Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

“No Date, No Signature,” won best director at Venice last year. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2018

Iran film for Oscars stirs debate on home front

  • The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival

TEHRAN: The Iranian film for next year’s Oscars has stirred controversy at home both over the choice of a downbeat movie and for taking part in the Hollywood spectacle at a time of tense Tehran-Washington ties.

The Farabi Cinema Foundation tasked with selecting Iran’s contestant for the best foreign-language film category has announced its choice of “No Date, No Signature,” which won best director and best actor at the 2017 Venice Film Festival.

Vahid Jalilvand’s film, which has scooped a host of other awards aboard, tells the tale of two men tormented by guilt over the death of a boy in a road accident, set against a background of social injustice.

“Every year the same debate surfaces over whether or not to submit a film” for the contest in Hollywood, Farabi said last Friday while naming its choice.

The US decision to pull out of the nuclear accord with the Islamic republic and to reimpose sanctions this year has “led certain parties to propose a boycott of the Oscars,” it said, referring to Iran’s conservative camp.

Defending its participation, the foundation said that members of the Academy which organizes the event were among leading critics of “the populist government of (President Donald) Trump and of its policies tainted with racism and unilateralism.” 

The choice of “No Date, No Signature” was vindicated by its success abroad and “the efforts of its distributor” to bring the movie to screens in the US, Farabi said.

But the ultra-conservative press was unimpressed.

“Like the strategy used by Trump in interviews and tweets to depict Iran as a nation abandoned by hope and mired in poverty and misery, ‘No Date, No Signature’, a most bitter and dark film, has been chosen for the Oscars,” Javan newspaper said in a commentary.

It said the foundation had squandered “a golden opportunity” to enlighten the outside world on the values of Iran by nominating another movie, “Damascus Time,” on its battle against jihadists in Syria.

Director Ebrahim Hatamikia’s film, funded by the Revolutionary Guards, the country’s ideological army, has been a hit at the Tehran box office.

After three films were shortlisted from a 110-strong field, “the decisive factor that made ‘No Date, No Signature’ the best choice was its professional and effective foreign distributor which the others did not have,” said Houshang Golmakani, a critic with “Film Magazine,” a monthly on Iranian movies he co-founded.

The subject matter makes it “a caustic film” as regards its portrayal of life in Iran, he told AFP. “But art is not a matter of touting for your country.”

In 2017, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign movie with “The Salesman,” but he boycotted the awards ceremony in Los Angeles in protest at Trump’s controversial policies on immigration.

Pakistan prevents organizers from screening hit Indian movie 'Pathaan' in Karachi

Updated 02 February 2023

Pakistan prevents organizers from screening hit Indian movie 'Pathaan' in Karachi

  • Social media users informed Sindh censors ‘Firework Events’ was organizing Pathaan screening in Karachi
  • Censor board sent notices to events management company, which canceled screening and refunded ticket money

KARACHI: A provincial censor board in Pakistan said on Wednesday it had stopped a private group from screening the Bollywood blockbuster Pathaan in Karachi, after social media users drew attention to online sale of tickets for the event.

The Hindi spy thriller starring megastar Shah Rukh Khan, wildly popular in both India and Pakistan, has been playing to packed movie theaters in India since its release last month. The film, however, has not been released in Pakistan, which banned the screening of Indian movies after ties with New Delhi reached a new low in 2019 over the disputed Kashmir region.

India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed neighbors, have fought two out of three wars over Kashmir. Both claim the region in full but control it in part.

Chairman of the Sindh Board of Film Censors (SBFC), Khalid Bin Shaheen, told Arab News social media users informed the board that an event management company called Firework Events was organizing a public screening of Pathaan on February 4, 2023, in Karachi’s Khayaban-e-Shahbaz area.

The board then reached out to the company with a warning and was informed that the event had been canceled.

“However, a social media post surfaced again [later] which read that the group was hosting two new fresh slots on Feb. 5, Sunday, after Saturday’s [Feb. 4] tickets were sold out,” Shaheen told Arab News.

He said the SBFC then issued a notice to the company.

