The best of Palestinian cinema in your home 

Cherin Dabis’ “Amreeka” is the quintessential diaspora story of Palestinians but also relatable to any Arab family who has emigrated abroad. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 April 2020

The best of Palestinian cinema in your home 

  • Reel Palestine is releasing a film every day this month on its website

DUBAI: UAE-based annual film festival Reel Palestine recently launched its “Home Edition,” allowing viewers to stream some of the finest Palestinian cinema. Most of the films are free, while some require a small rental fee.  

“There is an element of escapism to watching films during times that are challenging and uncertain. We believe that cinema provides a powerful lens through which to transport yourself somewhere else, which may be very much needed for some during these times of social distancing,” co-founder Nadia Rouchdy told Arab News. “We recognize that some Palestinian films may be known for being emotional, which may not be what people are looking for at the moment; however, many of the films, if not the majority, also have a strong element of hope, resilience and determination — films that remind us how amazing humans are, how strong women are, how brave people under occupation are, how creative youth can be, how determined couples can be and more.”

We asked Rouchdy and co-founder Dana Al-Sadek to talk us through a few of their favorite films from the wide selection available on their platform. “We hope to keep Palestine top of mind and heart for those who miss their culture but also to show how powerful Palestinian cinema is,” Rouchdy said.

‘Speed Sisters’



This uplifting 2015 documentary, from award-winning filmmaker Amber Fares, focuses on strong female characters who defy social conformity to excel at their passion — race driving. The film is all about the first all-female racing team in the Middle East.

‘Gaza Surf Club’



This film is one of our favorites, not only because it is beautifully shot, but because you can see how much surfing gives fuel and energy to the characters. Surfing nourishes them, gives them joy and challenges them, even against the backdrop of occupied Gaza. The stories of families supporting their daughters so they can surf will always stay with me, and prove that you should never give up. Interestingly, the directors were actually motivated to travel to Gaza to showcase positive stories when they met a Palestinian student in Germany. 




Cherin Dabis’ “Amreeka” is the quintessential diaspora story of Palestinians but also relatable to any Arab family who has emigrated abroad. The family is instantly lovable and their challenges and successes will resonate and capture your heart. This movie reminds me that having a mixed background of two beautiful cultures is special, but shared with so many others. Truly heart-warming, and a family classic.

‘Epicly Palestine’d’



We worked with (filmmakers) Phil and Theo in Reel Palestine’s first edition. They were so excited that we loved their film about what it was like for Palestinian youths starting a skateboard culture under occupation in the West Bank. What surprised me back then was how much Phil and Theo wanted people to watch this film — they posted it for free. The short is a rare insight into what it’s like to do something that has never been done before, by a group of teenagers whose love of skateboarding comes through so strongly that it’ll be hard for you not to smile.




Rakan Mayasi is part of the Palestinian Diaspora. Through his work in film, he’s trying to discover his own identity/ heritage. The cinematography of this short is so beautiful. You get a glimpse of the landscape while also feeling this sense of suspense throughout the entire film. The film is  quite risqué, but it is based on reality — something that’s not widely known. 

‘Ave Maria’



Basil Khalil’s short film was nominated for Best Live Action Short at the 2016 Oscars. When you hear the synopsis — a family of Israeli settlers crash into the wall of a West Bank convent, disturbing the nuns’ daily routine of silence — it’s not something you think will make you laugh. But Basil did an amazing job of combining comedy with warmth, all while exploring some of the nuanced complexities of living in the West Bank. 

‘Palestine Underground’



For the past 10 years, Palestinian music collective Jazar Crew have been fostering a vibrant party scene in Haifa, as an alternative to the mainstream club scene. This short documentary by Boiler Room, 4:3 and Ma3azef shows that despite political and travel restrictions people have come together through the arts to express themselves. It also gives a glimpse into subcultures and the electronic music scene which we wouldn’t usually have access to on cinema screens.

‘Dream come true’: Pakistani rapper Eva B ecstatic after Grammys’ Global Spin feature

Updated 28 May 2023

‘Dream come true’: Pakistani rapper Eva B ecstatic after Grammys’ Global Spin feature

  • Grammys’ Global Spin is a performance series that spotlights international artists and global music
  • Global Spin describes her song ‘Sunrise in Lyari’ as an ‘infectious rap track about her roots in Karachi’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani female rapper Eva B said on Sunday it is “a dream come true” for her song “Sunrise in Lyari” to be featured in the Grammys’ Global Spin series this month.

