Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 

Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 
Fatima Al-Banawi’s drama about a family’s struggle with mental health launched on Netflix this month. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 

Saudi star Fatima Al-Banawi discusses her directorial debut ‘Basma’ 
  • The Saudi actress and writer-director’s drama about a family’s struggle with mental health launched on Netflix this month  

DUBAI: “I really went into cinema — in 2015 with my first feature as an actress — with one intention: to bridge the gap between the arts and social impact and psychology,” Fatima Al-Banawi tells Arab News. “And I was able to come closer to this union when I positioned myself as a writer-director — more so than as an actor.” 

Al-Banawi is discussing her debut directorial feature, “Basma,” which launched on Netflix earlier this month. She not only directed the movie, but wrote it (and an original song for the soundtrack) and played the title role — a young Saudi woman who returns home to Jeddah after two years away studying in the States to find that her parents have divorced without telling her after struggling to deal with the mental illness of her father, the well-respected Dr. Adly (played by the excellent Yasir Al-Sasi). 

Basma is distraught to learn that her beloved father has moved out and — worse — that most of the family are, at best, reluctant to visit him. She is convinced that all he needs is the love and care of his loved ones. So she moves in with him, against the advice of her mother, Hind (Shaima), brother Waleed (Tared Sindi), and uncle, Hamza (Mohammed Essam). It doesn’t go smoothly.  

“My undergrad is in psychology. My father’s a psychologist. My sister’s a psychologist. I have psychology and sociology in my DNA,” Al-Banawi says. “We talk about Sigmund Freud over lunch, you know?”  

And so, when she sat down to write her first feature, it was natural that she would choose mental health as its focus. 




Al-Banawi and Yasir Al-Sasi in 'Basma.' (Supplied) 

“Dissonance was a word I found when I started working on ‘Basma.’ I wasn’t familiar with this term: to be in a complete state of, not just denial, but not responding in any way — action or awareness — to what (is obvious),” she says. “I felt it around me everywhere; things that were brushed under the carpet for years and years until they piled up and a person or a family could not handle them anymore; couldn’t fix the situation anymore. It becomes too big of an issue. Then the outcomes begin to unfold and, in turn, extend roots into society.  

“There were different personality disorders or mental illnesses that I was curious about investigating, like OCD, or depression — anti-depressants are very widespread in my community — and I felt like maybe these issues could be addressed in cinema.” 

In the end, though, she decided against making depression Dr. Adly’s illness.  

“I wanted to challenge myself with something that was difficult to translate visually,” she explains. “A paranoid or schizophrenic case is not like a case of depression. There’s a cinematic language for depression — you can put a person in a dark room, for example. But what Dr. Adly suffers from is these internal thoughts or assumptions. That’s very difficult to translate visually, but I wanted to (do it) because I felt that it was widespread — this was something that was really happening (around the world).” 

Al-Banawi was acutely aware that the portrayal of mental illness in cinema hasn’t always been successful.  

“It turns me off so much, when they make it seem like a person with an intellectual disability,” she says. “Someone can have a severe mental illness and seem incredibly normal — more normal than you or me; it really doesn’t manifest physically. It’s an internal process. This is why mental illness is such a difficult topic, because you’re, like, ‘What is normal? What is not normal?’ Yasir really had to understand that dichotomy between Dr. Adly’s internal scenario versus how he behaves externally. I told him, ‘Just think of yourself as a difficult father. Like, something triggers you and all of a sudden you snap, but otherwise, you’re actually very cool. You’re decent, you’re pleasant, you’re sweet and you’re charismatic.’” 




Al-Banawi and cast members on the set of 'Basma.' (Supplied)

It was vital, clearly, to get the casting just right, and not just for Dr. Adly. As Al-Badawi explains: “Mental illness is a family matter. It’s not just on the patient themselves, it’s on their community and how they accept and deal with it.” 

The obvious on-screen chemistry between the actors — even though for many of them it was their first experience of acting in front of a camera — shows how well the casting process worked. 

“The most important element was to create a believable, cohesive family. That was one of the main issues,” Al-Banawi says. “The second thing was that — although I recognize that a lot of amazing actors and actresses have (emerged in Saudi Arabia) in the past couple of years — as a director, I wanted to see fresh faces. It’s beautiful to see these talents who weren’t given a chance before, or didn’t even see themselves taking this path. Honestly, this whole cast was a blessing.” 