“The screening was canceled after our notice, violation of which may lead to strict action under the law,” Shaheen said.

The notice served to Firework Events and seen by Arab News directs the company to “immediately” cancel the screening, and informed it that screening a film without certification was a punishable offense with a jail term of up to three years and a fine of Rs100,000 ($374) or both.

As per Pakistani law, private parties and individuals are not allowed to arrange a public or private exhibition of a film unless the censor board issues a certificate for its exhibition.

“At present, Pathaan’s screening has been categorically restricted by the concerned authority in light of the law,” Shaheen said.

A member of the organizing team who requested anonymity told Arab News the issue was resolved after the censor board physically went to the location of the screening. Consequently, she said, all related social media posts were taken down and the event was canceled.

“We wanted to do it as a private family event which was just hyped up,” the organizer said, adding that the company had refunded ticket money and apologized to buyers.

“But we have the right to ask why action wasn’t taken [against Bollywood screenings] when it was commercially happening since [so] long,” she asked, referring to what she called “Bollywood Nights” at educational institutes and restaurants.

Speaking to Arab News, Umar Khitab Khan, a member of the censor board, said authorities had issued similar notices when such events were organized in the past:

“This has happened in the past and when it was brought to our notice, the board took notice. But whether [the screening was] commercial or not, the screening of an Indian film is illegal.”

Syed Asad Raza, senior superintendent of police, said police took action only after a complaint was registered.

“No complaint has been registered with us,” he said, about plans for the Pathaan screening.

Pakistan, where Bollywood films enjoy massive popularity, first banned Indian movies in 1965, when the two countries went to war. The ban lasted for four decades until 2006 when it was lifted by former military ruler General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.

No Indian movie has been screened in Pakistan for the last four years.

Mummy of King Ramses II to go on show in Jeddah

Updated 19 January 2023

Mummy of King Ramses II to go on show in Jeddah

  • Exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts coincides with first Biennale of Islamic Arts
  • Traveling show ‘highlights the value of our ancient civilization,’ Egypt says

CAIRO: The mummy of Egypt’s King Ramses II will go on show in Saudi Arabia from next week as part of a global tour of ancient Egyptian artifacts.

The traveling exhibition, titled “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs,” is organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and its arrival in the Kingdom coincides with the inaugural Biennale of Islamic Arts.

The remains of the famous pharaoh will be on display at the Hajj Terminal of King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah from Jan. 23 to April 23.

The exhibition will give visitors an insight into the life and accomplishments of Ramses II, dubbed Ramses the Great, who was one of the most remarkable and celebrated rulers of ancient history.

As well as his mummy, the display will feature more than 180 Egyptian artifacts, including sculptures and treasures, and state-of-the-art multimedia reproductions that demonstrate the opulence and beauty of ancient Egyptian civilization.

There will also be a number of more recently discovered animal mummies and treasures from the royal tombs of Dahshur and Tanis.

The exhibition was inaugurated in Houston in November 2021 before moving on to San Francisco in August last year. In the Kingdom, the artifacts will be shown as part of the biennale alongside items of Islamic art relating to the holy sites of Makkah and Madinah.

The touring exhibition is being staged with the approval of the Egyptian government, which said it “highlights the value of our ancient civilization.”

After Saudi Arabia, the show will travel to Paris, where it will remain from April 1 until Sept. 17, before moving on to Sydney.

Where We Are Buying Today: Bastahh

Updated 28 October 2022

Where We Are Buying Today: Bastahh

RIYADH: The mobile phone business is both highly profitable and very competitive.

There are plenty of independent stores and kiosks in the crowded marketplace selling accessories.

Abdullah Suliman is the 24-year-old Saudi entrepreneur behind online store Bastahh, which sells more than 500 products for cell phones from various international brands.

Items offered on the website include mobile and computer accessories, games, chargers, power banks, cases, covers, and headphones, all at competitive prices.

The store’s prices start from SR4 ($1.06), and Bastahh offers phone covers and cases that have been discontinued and which the company claims cannot be found elsewhere.

Suliman first started his business in 2017 but closed it down due to financial issues. He started up again two years ago, and his all-Saudi team prides itself on serving the community with a quick delivery of items.

