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.”


Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
Updated 49 min 18 sec ago
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Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion

Coldplay concert halted after Israeli man falls during failed stage invasion
  • Controversial media personality Guy Hochman tried to rush stage in Athens wearing Israeli flag
  • Frontman Chris Martin: ‘We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide’

LONDON: A Coldplay concert in Athens had to be paused after a man with an Israeli flag injured himself trying to reach the stage, The Independent reported on Thursday.

Footage of the man, later identified as Israeli media personality Guy Hochman, was posted to social media showing him trying to climb over a lighting rig before falling, knocking over several pieces of equipment.

Lead singer Chris Martin was seen asking the rest of the band several times to “stop” after witnessing the event directly in front of him, gesturing at crew around him to assist. He and bandmate Johnny Buckland then tried to help Hochman from the edge of the stage.

 

 

Hochman identified himself on social media, posting an image of himself at the concert wearing a black baseball cap and draped in the Israeli flag.

He also posted footage of himself on TikTok, saying he had led chants of “bring them home” in the audience in relation to Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Hochman then posted footage of his efforts to climb onto the stage, narrating as he got closer that he was “smelling Chris Martin’s sweat.”

After the fall, Hochman wrote on social media that he had damaged his ribs. “I have fallen. Right rib gone,” he said.

Hochman, who has courted controversy in the past for making jokes about the killings of Palestinians in Gaza, received mixed responses from fellow Israelis on social media despite his claims that he had “made history” with the failed stunt.

One person wrote on his TikTok: “I’m glad it didn’t work out. It saved us a great embarrassment and maybe even increased antagonism from Chris.”

Another said: “Really unnecessary and would have made us (a joke) if you came to him with an Israeli flag. Be healthy and glad you didn’t succeed.”

Last month, Hochman claimed that he was removed from the Eurovision village in the Swedish city of Malmo for waving the Israeli flag.

The event was dogged by controversy over the participation of an Israeli entrant in the annual song contest, with local protesters and other performers critical of the decision.

At a Coldplay concert in Tokyo in November, Martin appeared to speak out against Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

He told the audience that there were “so many terrible things happening,” and that he believed “most people on Earth are full of love and full of kindness, compassion.”

He added: “We don’t believe in oppression, or occupation, terrorism or genocide, nothing like that.”


Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
Updated 13 June 2024
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Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia

Indie band Juniper’s Club find their rhythm in Saudi Arabia
  • The Bahrain-based indie outfit have built a fanbase in the Kingdom over the past two years and make their Riyadh debut later this month

ALKHOBAR: “It’s just across the border, but it’s a whole different world, right?” Debbi Francisco, the Filipino frontwoman of Bahrain-based band Juniper’s Club, told Arab News ahead of her group’s show at Alkhobar’s Bohemia Cafe & Records in early June.  

“The Saudi energy is different. While playing, I have the habit of always looking down. And then I look up and I’m like, ‘Wow, they’re actually staring at me.’ The Saudi fans really focus on you,” Francisco’s Indian bandmate, guitarist Sean Fernandes, added with a smile. 

Since the pair formed Juniper’s Club two years ago, they have performed many live shows in Saudi, all in Alkhobar. They love their mini tradition of driving across the King Fahd Causeway to perform. For their gigs, they are joined by John Goodwin on drums and Ryan James on bass.  

Francisco and Fernandes, both in their 20s, met in 2019, when they were both music instructors. “We realized we had a lot of things in common, musically,” Francisco said. “And we actually started a bunch of projects together, but, eventually, we were, like, ‘Yo. Why don’t we just do something with just the two of us?’” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Their music seamlessly transitions from cutesy indie-pop to full-on rage-rock — but remains danceable, relatable, and sonically cohesive. Fernandes cites Coldplay as a major influence on his guitar playing and mentions Blink 182 and The Beatles as early favorites.  

“I actually started playing music very late. I didn’t play anything until I was 18,” he said. “My brother left his guitars behind when he went to college to pursue sound engineering. I had no siblings around, so I had a lot of free time. I picked up the guitar, and here I am.” 