To ensure that family “cohesiveness,” Al-Banawi scheduled three weeks of rehearsals before shooting.  

“I wasn’t going to roll a camera before that. I wanted to get closer to the actors as an actress — not only as a director,” she says. “I wanted to play with them and do improv with them and really come into character with them as Basma, not as Fatima. I couldn’t have done that without some playtime — that’s what I called it; we wanted to play before the real deal. That was really important for me. It was fun to watch this energy growing.” 

The “playtime” experience included getting the crew to perform some of the roles at a readthrough too. “I’m a nerd,” she says with a laugh. “OK, we were paying them, but I really wanted them to be immersed in the story we’re telling, and to choose to tell it. And I wanted them to have one hell of a good time.” 




Al-Banawi (left) on the set of 'Basma.' (Supplied)

The whole process — particularly getting people together to record the song that she wrote for the end of the movie — was something of a throwback, as Al-Banawi tells it.  

“Pre-industrialization of cinema in Saudi Arabia, this was how things worked,” she says. “We weren’t concerned with the financials or anything; we were just concerned with whether we’d want to be part of something. And that’s how beauty unfolded. Of course, now, with all the support and recognition, it’s like the passion multiplied by ten.” 

And “Basma” really was a passion project for Al-Banawi.  

“The mental-health aspect is something I’m driven by, of course, but I also feel that it’s important for films to be personal and relatable and reflective of social set-ups,” she says. “As much as I admire — and am a fan of — action and thrillers and comedies, I like to have some family drama amidst those too. Something close to reality. That’s why I want to make films: to invite children who are like myself once upon a time to watch films like the ones that I grew up watching — films that had a subtext or meaning, but that I really engaged with. I learned so many principles from them.” 


Apple TV’s robot-themed comedy thriller ‘Sunny’ is a surprising triumph

Apple TV’s robot-themed comedy thriller ‘Sunny’ is a surprising triumph
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Apple TV’s robot-themed comedy thriller ‘Sunny’ is a surprising triumph

Apple TV’s robot-themed comedy thriller ‘Sunny’ is a surprising triumph
  • Familiar genre tropes are combined to make a uniquely gripping show

DUBAI: The odd-couple premise of Apple TV’s “Sunny” isn’t particularly promising — in near-future Japan a grieving widow, Suzie Sakamoto (Rashida Jones) teams up with the titular robot to try and solve the mysterious disappearance (and, apparently, death) of her husband and son in a plane crash. So far, so meh.

But “Sunny” is actually a delight. In the three episodes available at the time of writing, it mixes gory violence, humor — both dark and silly, a quirky aesthetic, meditative takes on loss, and explorations of how technology plays on our fears and desires. Jones is excellent as the expat American who come to Japan seeking solitude and instead found love with the kind-hearted Masa (Hidetoshi Nishijima), with whom she has a son, Zen.

After their disappearance, Suzie is gifted a “homebot,” Sunny, by her husband’s employers, a tech firm for whom Masa was a refrigeration engineer. At least that’s what he told Suzie. But then she’s told that Masa programmed Sunny especially for her — her first clue that perhaps Masa hasn’t been entirely honest with her.

Suzie is not a fan of technology, so her first instinct is to reject Sunny’s overbearingly cute attempts to bond with her, just as she tries to ignore her mother-in-law Noriko’s cutting tongue and clear disdain for the American her son chose to marry.

But as Suzie uncovers more details about her husband’s work life (at a company party, one of Masa’s minions talks of him fearfully), and his disappearance, she begins to realize that Sunny may hold the key to uncovering a sinister conspiracy.

Suzie is aided in her quest by a cocktail-bar waitress, Mixxy (singer-songwriter and social-media star Annie the Clumsy), who provides another awkward corner to the Suzie-Sunny relationship, as well as a window for Suzie into the underground world of bot-hacking. But while Suzie carries out her own investigations, she too is being stalked and observed by a shadowy criminal gang led by the sinister and scary Hime, who, it seems, also knew Masa.

“Sunny” is a gripping slow-burn, confidently paced by showrunner Katie Robbins and beautifully acted by its mostly Japanese cast. Despite the show’s many strands, Robbins’ deft touch means it avoids drifting into confusion, instead holding the audience’s attention as it leads you into a story that uses familiar elements from multiple genres to create something unique.


