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

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry
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Updated 06 June 2024
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How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the Saudi film industry

How AI may push the boundaries of creativity in the 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.

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“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.”

 


Birthday tributes pour in for French Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair

Birthday tributes pour in for French Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair
Updated 19 June 2024
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Birthday tributes pour in for French Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair

Birthday tributes pour in for French Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair

DUBAI: Birthday tributes poured in this week for part-Saudi model Amira Al-Zuhair, who has celebrated her 23rd birthday.

Among those sending warm wishes on Instagram were friends including Stella Ferro, the model manager at Elite Model World which represents Al-Zuhair, Saudi entrepreneur Aisha Almamy, Egyptian actress Ghada Abdel Razek and French Algerian designer Xavier Belmahdi-More, founder of Eddine Belmahdi.

“Happy birthday, my love,” wrote Ferro on her story, sharing a picture of Al-Zuhair. Almamy added: “Happy birthday our Amira,” playfully hinting at the Arabic meaning of the model’s name — princess.

Instagram/ @amiraalzuhair

Al-Zuhair, born in Paris to a French mother and Saudi father, has made her mark on the fashion world and appeared on the runway for an array of renowned fashion houses such as Missoni, Maison Alaia, Brunello Cucinelli, Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, Giambattista Valli, Giorgio Armani, Elie Saab and many more.

Earlier this month, Al-Zuhair walked in Louis Vuitton’s high jewelry show in Saint-Tropez, which was attended by celebrities such as British actress Phoebe Dynevor and Thai actress Urassaya Sperbund.

The collection was designed by the house’s artistic director of jewelry and watches, Francesca Amfitheatrof.

Instagram/ @amiraalzuhair

Al-Zuhair wore an intricate chunky choker featuring a wide structured design with a lattice-like pattern in gold. It was adorned with diamonds and featured a large yellow gemstone as a focal point.

The catwalk star shared a picture on her Instagram story of herself with Amfitheatrof and her fellow models, where she wore a cut-out black top paired with oversized black salwar pants.

In May, she walked the runway for the Chanel Cruise 2024/2025 show in Marseille, France. She sported a vibrant yellow ensemble featuring hot shorts paired with a button-down top and coordinating cardigan, along with a beige hat, a gold choker embellished with blue detailing, chunky earrings and a chain belt adorned with pendants.

In addition to her runway appearances, Al-Zuhair has featured in campaigns for high-profile brands such as Prada, Chanel and Carolina Herrera.


Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor
Updated 19 June 2024
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Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

Sonia Al-Sowaiegh on making music and ‘relatable Khaleeji’ humor

DUBAI: From starring in a campaign for US label Calvin Klein to singing and amassing a loyal following on TikTok, Saudi Bahraini talent Sonia Al-Sowaiegh is working to conquer the entertainment space.

Better known by her online persona, “Shessonia,” Al-Sowaiegh says she wanted to be a singer from the age of eight. Her discography, she told Arab News, is geared towards evoking emotions.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I don't care if my music goes viral or not, I just want to make one person laugh or make someone’s day,” she said. “Obviously I have goals … but those don’t equate to my goals of making people feel something and resonate with something.”

Her first EP, “Adulting and Adapting,” which was released in 2020, was inspired by the anxiety of transitioning into adulthood.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I didn't know how to maneuver and act like an adult when I felt like such a child inside,” she said. “That inspired so much of the album because I wanted people to relate to the feeling of being lonely when you are forced to go out there in the world and experience heartbreak and being broke all by yourself.”

She added: “Sadness really is motivation for me to write. Every time I am sad, I write.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

But behind the emotional music, Al-Sowaiegh shows her bubbly side on social media, more specifically on TikTok. With videos gaining millions of views, she describes her content as “relatable Khaleeji” humor.

Like many others, her TikTok journey started in 2020 during the Covid lockdown.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sonia (@shessonia)

“I started posting on TikTok, making fun of other people as a joke, and then my videos went viral. So I started making lifestyle-ish story time (videos) just putting my makeup on and telling extreme stories that happened in my life,” she said.

Al-Sowaiegh is keen to encourage young Arab creatives to put themselves out there and follow their passions.

“Be yourself. If you have a drive inside you that makes you feel like you want to do something, do it. Don't get advice from someone who tells you not to do it,” she said.


