Several  Saudi companies will also contribute to the fund, including Sela Studio, SMC Company, Rotana Audio Visual Co., and Benchmark Company.

The fund aims to germinate roughly 20 Arabic titles a year.


Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway
Updated 20 February 2024
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Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

Model Nora Attal shows off winter fashion on the Burberry runway

DUBAI: British Moroccan model Nora Attal made an appearance at London Fashion Week, after hitting the runway in Paris and New York in recent weeks.

Attal walked in British luxury label Burberry’s Fall/Winter 2024 show.

The fashion house’s creative director Daniel Lee this week showed his third brief at London Fashion Week, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, with an ode to the brand’s outdoor heritage.

The 24-year-old model strutted down the star-studded catwalk in a cream-colored calf-length coat. (Getty Images)

Set in a dark marquee in London’s Victoria Park where guests sat on big fluffy brown cushions, songs from late British singer Amy Winehouse set the mood for the night.

The 24-year-old model strutted down the star-studded catwalk in a cream-colored calf-length coat, accentuated with luxurious fur-like detailing on the knees, arms and neckline.

Attal hit the grass runway in an ensemble that was accented with black chunky-soled leather boots and a matching clutch.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Burberry (@burberry)

Other models paraded leather and faux-fur coats in shades of muted green and brown, oversized stripy suit jackets and trousers with zipper detailing.

The show heavily featured outerwear and sporty silhouettes with bomber jackets and Burberry’s iconic trench coat that sat alongside flowy beaded and velvet dresses.

Burberry’s famous beige, black and red check was reimagined into a moody autumnal color palette and featured on the inside of floor-sweeping skirts with long slits down the side.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Burberry (@burberry)

Accessories included checked umbrellas, large canvas, leather and faux-fur bags in cream, brown and green — often adorned with gold detailing — and paired with scarves worn over the head.

British models Naomi Campbell, Agyness Deyn and Lily Cole were among those sashaying on the catwalk.

Saudi film producer and CEO of the Red Sea Film Foundation Mohammed Al-Turki attended the show. (Getty Images)

The show was attended by Saudi film producer and CEO of the Red Sea Film Foundation Mohammed Al-Turki, actress Olivia Coleman, model Jourdan Dunn and Irish actor Barry Keoghan among others.

This is not the first time Attal has modelled for Burberry. In September 2023, she wore low-waist tailored pants, a cropped printed blouse and a blazer with fur detailing around the sleeves from the brand’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection that was also showcased at London Fashion Week.  

Earlier this year, Attal walked the Chanel and Fendi shows during Paris Haute Couture Week.