Mohammed Khoja pays homage to the Kingdom in latest collection 

Mohammed Khoja pays homage to the Kingdom in latest collection 
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Mohammed Khoja pays homage to the Kingdom in latest collection 

Mohammed Khoja pays homage to the Kingdom in latest collection 
  • The Saudi fashion designer discusses his new shirts, inspired by different regions of his homeland 

RIYADH: “I was very motivated by (the idea of) integrating my experiences as a Saudi and contributing to the creation of a more contemporary Saudi design identity through my point of view,” Saudi fashion designer Mohammed Khoja, founder of luxury label Hindamme, tells Arab News. “My ultimate goal is to open more doors and to spread Saudi culture to global audiences. 

“Hindamme has grown considerably since its inception, and I am very optimistic about what’s to come. I believe brands such as mine are proving to be more lucrative and I’ve observed an uptick in demand, and opportunities for growth, in recent months,” he continues. 

Hindamme is an old Arabic adjective that roughly “a harmonious aesthetic form.” That is what Khoja hopes to capture in each of his creations — combining a bold but minimalist approach to ready-to-wear fashion.  

Mohammed Khoja is the founder of luxury label Hindamme. (Supplied)

Hindamme’s “Season V” collection, for example, drew on color theory, and included “mood-enhancing” gradients as well as futuristic, nature-inspired themes in fabrics including velvet, nylon, and satin. Khoja debuted those designs in Paris in June last year, along with 15 other Saudi designers at a pop-up event called Emerge, organized by the Saudi Fashion Commission and MoCX, the Saudi Ministry of Culture's General Department of Innovation, in partnership with the Saudi Visual Arts Commission, the Saudi Culinary Arts Commission, and the Saudi Music Commission.  

“Season V” was designed during COVID-19 lockdowns, and was partly inspired by Khoja’s desire to “reconnect” with the Earth. It included a heat temperature-gradient blazer, which Khoja intended as a stark reminder of the threat of climate change. 

For his latest collection, his sixth, the designer was inspired by different regions of his homeland.  

“It is inspired by my love of travel and pays homage to the Kingdom’s drive to promote tourism. I designed pieces that were sort of like elevated post cards for every region — it truly is like a love letter to our cultural diversity. The new designs are also a lesson in visual storytelling; they invite you on a journey to discover each of these glorious regions.” Khoja says.  

Khoja says he spent months conducting extensive research. “I integrated the landmarks of each region that I felt were the most iconic and synonymous. Each design incorporates the iconography of that area, such as Jeddah, Riyadh, Aseer, Eastern Province and AlUla.” 

Here, Khoja discusses some of the pieces from his latest collection. 

AlUla 

“The ancient languages and rock art are important elements for AlUla because of its rich ancient history of Lihyanite and Nabatean civilizations, so I utilized it for the shirt. Along with the ancient inscriptions and carvings, the AlUla shirt is decorated with famous ancient sites and landmarks such as Hegra and Elephant Rock, along with the integration of the majestic Arabian leopard,” the designer says. 

Aseer  

Khoja’s Aseer silk shirt includes a hand-painted backdrop of Rijal AlMaa village, decorated with Al-Qatt Al-Aseeri patterns, which the designer credits as a major source of inspiration throughout his career. “Aseeri culture has always been a great influence. I grew up reading books about the beautiful crafts and how women of the region specialized in this art,” the designer says, adding that Al-Qatt Al-Assiri was also the inspiration for his debut collection. 

Jeddah  

“Jeddah is a colorful array of iconography representing the bright colors of the coastal city,” Khoja says. “Jeddah is very famous for its breathtaking sunsets and I wanted to present its sunsets as the centerpiece. The shirt also includes the famous fountain as well as architecture from Jeddah’s historical district, Al-Balad.” 

Eastern province 

“With the Eastern Province design, I featured iconic landmarks of the region, with refences to Jabal Qarra in AlAhsa, Ithra and Dammam Well No. 7 — the first oil well discovered in the Kingdom,” says Khoja. 

Riyadh 

“The Riyadh silk shirt is another piece of visual storytelling and features iconic modern-day landmarks of our beloved capital such as KAFD, Kingdom Tower, and Al-Faisaliyah Tower. It infuses the rich traditions of its past with a neon homage to Diriyah and motif patterns taken from old Najdi doors,” Khoja said.  