Pakistani actor Kubra Khan’s new Eid film has a ‘Kashmir connection’

Pakistani actor Kubra Khan’s new Eid film has a ‘Kashmir connection’
Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistani actor Kubra Khan’s new Eid film has a ‘Kashmir connection’

Pakistani actor Kubra Khan’s new Eid film has a ‘Kashmir connection’
  • Abhi premiered on Eid Al-Adha and also stars singer and actor Gohar Mumtaz
  • Khan says she prefers to play the role of strong women on TV and in films

KARACHI: Popular Pakistani actress Kubra Khan has said her latest flick, “Abhi,” which premiered this week on Eid Al-Adha, will focus on highlighting the issues of minorities and has a strong “Kashmir connection.”
Khan’s acting career spans over a decade with many prominent and unconventional television and film roles to her credit, including in “Sang-e-Mar Mar,” “Alif,” “Hum Kahan Ke Sachay Thay,” “Sang-e-Mah,” and most recently, “Jannat Se Aagay.”
Khan is currently starring in the TV drama “Noor Jahan,” in which she plays the titular role alongside veteran actress Saba Hamid. She made her debut in 2014 with the film Na Maloom Afraad and is often described among the nation’s highest-paid actresses.
Speaking to Arab News in an exclusive interview, Khan said the character in Abhi was a “flagbearer” for the Kashmir cause. 
“We speak about certain things [in the movie] that haven’t been talked about before,” Khan told Arab News, without divulging specific details about the plot of the film. “We speak about minorities. It has predominantly a connection with Kashmir.
“We have spoken about how the people who are powerful get away with everything and anybody who does not have that power in their hand might just be forgotten. I hope people recognize the fact that every life matters at the end of the day.”
The film, which hit cinemas across Pakistan on June 17, has been directed by Asad Mumtaz. Starring alongside Khan in the film is Goher Mumtaz, a Pakistani musician, music composer, guitarist and actor who is famous for being the founding member of the rock band, Jal. The movie has been co-produced by Ali Chaudry and Goher Mumtaz while Khalid Iqbal is the executive producer. The screenplay and dialogues are written by Shoaib Rabbani. 
Khan said the movie’s soundtrack was “gorgeous” and her co-star Mumtaz had done a “fantastic job” with the songs.
She described her character, Zara, as someone similar to her real self.
“My character is very similar to who I am and that’s probably because that’s how I made it,” Khan said. “I am a little sarcastic, a little funny and I am like ‘Let’s do this’, adventure, and just kind of get on with it and push through everything that I want to do in life. The way she speaks [is similar to me] as well.”
Speaking about her choice of characters, Khan said she preferred to take on the role of strong women.
“I feel like strength can be in silence as well as loudness,” she said. “You can have a fight within yourself. I have done so many characters who aren’t fighting with the world but fighting with themselves. I think the battle with oneself is something that empowers women to stand up for themselves in whatever capacity.”
“KEEP TALKING ABOUT GAZA”
Khan, who grew up in the UK, has often addressed criticism of her accent when she entered the Pakistani entertainment industry, insisting that “art comes in all languages.”
“Having said that, in order to connect with the audience, I worked really, really, really hard to actually be able to fix my pronunciation [and] my accent,” she said about her work in Abhi. 
“It was difficult, but it was something I knew I needed to do. Because the last thing I wanted was that if I am performing well but pronouncing a word wrong, people forget the performance.”
She acknowledged that social media trolls used to pull her down, but she no longer read comments about herself.
“I realized you can’t make everybody happy,” she added. “If you wear shalwar kameez, they will call you behenji [sister]. If you wear trousers, they will call you vulgar. If you wear a hijab, they will call you fake. So, nobody is going to be happy ever.”
Khan also spoke about her vocal stance on the ongoing war with Gaza. 

“It’s a topic that needs to be spoken about,” she said, pointing to a Palestine badge pinned on her dress. 
“An entire nation is being wiped out and there is nobody who has enough power to actually go ahead and make a difference. There is a country [Israel] that has decided to wipe [Palestine] away ... They have broken every law that has existed for human kind … We need to keep talking about it as much as we can.”

 


Fashion Trust Arabia celebrates winners at London dinner with Salma Hayek

Fashion Trust Arabia celebrates winners at London dinner with Salma Hayek
Updated 18 June 2024
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Fashion Trust Arabia celebrates winners at London dinner with Salma Hayek

Fashion Trust Arabia celebrates winners at London dinner with Salma Hayek

DUBAI: Qatar’s Fashion Trust Arabia held a party at Claridge’s Hotel in London on Monday to celebrate its cohort of winners for 2023.

Swedish-born Somali model Ikram Abdi attended the event alongside US Mexican actress Salma Hayek and the prize-winning designers.

Ikram Abdi attended the event in London. (Getty Images)

The organization announced the seven winners of the Fashion Trust Arabia Prize in December.

