Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
Safwan Modir (L) and Omar Almaeena in “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 01 March 2024
Follow

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 

Meet the stars of Netflix’s hit ‘Camel Quest’ 
  • How two childhood friends made their newfound love for camels the heart of a Netflix hit 

LONDON: It takes a certain level of trust to go into business with your best friend. It takes an even greater degree of faith to do so in an industry that is new to both of you. And it takes a crazy amount of love and commitment to document that journey together and showcase it to audiences around the world.  

But ‘a crazy amount of love and commitment’ is a pretty good way to sum up the relationship between childhood friends Safwan Modir and Omar Almaeena, the stars of comedy docuseries “Camel Quest,” which premiered on Netflix at the start of February and went straight into the streaming service’s regional top 10. The show sees the duo travel across Saudi Arabia in a bid to reach the Crown Prince Camel Festival, learning more about the revered animal — and themselves — along the way.  

Key to the show’s success is the fact that Modir and Almaeena, now 40, have known each other for more than half their lives. 




Safwan Modir (L) and Omar Almaeena (center) shooting “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

“We met when we were 16,” says Modir. “We met at a mutual friend’s house, and we clicked immediately. We’ve been good friends since then. Omar was studying in the United States, so we used to talk through Messenger or phone calls, and then every time he came back to Saudi, we would do crazy things. And we were always dreaming of doing something together as we grew up.” 

And while no obvious opportunity to work together presented itself — “Saf went into being a hotelier,” Almaeena recalls, “and I was bouncing around trying to figure out what I was good at” — that desire to create a project together never went away. The pair’s separate careers continued to develop. Modir became the youngest Saudi general manager of a five-star hotel, and Almaeena became a seasoned entrepreneur with a series of successful startups. 

“Omar came back after COVID,” Modir recalls, “and he had been bitten by the bug of entrepreneurship. He came to the hotel to visit, and he saw the setup, and he said to me: ‘Safwan, I think we should do something together.’ That’s when everything started to cook.” 




Omar Almaeena (center) and Safwan Modir. (Supplied)

That ‘something’ turned out to be the camel business — an industry that, Almaeena admits, he “wasn’t very keen on” at first. “But we found it to be a very lovely world that can be passionate and loving towards the camels, yet also financially viable if done properly.” 

“There was a lot of movement in the camel world,” Modir adds. “It’s going in a similar direction to the horse industry — it’s becoming super-fancy; you have beauty competitions, you have races, you have competitions all over the world, with royalty attending. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed love camels, and one of the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030 is to take the camel industry to the next level — to the level of the horse industry and maybe even beyond. 

“And,” he adds with a laugh, “it’s something that we had absolutely no clue about. We had never seen camels (up close) in our lives. So that was a challenge. It took me time to convince Omar that there was an opportunity here.” 




Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in their Netflix show “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

And therein lies the second reason the pair have had such success. Modir and Almaeena share the kind of comedic chemistry that can’t be workshopped or choregraphed — and the kind of trust that convinces two successful men to leave their existing careers and start something new together. 

“The fear was there, but the support from my family, especially my wife, was there too,” says Modir. “And having my best friend beside me made it easier.” 

The two started the Redsea Camel Company — a camel breeding farm (and soon to be racing stable) in Al Qassim — powered by their collective experience and ceaseless enthusiasm. And it’s been such a rewarding experience that Almaeena suggested making a TV show about it. So, looking back now, was he scared too? 

“No, no, no…” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve done this so many times, and I’ve failed so many times, what’s one more…?”  




Omar Almaeena (L) and Safwan Modir in “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

The chuckle is swiftly upgraded to a full-blown laugh from both men — something that happens a lot during their conversation with us. “There’s trust there, that was so important. I can’t lie, and I don’t know how to sugarcoat things.” 

