Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Sandokji’s ‘Underground’ discusses the Kingdom’s music scene

Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Sandokji’s ‘Underground’ discusses the Kingdom’s music scene
Abdulrahman Sandokji is a Saudi filmmaker. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 May 2024
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Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Sandokji’s ‘Underground’ discusses the Kingdom’s music scene

Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Sandokji’s ‘Underground’ discusses the Kingdom’s music scene
  •  ‘Unfolding the unseen is my thing,’ says Abdulrahman Sandokji

DUBAI: “In film school, they tell you that your first film should be a documentary — train in a simpler form, then go to fiction,” says Saudi filmmaker Abdulrahman Sandokji. “So, naturally, I started with documentaries. But I got hooked.”

Over 15 years later, Sandokji still hasn’t moved on to fiction. Not that that’s an issue for him. His documentaries — produced by the company he founded, Basar Media — have proven immensely satisfying.

“A fiction film can take one or two years to shoot. I have no patience with waiting days and days to shoot one scene. I want things faster and more surprising,” he tells Arab News.




Sandokji (front, center) on set, shooting “Underground.” (Supplied)

“And (documentaries) are honest. You’re talking about real stories. Unfolding the unseen is my thing, you know? I want to go into these deep places and show them to people,” he continues. “It’s a way to understand people, to really see people. To pick a flower from lots of beautiful gardens and plant them in your own garden. It’s more of a journey of discovery for me, you know? That’s what I love about documentaries.”

Sandokji’s breakthrough came with his 2014 film “Phosphine,” which he describes as a “Michael-Moore style” investigative documentary. It explored how the titular chemical — a potentially deadly respiratory poison — had been used (out of ignorance rather than malice) in homes to kill cockroaches, rats and other pests. While the actual occupants had been told to leave their apartments for five or six days, their neighbors were not, and the odorless gas killed them.
Sandokji put his documentary up on YouTube. It got 5 million views in five days, he says, adding that, at the time, he and his colleagues were delighted if they got 100,000 views on any of their videos, because they “weren’t funny — they weren’t comedies.” But “Phosphine” ended up making a difference to society, as well as to Sandokji’s career.




On set for “Underground.” (Supplied)

“We were on TV shows and talk shows — we were overwhelmed. Lots of social movement happened and governmental sectors held very urgent meetings about this substance. The Ministry of Health set up a hotline about it,” he says. “That was when I thought, ‘OK. Maybe this is your thing. Being a voice for those who want their voices to be heard.’”

Unlike “Phosphine,” Sandokji’s latest doc, “Underground,” is not a “tragic story.” But, once again, it was a “journey of discovery” for him — one that delves into the Kingdom’s burgeoning alternative music scene.

The idea — as for many of his films — was not Sandokji’s own. “When I analyze myself, I’m more of a person who receives an idea and then gets to enlarge it,” he says. “When I generate an idea myself, people go, ‘Mmm. No.’” He laughs. “They’ll go, ‘How about this idea instead?’ I’m like the gas — just throw the spark on me and I’ll explode, you know?”




Sandokji’s “Underground” was a “journey of discovery” for him. (Supplied)

The “spark” for “Underground” came from a friend, Tamer Farhan. “He’s passionate about underground music. He knows all these artists,” Sandokji says. “And he opened the window to me and said ‘Come and have a look.’”

What Sandokji found was a wealth of talent and experience that has largely gone unnoticed in Saudi Arabia — understandably, given that until recently live music was largely outlawed in the Kingdom, and music that wasn’t commercial Khaleeji pop or classical Arabic fare was frowned upon.

“These people are good people,” says Sandokji. “Over the years people talked about the music underground as this place with drugs and all this prohibited stuff. But no. They are nice. They have feelings. They love their music and they’re passionate and they’re kind.”

That passion shines through in “Underground,” whether from veterans such as metal band Wasted Land’s frontman Emad Mujallid or relative newcomers such as DJ Cosmicat (Nouf Sufyani) and Salma Murad. All the artists involved are given the opportunity to discuss their craft and love for music in depth, and to play some of their music live.