The usually star-studded awards ceremony was cancelled due to the “ongoing and deeply distressing humanitarian crisis in Palestine,” but a two-day virtual deliberation session was held to find the winners last year.

Womenswear designer Amir Al-Kasm and Renaissance founder Cynthia Merhej jointly won the evening wear category.

The finalists were selected by a panel that included Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani and fashion writer Tania Fares, who founded the trust in 2018.

(L to R) Adam Alaoui Elyasse, Lily Max, Omar Taha, Fashion Trust Arabia Co-Founder and Co-Chair Tania Fares, Cynthia Merhej, Ahmed Amer, Katarina Tarazi and Sarah Hermez attend the Fashion Trust Arabia dinner in London. (Getty Images)

Other winners were Lebanon-based designer Ahmed Amer in the ready-to-wear category, British-Lebanese designer Katarina Tarazi in the jewelry category, and design duo of eyewear label A Better Feeling Omar Taha and Lily Max for accessories.

Menswear designer Adam Elyasse took home the Franca Sozzani Debut Talent award and Nigerian designer Adeju Thompson, founder of Lagos Space Programme, was awarded the Guest Country Award.

The sixth edition of Fashion Trust Arabia awards ceremony is set to take place in Marrakech, Morocco, as part of the Qatar-Morocco 2024 Year of Culture.

The event will take place in October, organizers announced on Instagram in April.

“In line with our ongoing dedication to diversity and inclusivity, we’ve selected the lively city of Marrakech as our hosting location,” the statement read. “The FTA Prize 2024 will extend invitations to talents worldwide, as we explore and showcase the diverse cultural heritage of Morocco.

“At the heart of our mission we have consistently championed creative communities across the Arab World and this year is no different,” the statement added.

Fashion Trust Arabia is a non-profit organization that provides financial support, guidance and mentorship to emerging designers from across the Middle East and North Africa region. 

The event is known for attracting industry heavyweights from around the world, with the 2022 ceremony hosting the likes of Bella Hadid, Naomi Campbell, Karolina Kourkova, Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Picciolini, British models Jourdan Dunn and Poppy Delevingne, former Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, British actress Jodie Turner-Smith, US model Jasmine Tookes and US Somali model Halima Aden.


Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards
Updated 19 June 2024
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Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

Nicole Scherzinger shows off Lebanese gown at Tony Awards

DUBAI: US singer Nicole Scherzinger attended the 2024 Tony Awards in New York on Sunday in a gown by Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran.

The pink-hued gown featured a sheer, embellished skirt, with rouching on the hips. Stylist Emily Evans finished off the look with -Cicada and Maison H jewelry.

Nicole Scherzinger showed off a rosy-hued Nicolas Jebran gown on the red carpet. (Getty Images)

Scherzinger — slated to star in a “Sunset Boulevard” revival on Broadway — sang the “In Memoriam” section, the Associated Press reported.

She sang “What I Did for Love” as the names of late Broadway heavyweights appeared, including playwright Christopher Durang and actors Alan Arkin,Glenda Jackson, Louis Gossett Jr., and Treat Williams.

“The Outsiders,” a gritty adaptation of the classic young adult novel, won the Tony Award for best new musical. The win meant Angelina Jolie, a producer, landed her first Tony, too.

Angelina Jolie, a producer on 'The Outsiders,' landed her first Tony. (Getty Images)

“Stereophonic,” the play about a Fleetwood Mac-like band recording an album over a turbulent and life-changing year, won best new play and had the night's most total awards at five. It was written by David Adjmi, with songs by former Arcade Fire member Will Butler.

Two special guests electrified the crowd — Jay-Z and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The latter, a producer of a musical about suffragettes, presented “Suffs.”

“I have stood on a lot of stages, but this is very special,” Clinton said. “I know a little bit about how hard it is to make change.”

In the first musical presentation, Alicia Keys appeared at a piano as the cast of her semi-autobiographical musical, “Hell’s Kitchen,” presented a medley of songs. She sang her and Jay-Z’s 2009 smash “Empire State of Mind,” joining the rapper on interior steps to wild applause, according to the Associated Press.

Later, newcomer Maleah Joi Moon won best leading actress for “Hell's Kitchen,” brushing aside a challenge from veteran Kelli O’Hara. The 21-year-old, who plays a role loosely based on Keys’ life, dedicated her award to her parents.

Jeremy Strong took home the first big award of the night. The “Succession” star landed his first Tony for his work in the revival of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 political play “An Enemy of the People.”

“Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe cemented his stage career pivot by winning featured actor in a musical, his first trophy in five Broadway shows. He won for the revival of “Merrily We Roll Along,” the Stephen Sondheim- George Furth musical that goes backward in time.