Despite the fact that they had as much experience with TV production as they had previously had with camels — i.e. none — the pair made smart decisions, surrounding themselves with professionals who could help them tell their story. Director Tarek Bou Chebel, creative directors Rana Sabbagha and Amin Dora (who also served as showrunner) bought in, convinced as much by the relationship between the two friends as by the concept for the show — which wound up being perfectly timed with the Saudi Ministry of Culture’s declaration of 2024 as the Year of the Camel. 

They started filming in November 2021, and finished in the first weeks of 2022. The pair recall being scared on the morning of the first day, but that getting the first shot in the can did a lot to calm their nerves — not to mention those of the director.  

“We thought we would be repeating that first scene 20 times,” says Modir. “But we did it, and the director said we were amazing. And that he had been worried, but that we had surprised him.” 

“He came clean afterwards,” Almaeena says with a laugh. “He said we were naturals. That gave us a lot of confidence.” 




Safwan Modir (top) and Omar Almaeena in a promo shoot for “Camel Quest.” (Supplied)

Although the pair’s comedic chemistry is key to “Camel Quest,” it was important that the real stars of the show were given the respect they deserved. 

“The joke is always on us, as it should be,” says Almaeena. “There have been instances in the past where the joke was on the camel, and it wasn’t very well received.” 

“The joke is about Omar pranking me,” adds Modir. “Just like when we were kids. But it’s never about the camels; we were very careful to take that into consideration.” 

“The (idea) is to build this business, and to understand how it takes us across Saudi Arabia to see the camels in different cities,” Almaeena continues. “To see the beauty contests, to see camels raised for milk, or for meat. You see all the different variations. But the point is, whoever has them, you see the ultimate love for this animal.” 

The pair insist they didn’t fall out during the trip — Modir, when pressed, slightly amends this and says it did happen once, but only because Almaeena cancelled his food order — and they would love to do a second series. But that’s only the start of their plans for their camel empire. 

“The breeding program has shot up now, and Saf’s come up with some brilliant ideas for the program and getting people involved,” Almaeena explains. “People are signing up to buy camels from us, and we’re close to finalizing the racing team, which will have its first race in May. And we have one movie hopefully close to preproduction, and another in the pipeline.” 

But in all of these projects, one thing remains constant — and no wonder, given how well it’s served them thus far. 

“I’m handling the camels, and Omar is handling everything to do with the movies and production,” says Modir. “But, with all of these things, we’ll be doing it together.” 


'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art

'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art
Updated 20 May 2024
Follow

'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art

'Material Woman' exhibition in London creates synergy of Arab women’s fashion and art
  • Curation tells a “story about how women use their hands to craft their destinies,” Shoucair says

LONDON: The worlds of fashion and art from Arab female creatives converged this week at the “Material Woman” exhibition in London.

The exhibition, held from May 17 to May 19 at Soho Revue, is the brainchild of the art collective Hayaty Diaries, in collaboration with the fashion platform and pop-up series 3eib.

"The Warmth of My Bed" (2023) and "Thulathia" (2024) by Lebanese artist Yasmina Hilal. (Supplied)

Featuring an eclectic mix of sculptural art, mixed media, projection installations, fashion and jewelry, the exhibition explored craftsmanship and materiality.

“Each element came together to tell a cohesive and beautiful story about how women use their hands to craft their destinies and honor their heritages through both creative worlds of art and fashion,” Lebanese curator and Hayaty Diaries co-founder, Christina Shoucair, told Arab News. 

The curatorial process began with the pairing of artists and designers, creating a harmony between the works. 

"Communion" (2023) and "Wound" (2023) by Bahraini artist Zayn Qahtani

Bahraini artist Zayn Qahtani’s shrine-like objects, featuring delicate ethereal drawings on date paper, explore themes of venerative mourning. These are paired alongside a series of rustic sculptures and draped garments by Egyptian designer Nadine Mos.

Lebanese artist Yasmina Hilal’s photo sculptures, which incorporate her distinctivve metalwork and soldering technique, are complemented by a curated display of contemporary silver and gold accessories by Celine Dagher, a Lebanese jewelry designer.