Sandokji believes “Underground” has the potential to grab international attention. (Supplied)

“(The songs) are not recorded and synced,” Sandokji says. “I wanted to show the audience how talented they are.”

So far, that audience is whoever attended the premiere on the opening night of the Saudi Film Festival on May 2 — another landmark for Sandokji, he explains. “Usually they choose fiction films — good fiction films — for the opening. I was always watching them thinking ‘When am I going to make a movie that could be screened in the opening? I’m a documentary maker, nobody would give me that chance.’ But it happened.”

And he believes “Underground” has the potential to grab international attention. It’s already been submitted for consideration at several large festivals, but the main aim since he started shooting it in 2022, Sandokji happily admits, has been to get the film on Netflix. There are also discussions underway about turning it into a TV series.

“It’s something people will want to know more about, I think,” he says, before citing the words the movie concludes with, when Murad is discussing what music means to her: “It’s powerful. It’s beautiful.”

“When Salma said that, I had goosebumps,” Sandokji says. “I thought, ‘Yes! These are the words the movie has to end with.’ Music is powerful; it can make you very strong, it can make you very weak… it’s magical.”


Review: ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

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Updated 14 July 2024
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Review: ‘Fly Me to the Moon’

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  • The film is as relevant as ever in 2024, as social media allows us to each be in charge of our own carefully curated stories that sometimes stand in contrast to our lives behind the scenes

Florida, known as the Sunshine State, is the sunny backdrop for the latest Hollywood blockbuster, “Fly Me to the Moon,” starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum, which opened this month.

The fictional story takes us to 1969, to a visually saturated world, full of colorful shift dresses and tailored trousers, where an introverted NASA director — Tatum’s character Cole — who is in charge of the Apollo 11 launch, collides with the feisty, fast-talking and faster-thinking Kelly, a ruthless marketing specialist played by Johansson. They are instructed by the US president to broadcast the moon landing. And the space race begins.

Cole, a military veteran who fought in the Korean War, moves through the world cautiously. He worries about his engineers and is violently opposed when Kelly tells him she will install a camera on the shuttle — but she eventually gets her way.

He hates chaos or potentially putting lives in danger, mainly astronauts Buzz Aldrin and his team. She sees the bigger picture: People only care about optics. She will give the president, and the American people, what they want. She is willing to risk it all for the mission.

Kelly, who believes that no rules ever apply to her and subscribes to the “act now, think later” philosophy, takes matters into her well-manicured hands. While Cole does the same, he follows the rules in his own rugged way.

Cole and Kelly are on separate missions — each to land on the moon. With him, the real deal. With her, a landing crafted out of thin air, using actors and constructing an authentic-looking set.

Together, they unknowingly embark on the most ambitious launch yet: selling American excellence to Americans, and the world. They do this all while maintaining their own sensibilities.

Of course, they fall in love. But will it last, or will they get in each other’s way — or their own way?

The live broadcast happens, televised for all of America to see, but which feed will be the one that makes it to the public? The real one, which now includes a real camera, or the one she crafted in a studio? Amazingly, a cat named Mischief makes the call.

Sometimes, facts can be stranger than fiction, but will reality prevail or merely the fabricated version of it?

The film also stars Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano as well the excellent Jim Rash and Anne Garcia. It was directed by Greg Berlanti with Johansson serving as a producer, along with Jonathan Lia, Keenan Flynn and Sarah Schechter as co-producers.

The film is as relevant as ever in 2024, as social media allows us to each be in charge of our own carefully curated stories that sometimes stand in contrast to our lives behind the scenes.

Of course, the classic jazz song, “Fly Me to the Moon,” makes a cameo. Written in 1954 by Bart Howard, who crafted it for his partner of 58 years, it was eventually rewritten with the Apollo missions to the moon in mind.

Famously performed by Frank Sinatra in 1964, that version is the one that stood the test of time. But that too was a remake — the original version of that re-write was by Kaye Ballard.

Like the film, we sometimes get to decide which version of history we would like to keep.