Francisco, meanwhile, was brought up on gospel music. “That was my main reason for going to church as a kid, I would just watch musicians play,” she said. “I learned by watching people play live. I was also big on the Jonas Brothers — then I grew out of that and into Paramore. I started playing drums because of Paramore. I wanted to learn all their songs.” 

Growing up in Bahrain, neither of them ever ventured into Saudi Arabia. 

“Saudi was like a neighbor you’ve been wanting to say hi to for a long time, but you were a bit shy and they were a bit shy. And then one day they invite you to dinner,” Francisco said. “Now, we’re breaking bread and rocking out! Honestly, it’s such an honor to play in Saudi. Less than 10 years ago that wasn’t in the picture at all. It was almost impossible.” 

They’re now building a solid following in the Kingdom with their mix of indie-pop and alternative rock, featuring haunting, sometimes angsty, lyrics with melodic hooks. Live, their music is considerably heavier than on recordings.  

“We always try to make our shows as energetic and fun as possible,” Francisco said. “We want the crowd to have as much fun as we are. At its core, Juniper’s Club is just me and Sean, but it’s evolved into something else live; it becomes a Juniper’s Club club.” 

On June 28, Juniper’s Club will make their Riyadh debut at The Warehouse in the JAX District. 

“We also have an EP coming out, hopefully by the end of June,” Francisco said. “We’re going to introduce some of those new songs live. We’ve really revamped our setlist, so it might get a bit crazier than usual. It’s going to get loud.” 


Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas
Updated 12 June 2024
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Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

Actress Laila Abdallah sparks global headlines after beach day with Joe Jonas

DUBAI: US singer Joe Jonas was spotted enjoying a beach day in Greece with Lebanese actress Laila Abdallah as they attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens along with other celebrities.

The paparazzi shots sparked an international internet manhunt for Abdallah, who was previously identified by magazines around the world as a “mystery brunette,” according to the Daily Mail.

The pair did not attend the opening event together, and mingled among other high-profile guests, including former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, actor Welsh actor Luke Evans, French designer Olivier Rousteing and Australian pop icon Kylie Minogue, among others.

But paparazzi at the resort were solely focused on Jonas and Abdallah, who enjoyed a beach day on Monday.

Jonas, who filed for divorce from British actress Sophie Turner in September, was photographed swimming in the sea and lounging on the shore along with Abdallah and others.

Although the snaps sparked international headlines and speculation amongst fans, neither camp has commented on the photographs and according to multiple reports they are just friends.

The 28-year-old actress was born in Kuwait to Lebanese parents on Jan. 8, 1996, and began acting in the early 2010s, landing roles in Arab TV series.

Laila Abdallah attended the opening of the One&Only Aesthesis in Athens. (Getty Images)

Abdallah can speak in sign language as she was raised by parents who are deaf and mute. The actress is the oldest of four siblings and previously spoke to Emirati podcast host Anas Bukhash about that responsibility.

“Because I’m the oldest among my siblings, and always I’m the one who does everything… I mean, I call myself the man of the house, the father, the big sister, I’m everything, so it’s impossible for anyone to see me cry, impossible,” she said.

Abdallah previously starred in a music video for Saudi singer Abdul Majeed Abdullah but her first acting role was in the TV show “Saher Al-lail” in 2010,  which was directed by Muhammad Daham Al-Shammari. The director also cast her in a recurring role in his series “Tu Nahar.” Abdallah most recently starred in the TV series “London Class” in 2023.

She boasts five million followers on Instagram and is known for sharing behind-the-scenes shots from her international travels, as well as her red carpet moments — notably, she recently hit the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In December 2017, she married Iranian actor Abdallah Abass, but they divorced in 2018.


‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge
Updated 12 June 2024
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‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge

‘Ultraman: Rising’ sees iconic Japanese hero take on an ‘emotional, entertaining’ new challenge
  • ‘He is massive in a way that we don't understand (in the US) – for people in Japan, and all over Asia, he’s bigger than Superman or Spider-Man,’ the director said
  • In this film, the titanic superhero meets his match when he adopts a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju

DUBAI: Set to release on Netflix on June 14, 3DCG-animated feature film “Ultraman: Rising” sees Tokyo threatened by rising monster attacks when baseball star Ken Sato returns home to take on the mantle of Ultraman.