Meanwhile, Egyptian artist Hanya Elghamry examines the process of remembering by graphically recreating various details and narratives in her installation “Abandoned Projection.” Set as a backdrop against her floating “Tampered Redux” series, along with Moroccan designer Hanan Sharifa’s mesh and delicate dresses, the space offers visitors an immersive experience.

Garments designed by Nadine Mos on display at "Material Woman" in London. (Jules Foad)

“Christina and Kinzy presented the vision for The Material Woman and I loved the idea of blending the worlds of fashion and art together and utilizing the theme of materiality as a vehicle of creative empowerment and liberation,” 3eib founder, Dania Arafeh, told Arab News. 

Hayaty Diaries, which focuses on celebrating the artwork of Arab women, marked its debut last December with its inaugural exhibition, “Through Their Eyes: Perspectives Unveiled,” in the British capital. 

“Our Hayaty Diaries journey has been incredible. We’ve had the privilege of meeting many creatives from the region and have felt the warmth and support of the community. We are immensely grateful for all the encouragement we have received along the way,” Egyptian-Saudi curator and Hayaty Diaries cofounder Kinzy Diab told Arab News.

The London-based collective is now preparing for its exhibition “Levitate,” which will run from June 6 to June 16 and center around themes of fantasy and imagination.
 


Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
Updated 20 May 2024
Follow

Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
  • Panel discussion was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry
  • Panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program

RIYADH: Ithra organized a panel discussion entitled “Creative Voices” to shed light on young Saudi cinematic talents on the sidelines of the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

It was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry.

The panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program, including 11 short films and four feature-length films.

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved compared to previous years, allowing them to showcase local stories through cinematic works that reflect the Saudi culture internationally. 

Raneem Al-Muhandis, the director who debuted her film “Swing” in 2022 with support from Ithra, said Saudi Arabia boasts a rich pool of narratives ripe for cinematic exploration with worldwide appeal.   

Ithra cinema coordinator Mansour Al-Badran said that this program has taken local filmmaking to a new level.

“We produced the film ‘Hajjan’ within IFPP which has so far won nine awards in local and regional film festivals and was chosen to be the opening or closing film in prestigious festivals,” he said.

Al-Badran added that “Hajjan” is a prime example of the cinematic projects Ithra is working on.

He highlighted that Ithra is interested in stories that draw inspiration from the rich Saudi culture and aims to raise the standards of filmmaking in the local community through workshops and seminars.

Additionally, he highlighted Ithra’s collaboration with the Cinema Society to host the Saudi Film Festival, which is as a major platform for showcasing up-and-coming talents in the film industry. 

The Ithra event at the Saudi pavilion featured a luncheon bringing together representatives of organizations that support filmmakers in Saudi Arabia. The aim was to strengthen relationships and promote the exchange of cinematic experiences between industry professionals and enthusiasts. 


Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates
Updated 20 May 2024
Follow

Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

DUBAI: Dubai Fashion Week (DFW) has announced its Spring/Summer 2025 dates, with international labels set to hit the runway from Sept. 1-5, 2024.

 “By positioning it ahead of the fashion weeks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, DFW provides an opportunity for participating designers to set the season’s trends and capture the attention of buyers,” organizing bodies the Arab Fashion council and Dubai Design District said in a released statement.  

Previous iterations of DFW saw New York-based label Carolina Herrera as the guest of honor last October with a presentation by the brand’s Creative Director Wes Gordon; supermodel Naomi Campbell closing the October edition by walking for Rizman Ruzaini; and Moroccan designer Maison Sara Chaibi making her DFW debut in February after presenting her collection at Paris Haute Couture Week.


Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi
Updated 20 May 2024
Follow

Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

DUBAI: Emirati actress and filmmaker Meera AlMidfa has two short films screening on the sidelines of the ongoing Cannes Film Festival — “Shame” and “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. 

Set to entertain audiences in the French Riviera, although the films are not playing on the official calendar of the film festival, each provides sharp insight and commentary on Arab womanhood, while approaching the subject from separate viewpoints and taking a different tone.

