Review: Academy Award-nominated ‘Society of the Snow’ essays a horrific tragedy without sensationalism

Review: Academy Award-nominated ‘Society of the Snow’ essays a horrific tragedy without sensationalism
A powerful but incredibly disturbing film, “Society of the Snow” fictionalizes a 1972 Uruguayan plane crash. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 25 February 2024
Follow

Review: Academy Award-nominated ‘Society of the Snow’ essays a horrific tragedy without sensationalism

Review: Academy Award-nominated ‘Society of the Snow’ essays a horrific tragedy without sensationalism

CHENNAI: A powerful but incredibly disturbing film, “Society of the Snow” fictionalizes a 1972 Uruguayan plane crash in the Andes mountains. Captured with a sense of urgent passion, the 144-minute work by J.A. Bayona, now screening on Netflix and running for the Best International Feature Film Oscar in March, is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is a brutally honest retelling of an intensely horrific situation in which survival was at stake. 

Of the 45 passengers (largely young rugby players) including the crew, some died as the plane nose dived into the icy mountains while others succumbed to hunger and the bitter cold.   Based on Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci’s 2009 book with the same title, the cinematic version has all the drama presented with cold-blooded intensity. The story has been filmed for the silver screen again and again, but Bayona’s work avoids many of the pitfalls of the earlier versions, particularly Frank Marshall’s 1993 movie.

As a voice over says, life is impossible, we are an anomaly here. Indeed, we see how Bayona steers his movie towards this premise. His earlier survival film “The Impossible” (about the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) shows his enormous capability of handling the present disaster. For 71 days, the passengers live on hope and faith braving severe blizzards and avalanches, ultimately resorting to cannibalism driven by gnawing hunger. The director keeps the gory part of chopping the dead away from the camera, just in case you were wondering.

Bayona shows us the kind intense dilemma the survivors went through while making the decision to eat human flesh. Of course, some agreed to give up their bodies in case they died, but what about those already gone? Would it be ethical to desecrate their bodies? Finally, it was decided that starvation was not an option. Actually, when the survivors were rescued — after milder weather allowed Nando Parrado (Agustín Pardella) and Roberto Canessa (Matías Recalt) to hike for 10 days to Chile and get help — a leak about cannibalism caused a furore. 

Bayona recreates the crash through awe-inspiring cinematography by Perdro Luque. Against the icy expanse, the mountains rise up in an awesome way and we see tiny people struggling through, barely visible to the naked eye. No wonder, the rescue planes could not spot them even after several sorties. With chilling realism, the narrative makes a splash, albeit without sensationalising the awful tragedy.


Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 
Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

Dave Chappell says support for Gaza war is result of ‘antisemitism in the West’ at Abu Dhabi show 

DUBAI: US comedian Dave Chappelle performed to a packed audience at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena on Thursday as part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, where he also addressed the war in Gaza.

“What is happening in Gaza is a direct result of antisemitism in the West,” he said on stage.

“If you are in America, the best thing you can do is to make American Jews feel safe, feel loved and supported so they can know they don’t have to support a country that is committing genocide just to feel safe,” he added. 

Chappelle previously slammed the Israeli bombing of Gaza, as well as the US support for it, at a show in Boston in October.

According to people in attendance, an audience member asked Chappelle to shut up, which sparked a heated response from the comedian.  

“You can’t take tens of billions from my country and go kill innocent women and children and tell me to shut the f--- up,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

Some members of the crowd began chanting “free Palestine,” to which Chappelle replied: “You are damn right, free Palestine.”  


Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months
Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

Summer cinema: The blockbusters coming your way over the next few months

DUBAI: Here are eight blockbusters coming your way over the next few months.

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ 

Director: Shawn Levy 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Emma Corrin 

Release date: July 26 

In what will likely be the summer’s biggest box-office draw, the now-retired Wade Wilson — aka the indestructible mercenary Deadpool — is pulled from his sedate existence by the Time Variance Authority and forced into carrying out a mission with fellow anti-hero Wolverine, of X-Men fame. Both men reluctantly engage in a task that “will change the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” 

‘Hit Man’ 

Director: Richard Linklater 

Starring: Glen Powell, Adria Arjona, Austin Amelio 

Release date: May 24 (June 7, Netflix) 

Action-comedy from one of the best directors around. Gary Johnson (Powell, who co-wrote the movie with Linklater) is a straight-laced college professor who moonlights as a fake hitman to entrap criminals for the local police department. But when he falls for a prospective client, Madisson (Arjona), Gary gets in way above his head, and his lies start to catch up with him. The bizarre premise is actually based on a true story (although Linklater has stressed that his film is not a faithful recreation of events).  