 


Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda
Updated 14 July 2024
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Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda

Liverpool Arab Arts Festival’s return showcases entertaining agenda
  • Vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, workshops

LONDON: The Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, the UK’s longest-running festival celebrating Arab arts and culture, runs until July 21 and showcases a vibrant mix of art, theater, music, literature, and workshops.

Founded in 1998, the festival has become a cornerstone of Liverpool’s cultural calendar.

This year’s program features a diverse lineup of artists from Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, offering a dynamic interplay between traditional and contemporary Arab art forms.

Laura Brown, creative producer of the festival, told Arab News: “Artists are dealing with contemporary ideas and art forms, but often the conversations and themes they are tapping into are something Arab communities have been talking about for generations, like migration, identity and conflict.”

One of the highlights will be the festival’s tribute to Palestine. A special screening of “At Home in Gaza and London” will be held on Monday, with ticket proceeds benefiting collaborators in Gaza.

“Oranges and Stones,” a wordless play told through physical action and music, on Thursday will depict 75 years of occupation and settlement in Palestine. Marina Barham, general director of Al-Harah Theater in Bethlehem, will also speak about the therapeutic role of theater in addressing community trauma.

Port city Liverpool has fostered diverse and multicultural communities, with Arabic reportedly being the city’s second most-spoken language.

Brown said: “What’s really important to us is that we work with the community to ensure everyone feels represented. We talk to the community about artists they like and who they want to see, to bring them over. It was a conversation with members of the Somali community that introduced us to Aar Maanta.”

As an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organization, the festival is part of the 2023-26 investment program.

Brown added: “Being an NPO is something the whole team is incredibly proud of and it is something we take very seriously.

“The arts landscape is very challenging and the ability to be able to know your festival is secured for several years in advance allows you to build relationships with venues and creatives to develop programs and projects further.”
 


Review: Nicolas Cage-starring horror-mystery ‘Longlegs’ falls flat

Review: Nicolas Cage-starring horror-mystery ‘Longlegs’ falls flat
Updated 14 July 2024
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Review: Nicolas Cage-starring horror-mystery ‘Longlegs’ falls flat

Review: Nicolas Cage-starring horror-mystery ‘Longlegs’ falls flat

CHENNAI: If one were to walk into a theater to watch “Longlegs” in the hopes of finding something even remotely novel or different from the dozens of horror films that have played in cinemas over the years, disappointment awaits.

Set to be released in Saudi cinemas on July 18, the film is set in 1990s Oregon where mist and fog creep across a deserted, snow-covered landscape. Despite the sometimes eerie set, the movie does not manage to create a sense of sheer terror. Writer-director Osgood Perkins’ work appears clumsy, relying mostly on mood and atmosphere rather than on a substantial core as it follows FBI agent Lee Harker (Maika Monroe) on the trail of a notorious serial killer, played by Nicolas Cage.

Cage is completely hidden under a heavy disguise, with his expressions impossible to fathom, which is a pity because love him or hate him, he is an emotive performer.

Leaving behind coded notes signed as Longlegs — notes that Harker manages to crack as she tries to capture him — the devil on the prowl convinces fathers to murder their wives and children and then commit suicide. Dozens of families are wiped out, but the case itself is a mystery with details that do not add up to a believable whole.

Perkins has a penchant for style over substance — it’s a calling card that has marked his career, beginning with his 2015 debut “The Blackcoat's Daughter.” The director seems to lose his grip over the narrative and lets it sink into nonsensical oblivion. The dialogue is clumsy and the plot is peppered with plot holes.

If there is one plus point in the entire 101 minutes it is Monroe, who rises above a shoddily written part to convince audiences that she can offer a semblance of excellence in a story that seems to go nowhere.

 


Rita Ora paints the town red in Elie Saab look at Disney premiere

Rita Ora paints the town red in Elie Saab look at Disney premiere
Updated 14 July 2024
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Rita Ora paints the town red in Elie Saab look at Disney premiere

Rita Ora paints the town red in Elie Saab look at Disney premiere

DUBAI: British singer and actress Rita Ora attended the premiere of Disney’s “Descendants: The Rise Of Red” in California wearing an on theme scarlet gown by Lebanese couturier Elie Saab.