“The market is profitable, but the competition is high. Therefore, you need someone patient to get into it,” he said.


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Graffiti: Shift22 celebrates once suppressed art form in Riyadh 

Updated 20 October 2022

Graffiti: Shift22 celebrates once suppressed art form in Riyadh 

  • The festival is held at the abandoned hospital, holding true to the vintage graffiti fashion

RIYADH: The walls of Irqah Hospital’s compound, thought among young Riyadh locals to be haunted, has been transformed into a canvas for local and international graffiti artists. 

Once suppressed, the art is now celebrated as the Kingdom'd Visual Arts Commission presents its inaugural annual street art festival, Shift22. 

The festival showcases commissioned and existing works from over 30 Saudi and international graffiti artists, focusing on murals, sound and video installations, and unconventional sculptures built by repurposing the abandoned hospital’s discarded materials. 

Visual Arts Commission's CEO Dina Amin said: “Shift22 is part of the commission’s efforts to celebrate and encourage local and international visual artists by providing platforms for creative exchange and dialogue. This festival is an example of the many exciting visual arts opportunities that are a result of the growing local art scene.” 

Saudi artist Deyaa Rambo’s piece ‘Harwala,’ an Arabic word for jogging, reflects a culture that is moving only forward with intention. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Saudi artist Deyaa Rambo’s piece is inspired by the transformation of the country and its modern reality. “Harwala,” an Arabic word for jogging, reflects a culture that is only moving forward with intention. 

“As a culture, we carry the past and present with us, to walk towards the future … The idea talks about how culture is moving forward towards development, but not at an incomprehensible speed: It’s a calculated speed,” Rambo told Arab News.

Coming from an artistic family, he credits his passion to the environment he was raised in. In the early 2000s, when graffiti first began surfacing within the region as a legitimate art form, he discovered the underground scene. 

“Meeting other graffiti artists, I got inspired and realized I need to develop as an artist myself,” Rambo said 

After creating a small community of like-minded individuals, importing spray cans, taking part in small projects, and the occasional bit of street vandalism, they opened up the first graffiti store in the Kingdom: DHAD.

Locally, the DHAD family has collaborated with schools, institutes, exhibitions, galleries, and companies such as Mercedes and HP to design inspiring, unique interiors and exteriors. 

Globally, the community’s work was recognized and showcased in exhibitions and events across the Gulf and beyond, including Tunisia, Morocco, Malaysia, Germany, and France. 

“DHAD is basically all about the lifestyle of graffiti, (providing) tools, spray cans for artists, This is when the community was first created in Saudi Arabia,” Rambo said. 

Deriving his inspiration from fantastical elements, his piece reimagines a modern Saudi as an anonymous figure trotting forward in a traditional thobe and shemagh. 

According to Rambo, the responsibility of spreading awareness about the art form lies ultimately with local artists, not just in dedicated spaces, but true to traditional graffiti style: Publicly.  

“That’s our mission, because graffiti globally was fought against, that it sends a negative message. Graffiti art isn’t restricted to exhibitions or museums to see the art. It’s in the streets — it’s for everyone.”

Contributing Saudi artist Zeinab Al-Mahoozi began her journey in 2011, credited to her curiosity, using stencil techniques to create dynamic and captivating artworks. She made a promise to herself that if she succeeded in her first attempt at the method, she would dedicate a whole exhibition to her street artworks. 

Contributing Saudi artist Zeinab Al-Mahoozi's mural shows her graffiti-d self setting a bird free into a corner of the universe. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Her mural is a whimsical self-portrait, showing herself setting a bird free into a corner of the universe. 

“Graffiti art is known as an illegal art form, but to be supported as graffiti artists from government sectors — either the Ministry of Culture, or media, or others — that’s something we really needed. We’re very happy about it, and we’re very lucky,” she said. 

While Shift22 is dedicated to platforming local talent, it also creates cultural exchange opportunities as it hosts various artists from around the world to contribute to the festival. 