‘Bad Boys: Ride or Die’ 

Directors: Adil & Bilall 

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens 

Release date: June 7 

Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are back for a fourth big-screen outing. This time, they’re investigating their own, when their late captain is accused of having been working with drug cartels. The two men set out to clear their captain’s name and find out who in the Miami PD could be responsible for framing him, only to be set up themselves and forced to go on the run. 

‘Inside Out 2’ 

Director: Kelsey Mann 

Starring: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black 

Release date: June 14 

The sequel to Pixar’s much-loved “Inside Out” — about a young girl called Riley and the five personified emotions that determine her thoughts and actions — finds Riley entering her teenage years, and ushering in some new emotions (Anxiety, Ennui, Embarrassment and Envy) who throw off the delicate equilibrium achieved by the veterans Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. 

‘The Bikeriders’ 

Director: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, Tom Hardy 

Release date: June 21 

Nichols’ tale of the exploits of the fictional Chicago-based biker gang the Outlaws MC over the course of the 1960s is inspired by the photo-book of the same name by Danny Lyon. What, at first, is intended as a place of refuge and sanctuary for local outsiders where they can feel free to be themselves evolves — or devolves — into a violent crime organization.  

‘Despicable Me 4’ 

Director: Chris Renaud 

Voice cast: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Pierre Coffin 

Release date: July 3 

Gru — once a supervillain, now an agent for good — is living happily with his wife (and fellow agent) Lucy, their three adopted daughters, and their newborn baby boy. But when Maxime Le Mal, the dangerous criminal that Gru helped put away, escapes from prison, Gru and his family (and, of course, his Minions) must go on the run. 

‘Fly Me to the Moon’ 

Director: Greg Berlanti 

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Anna Garcia 

Release date: July 12 

Set in the Space Race of the 1960s, Berlanti’s romantic comedy-drama finds NASA director Cole Davis preparing for the launch of Apollo 11. An already stressful situation is made worse when he falls for marketing specialist Kelly Jones, whom the government has appointed to stage a fake moon landing in case anything goes wrong with the real deal.   

‘Borderlands’ 

Director: Eli Roth 

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jack Black 

Release date: August 9 

With video-game adaptations no longer the dross they used to be, thanks to the success of TV shows like “The Last of Us” and “Fallout,” hopes are high for this star-studded take on Gearbox Software’s all-action looter-shooter. Blanchett plays Lillith — a much-feared outlaw who returns to her home planet of Pandora on a mission to find the missing daughter of the universe’s most powerful man, Atlas. To achieve her goal, she teams up with a band of misfits to tackle monsters and bandits and find the girl. 


How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry
Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in Saudi film industry
  • From generating story ideas to streamlining post-production, artificial intelligence could revolutionize Saudi filmmaking
  • Digital arts expert thinks Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends, but recommends they start simple

DHAHRAN: When William “Wink” Winkler of Samford University landed in Saudi Arabia earlier this month for the 10th edition of the Saudi Film Festival, held in Dhahran, he felt he had discovered a new frontier in cinema and technology.

At the invitation of the American Chamber of Commerce and US Consulate in Dhahran, the instructor of digital arts brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience to conduct a masterclass in artificial intelligence in filmmaking.

However, during his week-long visit, Winkler also gained a fresh perspective on the Saudi film industry, its burgeoning local talent, and how breakthroughs in AI will transform the way movies are made in the Kingdom.

“I learned that the Saudi people are passionate and excited,” Winkler told Arab News. “They can tell amazing stories, original Saudi stories, and as they start to embrace new and emerging technology, that will help them to do that.”

William “Wink” Winkler

AI is still considered an emerging technology, but one that is evolving rapidly. In just the past two years, generative AI programs have progressed from producing janky text and surreal images to creating prose and visuals that could pass as human-authored.