Institut du Monde Arabe’s ‘Arabofuturs’ examines singularities of the Arab world 

Institut du Monde Arabe’s ‘Arabofuturs’ examines singularities of the Arab world 
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Institut du Monde Arabe’s ‘Arabofuturs’ examines singularities of the Arab world 

Institut du Monde Arabe’s ‘Arabofuturs’ examines singularities of the Arab world 
  • We need to ‘stop seeing the Arab world as a block,’ says IMA curator 

PARIS: The latest contemporary art exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris — “Arabofuturs,” which runs until Oct. 27 — is, according to curator Élodie Bouffard, “built around the dynamic of the singularities expressed in the Arab world, and the singularity of each of the artists.” Those artists come from the Arab world and its diasporas, and include Saudi artists Ayman Zedani and Zahrah Alghamdi, Lebanese sculptor Souraya Haddad Credoz, Tunisian artist Aïcha Snoussi, and Moroccan artist Hicham Berrada. 

The show is divided into two parts: “Programmed Futures” and “Hybrid Futures.” In the first, Bouffard explains, the featured artists explore contemporary society, “capitalism, ultra-consumerism, the question of exile, the diaspora, and identities — often through a post-colonial approach.” 

The second part tackles imagined societies — the artists deploy aesthetic fictions that take visitors into organic worlds “that make us travel in time, and reflect on transhumanism, the future of the human, and the resilience of nature,” Bouffard says. 

Saudi artist Ayman Zedani's video installation at 'Arabofuturs.' (Supplied)

Both sections underline that the notion, and perception, of the future is personal, with each artist drawing on his or her personal experiences. 

The exhibition begins with a space dedicated to artwork from Gulf, and an introduction to the concept of Gulf futurism formulated by Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria and Kuwaiti musician and conceptual artist Fatima Al-Qadiri in 2012 as part of a photo series and interview in Dazed magazine. It was, according to the IMA website, “a worried questioning of the accelerated hyper-modernization at work in the region.” 

“This article was a pivotal moment in Gulf futurism, having led the artists to become interested in the question of futures and science fiction,” explains Bouffard. 

Sophia Al-Maria et Fatima Al Qadiri's 'The Desert of the Unreal.' (Supplied)

Al-Maria’s “Black Friday” — a series of photographs and a video installation — questions the standardization of spaces and the loneliness that can stem from it. It is followed by Al-Ghamdi’s “Birth of a Place,” which was previously displayed at the Diriyah Contemporary Art Bienniale, and explores new architectures. 

“She's trying to create a new cosmogony — a new (example) of the skyline, the enhancement of heritage, and the future of metal and glass constructions, in environments where there’s a real material and architectural cultural,” notes Bouffard. 

The aim of this section is to present the different approaches to architecture, heritage, identity, and exile in the Gulf and North Africa.  

A still from Larissa Sansour's 'In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain.' (Supplied)

“Themes pertaining to the future of societies can be rooted in their past,” Bouffard says. “It is our job at the IMA to stop seeing the Arab world as a block. We wanted to show that there is not just one future. When we talk about the future, everyone thinks of video games and artificial intelligence, but futures unfold in all forms. We thought it would be interesting to reflect on artefacts, paintings, ceramics, and organic material.” 

Al-Ghamdi, for example, used leather, an organic material in “Worlds to Come,” while Berrada used metal to create hybrid masks combining insects, plants, and humans in “Les Hygres.” Elsewhere, Credoz worked with ceramics “to shape coloured magma and build post-apocalyptic organic worlds,” Bouffard says. 

A piece from Hicham Berrada's 'Les Hygres.' (Supplied)

Snoussi, meanwhile, “recreates manifestos that bear witness to past societies that have disappeared, leading to Arabic writing, but also to Amazigh, with a theme of symbolism that recreates bridges between the present and the future.” 

Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour contributes “In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain,” a video from 2015 featuring archaeological activists burying porcelain bearing a keffiyeh motif, an attempt to make future claims on this territory. 

“She highlights the politicization of archaeology in Israel and Palestine in this video, which has a particular resonance today,” Bouffard says. 


‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ filmmaker Shawn Levy ushers titular anti-heroes into the Marvel fold 

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ filmmaker Shawn Levy ushers titular anti-heroes into the Marvel fold 
Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ filmmaker Shawn Levy ushers titular anti-heroes into the Marvel fold 

‘Deadpool & Wolverine’ filmmaker Shawn Levy ushers titular anti-heroes into the Marvel fold 

DUBAI: Canadian filmmaker Shawn Levy says he was thrilled to helm Marvel’s first R-rated superhero outing — “Deadpool & Wolverine” — which lands in cinemas July 25. 

“I was thrilled by Marvel’s lack of boundaries,” Levy tells Arab News. “Clearly (they) understood that to make a ‘Deadpool’ film that’s satisfying, it needed to be creatively and audaciously free. So, we were given very few limits. I think there was one joke in the entire movie that was requested to be changed.” 

“Deadpool & Wolverine” imports both Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and the newly resurrected Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) from 21st Century Fox and into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, currently reeling from a series of recent flops. In fact, “Deadpool & Wolverine” is the only cinematic release scheduled from the MCU this year. 

The film picks up six years after the events of ”Deadpool 2.” Wade Wilson has left his time as the mercenary Deadpool behind him, until the Time Variance Authority pulls him into a new mission. With his home universe facing an existential threat, Wilson reluctantly teams up with an even-more-reluctant Wolverine on a mission that, according to the blurb, “will change the history of the MCU.” 

Levy, who has previously worked with both Jackman (on 2011’s “Real Steel”) and Reynolds (on 2021’s “Free Guy” and the following year’s “The Adam Project”), says he has been a fan of the ‘Deadpool’ franchise since the first film came out in 2016.  

“I remember watching (the first) ‘Deadpool,’ and I was stunned because it redefined the superhero genre and it was also one of the most relentlessly funny and creative movies I’ve ever seen. It still is. I’ve watched it seven or eight times. So, I really came to this as a fan,” he says. 

“(When the opportunity came to direct this film), I realized: ‘I have the privilege to tell the first Deadpool-Wolverine story.’ I also thought: ‘Oh, I can not only honor these characters, I can also tell a story about friendship and about brotherhood that is as poignant as it is funny.’ And that felt like a great opportunity. 

“I came into this with a keen awareness of what preceded me,” he continues. “And I’m aware of the passionate love for this world and these characters around the world. So, I was humbled. I was momentarily daunted. But then I did a mental trick with myself where I focused on the opportunity, an opportunity to play in a sandbox that is familiar to the world, where the tropes and conventions and the encyclopedic possibilities were huge. And once I started focusing on the opportunity of stepping in, I wasn’t intimidated by it. I was excited by it.” 

Levy says there are two things he’s most excited about audiences discovering. “The first is: In a movie with Deadpool and Wolverine, we all know there’s going to be sick fights and there’s going to be a lot of them, and I think there’s a delightful surprise in the mandate we gave ourselves making this movie, which was that there should be an evolution to the action. It’s got a cinematic language, in that each action sequence has its own visual vocabulary. I think that’s going to be a delightful surprise. 

“But maybe the most subversive surprise of ‘Deadpool and Wolverine’ is the extent to which it is emotional,” he continues. “It is — especially in its second half — a very poignant film about friendship and about redemption.” 


Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm
Updated 18 July 2024
Follow

Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

Eminem to headline fifth edition of Saudi Arabia’s MDLBEAST Soundstorm

DUBAI: MDLBEAST’s Soundstorm festival, returning to rock Banban, Riyadh from Dec. 12–14 for its fifth edition, announced superstar rapper Eminem as its headline act.

Joining Eminem in the lineup will be US rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars, British rock legends Muse, Swiss DJ duo Adriatique (Adrian Shala and Adrian Schweizer), German DJ Boris Brejcha, Italian DJ Marco Carola, British-Canadian DJ Richie Hawtin and many more.

As the region’s biggest music festival, Soundstorm delivers a vibrant mix of music styles and genres from around the world.

Ramadan Al-Haratani, CEO of MDLBEAST, said in a statement: “Soundstorm, the region’s biggest music festival, has successfully made a remarkable impact on the regional and global music scene, making it an eagerly anticipated annual festival for music fans worldwide.

“This has contributed to enhancing the Kingdom’s position in the music entertainment sector.”