While in “Shame” AlMidfa plays a woman whose attempt to flee from home is abruptly halted when her mother catches her and leads to an intense confrontation, in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker,” she plays the daughter of a matchmaker trying to avoid getting hitched.

Meera AlMidfa (right) in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. (Supplied)

“The two films were made as part of Arab Film Studio workshop by Image Nation Abu Dhabi. And I was cast by the filmmakers who were doing the filmmaking course, both female directors. And they both explore similar issues about women and marriage,” AlMidfa said in an interview with Arab News.

However, AlMidfa is most excited about her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. “I play an Emirati woman married to a Saudi man,” said AlMidfa.

Starring opposite AlMidfa is Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi (“Telfaz11,” “The Office,” “From A to B”), with the film’s worldwide release planned for July 4.

Meera AlMidfa will soon star in her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. (Supplied)

The production brings together an all-female Emirati creative team featuring first feature director Maitha Alawadi, producer Rawia Abdullah and writer Sara Al-Sayegh.

The film’s logline reads, “‘Al Eid Eiden’ follows a Saudi-Emirati family as they make the final preparations for an Eid getaway in Abu Dhabi. An unexpected turn of events on their day of travel changes things drastically for the parents, but not wanting to disappoint their three young children, they decide to go ahead as planned.

“What ensues is a roller-coaster ride of comedic mishaps and misunderstandings as they hurtle through uncharted parenting territory, a theme park, and Eid gatherings with relatives. Through the chaos, they discover unity as a family.”

Having been an integral part of the theatre and acting scene for more than a decade in the UAE, AlMidfa — who has a master’s degree in film directing from the American Film Institute — is also interested in working behind the camera as much as she is performing in front of it.

“I would say acting comes more naturally to me. But the more I do production work, the more it sinks in as well. But it’s like a complete personality switch. So, you need to kind of figure out how to balance yourself when you switch from one to the other based on the project. So, I don’t mix them up too much — I don’t direct something and then act like back-to-back,” she said.


Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work
Updated 20 May 2024
Follow

Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

CANNES: Directed by Morocco’s Nabil Ayouch, Cannes Film Festival title “Everybody Loves Touda” is a compelling look at a single mother, Touda (an excellent Nisrin Erradi), who lives by the age-old dictum “never say die.”

Living in a small town, she is a bundle of music and mirth and her dances seem to bring cheer to her audience, but she soon faces unwanted attention.

The Cannes screening ended with a standing ovation, and Ayouch’s fourth outing at the festival seemed to garner far more audience appreciation than in earlier years. In 2012, his critically acclaimed drama “Horses of God” played in the Un Certain Regard section, which is second in importance to the main competition and is widely seen as a platform for experimental cinema. But Ayouch has also played in the In Competition section for the coveted Palme d’Or — his 2021 feature “Casablanca Beats,” the first title from Morocco since 1962 to vie for this honor, proved a sensation.

 Maryam Touzani and Nabil Ayouch attend the "Everybody Loves Touda" Photocall at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival. (Getty Images)

Like his other movies, Ayouch approaches “Everybody Loves Touda” with fascinating realism that at times may appear a little too harsh. Having written the script with Mayam Touzani (“The Blue Caftan”), Ayouch may have given us formulaic fare, but he infuses Touda with a kind of determination that is awesome. Striving to relocate to Casablanca, where her deaf son would have better schooling and she herself could find greater opportunities, Touda begins to sing in village nightclubs, bearing with a grin the lecherous gaze of men drunk with delusion.

This is not the first time that Ayouch puts women in such precarious positions. His 2008 “Whatever Lola Wants” talks about the trials of a postal worker in New York who dreams of becoming an Egyptian belly dancer, and “Much Loved” (which played at in the Director's Fortnight section) created a storm with its exploration of prostitution in Morocco.

Peppered with lively music (by Flemming Nordkrog), Touda croons folkloric songs on liberation and other forms of women’s rights. The actress’s gripping performance causes the narrative to sparkle —Erradi has a remarkable on-screen presence that makes the movie a joy to watch.