As a giant aggregator of sorts, AI can instantly sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing scripts and screenplays to identify patterns and generate curated story ideas.

While the creative aspect of AI is still imperfect and causes some discomfort among screenwriters, the technology has many other more rudimentary applications in the filmmaking process.

AI could make work easier by automating parts of the filmmaking process that are grueling and time-consuming, says digital arts instructor William “Wink” Winkler. (Supplied)

In pre-production, for instance, AI can help streamline location scouting by analyzing images and videos in real time to suggest settings based on a prompt. It can also cut casting time by instantaneously analyzing audition tapes to identify which actor best fits a particular character.

Post-production is another area where AI will transform filmmaking by using automated editing tools, which can analyze footage and accurately suggest instant edits based on factors like composition and pacing.

It can also assist with traditionally manual tasks, such as color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

DID YOUKNOW?

• AI can sift through vast amounts of data in an instant and use existing screenplays to generate story ideas.

In pre-production, AI could help streamline location scouting and cut casting time by analyzing footage.

In post-production, AI could automate editing and assist with color grading, sound design, and visual effects.

Many filmmakers already use computer-generated imagery — or CGI — to digitally create an asset, character, or effect that was not caught on camera. This advancement has thereby automated parts of the process that were often grueling and time-consuming.

CGI has also benefited from recent AI advancements with more curated algorithms that can generate realistic characters and create fantastical environments from thin air, reducing the need for extensive practical effects or location shoots.

However, AI in filmmaking is not without its issues. The tool will undoubtedly negate many jobs in the industry, while machine-generated stories might seem inauthentic, lacking in depth, relatability, and human spirit.

AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi

“Films invoke emotion, and they can create feelings because they’re told from a human story,” said Winkler. “And humans have felt feelings and have dealt with real human problems. And the computer hasn’t.

“All it can do is read what has been written and repeat it, but it doesn’t actually know what to say, or how to convey it. It can only try to replicate what a human said before.”

There are also ongoing concerns about data protection and bias in AI algorithms — something that has been an issue for social media for some time, as the algorithm merely mimics what already exists.

William “Wink” Winkler along with fellow US expert Travis Blaise who flew in to Dhahran to conduct workshops for the Saudi Film Festival. (AI art by Omar Alabdulhadi)

AI systems have a tendency to perpetuate and amplify demographic and racial biases. This can lead to discriminatory outcomes that are not inclusive, such as only generating characters it deems conventionally beautiful — oftentimes slim, blonde, and light-skinned.

Another consideration is the ethics of plagiarism, as AI pulls from existing works created by humans and generates an entirely new work without providing credit.

To manage the potential for plagiarism and the amplification of harmful biases by AI systems and those employing them, Winkler believes a thoughtful discussion leading to robust regulation is required.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

“There’s always going to be evil people. We can fight it, just like we’ve always fought it — through rules and regulations,” he said.

“I think that creating communities and discussions at small local levels — to larger governance levels — creates some guardrails around what’s happening. The more ethical, morally good people get involved to help fight the evil, the better.”

Sora is a groundbreaking text-to-video AI model developed by OpenAI — the firm behind ChatGPT — that takes written prompts and converts them into dynamic videos.

The technology can instantly generate high-quality videos with detailed scenes and complex camera movements — with just a few written descriptions.

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

There are concerns, however, about the potential misuse of programs like Sora to create “deepfakes” — digital forgeries that take a human likeness and fabricate images of them saying or doing things that never happened in reality.

These fabricated images can look and seem so realistic that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Besides the obvious reputational risks, such deepfakes could also undermine trust in institutions and even lead to conflict.

In the film world, such technology could also cost jobs. Why would studios hire human actors if the AI can make their digital likeness do and say anything without rehearsal — performing better than the original, perhaps?

This image, which is part of the "Salt" short-film series by Fabian Stelzer and was created via Stable Diffusion. (Supplied)

Winkler believes Saudi filmmakers will use AI for good and noble ends — but recommends they start simple.