Ultraman is already an international pop-culture phenomenon and has been a fan favorite since the Japanese television series “Ultra Q” in 1966, with countless reboots and sequels across different mediums released over the years.

In statements shared exclusively with Arab News in the Middle East, Emmy-winning artist and filmmaker Shannon Tindle shares how his childhood influenced the decision to create “Ultraman: Rising.”

“When I was a kid, I loved sitting on the floor with my parents, watching kung fu movies, Godzilla, and, most of all, Ultraman. The image of a towering, monster-fighting superhero was forever burned into my brain (and heart) and would eventually inspire this film,” he said.

In this film, the titanic superhero meets his match when he adopts a 35-foot-tall, fire-breathing baby kaiju whom he protects from nefarious outside forces.

“Although family has always been a part of the Ultraman legacy, we’re leaning into parenthood in a way that hasn’t been explored before. What does it feel like to have this incredible power and still be overwhelmed by a child? There’s something deeply emotional and incredibly entertaining about that shared experience,” Tindle explained.

As for the responsibility of creating the next step in a revered Japanese franchise, the Kentucky-born director and writer says it is not something he took lightly.

“I learned that he is massive in a way that we don't understand (in the US) – for people in Japan, and all over Asia, he’s bigger than Superman or Spider-Man,” Tindle explained, adding: “Our goal was for Japanese folks to see themselves in the film, from how people engage with one another to what their houses and signage look like … we worked with our cultural consultant, Mayumi Yoshida, who is a talented filmmaker in her own right, and we also had our own internal team that included both Japanese and Japanese-American folks who would have weekly meetings to review all of our materials,” he said.

VFX supervisor Hayden Jones and animation supervisor Mathieu Vig took aesthetic inspiration from manga and anime for the film, that The Wrap critic Rafael Motamayor described as featuring “dazzling and memorable stances and shots.”


More acts pull out of UK festival Latitude in protest against sponsor Barclays’ links to Israel

More acts pull out of UK festival Latitude in protest against sponsor Barclays’ links to Israel
Updated 12 June 2024
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More acts pull out of UK festival Latitude in protest against sponsor Barclays’ links to Israel

More acts pull out of UK festival Latitude in protest against sponsor Barclays’ links to Israel
  • Comedians Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow are the latest performers to withdraw from the event in Essex next month
  • Barclays has been accused by the protest group Palestine Action of having financial interests in Israel’s weapons trade and fossil fuel industry

LONDON: Three comedians said on Tuesday they were pulling out of the UK’s Latitude Festival in protest against ties between the event’s main sponsor, Barclays, and Israel.

The withdrawals by Sophie Duker, Grace Campbell and Alexandra Haddow follow a similar decision last week by Irish singer-songwriter CMAT. Other musicians that have pulled out include Pillow Queens, Mui Zyu and Georgia Ruth, Sky News reported.

Acts such as Keane, Kasabian and London Grammar are still scheduled to perform at the event in the English county of Suffolk from July 25 to 28.

Barclays has been accused by the protest group Palestine Action of having financial interests in Israel’s weapons trade and fossil fuel industry. Members of the group this week splashed red paint on 20 of the bank’s branches across England and Scotland.

Comedian Duker posted a short video on social media in which she confirmed she would no longer be performing at the festival, despite her experience there being “magical in the past,” because she said Barclays was “profiting from the production of weaponry” used by Israeli forces in Gaza.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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“I am committed to minimizing my complicity in what I consider to be a pattern of abhorrent, unlawful violence,” she said, adding that her stance had attracted “violent abuse, targeted pile-ons and death threats.”

Haddow shared a similar message on Instagram in which she said she could not “in good conscience take the fee” for performing at the event and that boycotting it was “one of the only things I can actively do.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Barclays said it recognizes “the profound human suffering” caused by the war in Gaza but added: “We provide vital financial services to US, UK and European public companies that supply defense products to NATO and its allies.

“Barclays does not directly invest in these companies. The defense sector is fundamental to our national security, and the UK government has been clear that supporting defense companies is compatible with ESG (environmental, social and governance) considerations.

“Decisions on the implementation of arms embargoes to other nations are the job of respective elected governments.”