Featuring draped material on the bodice and a thigh-high slit, the look hailed from Saab’s Autumn/Winter 2010 Haute Couture collection.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by ELIE SAAB (@eliesaabworld)

The musical fantasy film follows Red, daughter of the Queen of Hearts, and Chloe, daughter of Cinderella, as they team up to save their home by traveling back in time to stop an event that would cause grave consequences.

Directed by Jennifer Phang, the cast includes Brandy, Rita Ora, Kylie Cantrall, Malia Baker, China Anne McClain, Jeremy Swift, Dara Reneé, Ruby Rose Turner, Morgan Dudley, Paolo Montalban, Melanie Paxson and Leonardo Nam.

Ora and Brandy, both pop singers, star together in the fourth installment of the “Descendants” movie franchise about the children of iconic Disney characters. They both play the mothers to the two main characters.

 “I Will Never Let You Down” hitmaker Ora plays the role of the Queen of Hearts and Brandy reprises her role from 1997’s “Cinderella” to play Cinderella.

“Oh my gosh, it's crazy — I did a movie with Brandy!” Ora told Entertainment Tonight ahead of the release of the film.

“I mean, I love her so much. I loved her music growing up. She was one of the vocalists that I would try and imitate every day in my bedroom. And watching her ‘Cinderella’ with Whitney Houston was so iconic for so many reasons. It made me believe in myself — like, 'Oh my goodness, I can do this too,’” Ora added, referring to superstar Whitney Houston who played Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother in the 1997 film.

Meanwhile, Elie Saab has been in the spotlight this weekend, with British actress Daisy Ridley showing off an understated look by the designer while presenting at the 2024 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday.

The ESPY Awards, the Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly, is an event honoring the top athletes and sport performances of the year.

Ridley wore a sleeveless cobalt-blue gown from Lebanese designer Elie Saab. The actress had her hair pulled back into a tight bun as she accessorized the look with blue gem earrings. She completed the ensemble with black heels.


‘This has been a journey for me,’ Kevin Costner says of passion project

‘This has been a journey for me,’ Kevin Costner says of passion project
Updated 13 July 2024
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‘This has been a journey for me,’ Kevin Costner says of passion project

‘This has been a journey for me,’ Kevin Costner says of passion project

LOS ANGELES: Oscar-winner Kevin Costner brought his passion project "Horizon: An American Saga" to the big screen this summer. A labor of love since 1988, Costner wrote, produced, financed, starred in, and directed the film.

His dedication paid off at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received an 11-minute standing ovation. Despite a lukewarm international box office take, the second part of the saga is on the horizon and will be released at an unspecified date.

“This has been a journey for me and for the people to stand and clap and not stop. And I basically shut out the noise for a while and walked my life backwards and thought about my journey professionally and the journey for ‘Horizon.’ And I was just really grateful at the end of the day that I stayed true to it,” Costner said of the lengthy standing ovation at Cannes.

Costner tells a Western story and focuses on the experiences of Indigenous Americans during colonization. The film meticulously explores a 12-year span during which white settlers encroached upon indigenous lands. With a diverse cast, the narrative offers a rich tapestry of perspectives on exploring new frontiers.

“We're just playing dress ups and telling a story version. But, you know, the frontier was actually founded on people taking wagon trains across through these uncharted territory. So you really get a bit of empathy towards what actually happened,” actor Sam Worthington said.

"Horizon: An American Saga" takes its time to set the tone for an engaging journey into a pivotal era of American history, told with passion and precision. Despite its three-hour runtime and slow pace, British actress Sienna Miller says she enjoyed the process. 

“I realized there were a lot of characters and there were long scenes and people had long monologues. But I like that,” Miller said.

“It was a massive, epic ... sized film to be doing. It’s like hundreds of actors and cattle everywhere, and we're in the elements. But then as an actor, he just slides into the scene. He's got this deep relaxation about the way that he works,” actress Abbey Lee said, with co-star Isabelle Fuhrman adding: “He knows this story backwards and forwards. I mean, it's been long enough for him to finally be on set doing this.”