“I think the place that I would start is actually not in AI,” he said. “Start with a journal and a piece of paper and a pen — and document. Get the stories from your mother, your grandmother, your grandfather, your great-grandmother and your great-grandfather.

“Everyone’s ancestors have done amazing things, and that should be documented and shared.”

Surreal AI art collage by Saudi creator Omar Alabdulhadi. (Supplied)

One Saudi creator who is dabbling in AI is Dhahran resident Omar Al-Abdulhadi. While he believes AI technology has not yet been perfected, he is keen to see the market thrive and grow in the creative industries.

“All the anti-AI artists will accept the fact that AI is the future,” Al-Abdulhadi told Arab News, acknowledging the seeming inevitability of the technology’s adoption. But, with the right regulation and careful use, it does not have to be bad.

Winkler agrees. Furthermore, he believes the Kingdom is ideally placed to help this emerging industry grow. With such a young population made up of digital natives, Winkler says Saudi creatives can be future leaders in the field.

“The technology is not available right now, but I imagine that it will be very soon,” he said. “I don’t have the team or the time to do it — but maybe the Saudis can do it and change visual effects forever.”

 


Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

Saudi film ‘Norah’ makes history with Cannes Film Festival screening

DUBAI: Saudi film “Norah” had its official screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on Thursday, becoming the first film from the Kingdom to screen as part of the official calendar at the event.

The movie, filmed entirely in AlUla and directed by Tawfik Al-Zaidi, is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival.

The movie is running in the “Un Certain Regard” section of the festival. (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

The film is set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the prefessional pursuit of all art, including painting, was frowned upon. It stars Maria Bahrawi, Yaqoub Al-Farhan, and Abdullah Al-Satian and follows the story of Norah and failed artist Nader as they encourage each other to realize their artistic potential in rural Saudi Arabia.

“Norah” is in competition with 19 other films from around the world.

The cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.” (AN/ Ammar Abd Rabbo)

On Wednesday, the cast, director and CEO and chairwoman of the Red Sea International Film Festival Mohammed Al-Turki and Jumana Al-Rashed, respectively, appeared together on the red carpet for French adventure drama film “Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.”

“Norah” was backed by the Red Sea Fund — one of the Red Sea Film Foundation's programs — and was filmed entirely in AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast and a 40 percent Saudi crew.


‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
Updated 23 May 2024
Follow

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’

‘Bridgerton’ star Nicola Coughlan ‘hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah’
  • The first four episodes of Season 3, in which Nicola Coughlan plays the revolving lead role, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend

DUBAI: Irish actress Nicola Coughlan, known for her role as Penelope Featherington in Netflix’s hit series “Bridgerton,” demonstrated her solidarity with Palestine this week by wearing the Artists for Ceasefire pin during an interview with USA Today as she promoted the latest season of the show, in which she plays the lead role.

When asked about the pin, the artist said: “It’s very important for me because I feel like I’m a very privileged person. I’m doing my dream job and I’m getting to travel the world, but then I’m hyper-aware of what’s happening in Rafah at the moment.”

The actress, whose family lived in Jerusalem in the late 70s, said her father was in the Irish army and was part of the United Nation’s Truce Supervision Organisation which worked towards brokering peace in the Middle East.

@splendiferous Nicola Coughlan speaks about her Ceasefire pin she has been wearing during the Bridgerton Press Tour #NicolaCoughlan original sound - splendiferous

“I feel very passionately about it. I’m Irish also, so it’s sort of a different perspective,” Coughlan added. “I just feel, if I have this global platform, which I do at the minute, I think if I can hopefully raise funds for aid organizations — I have a fundraiser on my Instagram right now for Medical Aid for Palestine and if people would like to donate to that or share it, I think it would be a wonderful thing to do.”

Coughlan has continuously shown her support by wearing the pin during various occasions, including the premieres of the third season of “Bridgerton,” promotional events and her television appearances such as “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “Good Morning America.”

Season three of Netflix’s Regency-era drama has become the most successful season so far based on viewership numbers, Forbes reported this week.

With part two set to drop in June, “Bridgerton” Season 3: Part 1 was the most-watched title on Netflix from the period of May 13 - 18, according to Variety. The first four episodes, released on May 16, reached 45.1 million views during its opening weekend.