Europe-based Australian artist James Reka, like many graffiti artists, was first introduced to the underground scene through skateboarding and hiphop culture. His 20 years of experience started off with traditional letterform graffiti, which later developed into characters and figures. 

“I’m honored to be invited to come to Saudi Arabia to be able to leave my own message behind … It’s nice to be acknowledged that it is something special, it is an art form,” he told Arab News. 

Australian James Reka’s work shows colorful hands reaching for each other, carrying the message that love and community are at the heart of graffiti culture. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Adhering to his signature style, Reka’s work is abstract, but carries a message of unity. A closer look at the mural would show colorful hands all reaching for each other, embedding the idea that love and community are at the heart of graffiti culture.

“(I’m honored) to also be able to paint and meet with a lot of local artists and share common knowledge about art, creativity, life in general — we’re all children of this earth. It’s a small world sometimes, even though I came from the other side of the world, we have a lot of things in common,” Reka said. 

The festival is held at the abandoned hospital, holding true to the vintage graffiti fashion of marking underground and deserted spaces. 

The open-air exhibition was curated by the New York-based artistic agency Creative Philosophy, dedicating the theme to geometric patterns to parallel the hospital’s architecture. 

In addition to featured works by renowned and upcoming artists, such as Saudi REXCHOUK and Turkish-American Refik Anadol, the festival will hold a series of workshops, seminars, and activities highlighting the various elements of street art. 

The festival will run until Oct. 30 alongside live music, streetwear shops, street food, breakdancing, and skateboarding. 


Art forms combine in Madinah to showcase Saudi talent

Updated 20 October 2022

Art forms combine in Madinah to showcase Saudi talent

  • Talaqi art exhibition aims to bridge the gap between artistic movements while showcasing local Saudi talents

RIYADH: Realism, cubism, and abstraction are among the many different labels assigned to painters to describe their artistic form of expression.

But in Madinah, the Talaqi art exhibition aims to bridge the gap between artistic movements while showcasing local Saudi talents.

The second edition of the event, recently launched at Madinah Art Center, features the works of 16 Saudi artists, eight of whom are publicly exhibiting for the first time.

Each edition of the exhibition features a non-repetitive concept from a new set of artists.

Artist Mubarak Khaled and Amal Shahan showcase their work for the first time in front of an audience during Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

Co-founder of Talaqi and the Thalothya arts project, Manar Ghazzawi, told Arab News: “We are excited to announce that after the success we’ve seen with the previous two editions, from the third onwards each exhibit will feature a single concept expressed uniquely by each participating painter.”

Ghazzawi was among those displaying at Talaqi’s second edition. She described her artwork as a tale of a long-term state of isolation evident in herself in the past and present as two separate people — both comforting the other.

She said: “An embodiment of my being one of the people who tend to isolate, in addition to the fact that all the details in the painting have psychological connotations.”

To prevent the meaning of artwork being lost in translation, Talaqi has affiliated with Thalothya, which hosts intellectual discussions and trends in modern and contemporary art discourse.

Co-founder Manar Ghazzawi presented her work at Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

Co-founder Meshal Al-Hujaili, said: “Thalothya is an art community based in Madinah that promotes a culture of interpretive dialogue that transcends our own preconceived notions and limitations.”

Al-Hujaili said Thalothya was the result of a seven-year journey that he and Ghazzawi had partaken in.

“We did exhibitions … went to experienced artists and hosted them to ask them for their opinions and constructive criticism of what we produced,” Ghazzawi added.

“Throughout our experimentation phase, we learned to filter the good and bad in order to elevate the engagement level of artists from the community within the city itself,” Al-Hujaili added.

Artist Mubarak Khaled and Amal Shahan showcase their work for the first time in front of an audience during Talaqi 2. (Supplied)

The co-founders identified a lack of dialogue-centric local art communities in Madinah.

Al-Hujaili said: “Most art communities available that we noticed have people come into a space and paint or create artwork each on their own canvas.

“So, we’ve created Thalothya to normalize intellectual, dialogue-setting gatherings in the Kingdom and endorse it in the Saudi art culture.

“I would love to see throughout the Kingdom Thalothya as a blueprint community in every city.”