The Global Spin is a performance series by the Grammys that spotlights global music and international artists. Eva B, who is touted as Pakistan’s first woman rapper, rose to prominence after her breakthrough single “Rozi” was featured in an episode of the popular TV series Ms Marvel last year while her song “Kana Yaari” was also a massive hit in the South Asian country in 2022.

Sunrise In Lyari has been described by Global Spin as an “infectious rap track about her roots in Karachi.” In the video for the song, Eva B can be seen rapping from the streets of Lyari, an underdeveloped neighborhood in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi haunted by years of gang violence, poverty, and drugs. According to Global Spin, the rapper wrote the song exclusively for the platform.

“Being featured on the Global Spin series by the Grammys is an absolute dream come true for me,” Eva B told Arab News. “It’s an incredible feeling to see my music reach such a global and famous platform.”

Eva B said it was important for her to represent her roots in Lyari and share her story with the world.

“It’s not just about the recognition; it’s about the impact and connection my music can create across borders and cultures,” she added.

Eva B said Sunrise in Lyari is not just a song for her but a reflection of her journey so far. “It depicts how the small artists of Lyari were underlooked yet they persisted and produced their art,” she said.

The rapper said the song depicts her transformation from being “shunned and criticized by people for my art and my background” to now being a celebrated artist.

“It’s a symbol of rising above adversity and proving that our voices matter,” she said.

Happy at her accomplishments, Eva B says the best is yet to come, adding that she’s “constantly working on new projects and exploring different avenues to express my artistry.”

“I’m thrilled to share that I’m currently in the process of producing new albums that will showcase different dimensions of my music and personal growth,” Eva B said.

“My fans can definitely expect an amazing journey ahead, filled with captivating music and unforgettable experiences. I can’t wait to share it with you guys.”

‘Kandahar’ star Ali Fazal talks filming in AlUla, working with film greats

Updated 28 May 2023

‘Kandahar’ star Ali Fazal talks filming in AlUla, working with film greats

  • The Indian actor spent many childhood holidays in the Kingdom, now he’s starring in ‘Kandahar,’ the first international feature to be shot there
  • Fazal sees Saudi Arabia pushing itself further and only wants to surround himself with people, and operate in places, that do the same

DUBAI: It’s funny how life works out. Decades ago, Indian actor Ali Fazal was just a boy spending every summer with his Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, idly dreaming that one day he might make a Hollywood movie in some far-off place. Little did he know that one day he would have a lead role in a major Hollywood blockbuster filmed in the same country that helped raise him, the first international film to be shot in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla region: “Kandahar,” starring modern action icon Gerard Butler. 

“It was such a pleasant surprise. I never thought I’d be shooting a movie in Saudi Arabia, where I spent such a large part of my childhood. Filming anything in the Kingdom was something unheard of for so long, but it’s beautiful how times change,” Fazal tells Arab News. 

“It was one of the most welcoming experiences of my career. Saudis are such a warm people — that I knew — but I was shocked when I landed. I thought I knew this country, but I’d never seen anywhere like AlUla in my life. It’s such a stunning, exotic place, and it was such a joy to call it home for those three months,” he continues.  

Fazal felt at home in more ways than one. He’s become the heir apparent to the late Irrfan Khan’s throne as the best crossover Hollywood-Bollywood actor working today. After standout performances in “Furious 7,” “Victoria & Abdul,” “Death on the Nile” and Amazon’s acclaimed ongoing action series “Mirzapur,” thriving on a set full of actors and crew from across the world has become his trademark.  

That doesn’t mean, however, that his experience on “Kandahar” didn’t teach him a lot. While he’s used to hands-on combat sequences in “Mirzapur,” working with the same team behind Butler’s films “Angel Has Fallen” and “Greenland” brought things to a different level. To match the experience of everyone else around him, Fazal had to put in the work. 

“I ended up landing in AlUla 25 days before the rest of the cast, just so I could learn how to ride a motorcycle in this completely different setting than anything I’ve worked in before. Most of the film I’m chasing Gerry Butler, and though I knew how to ride a bike, riding a bike in the desert is a whole new game,” says Fazal. 

While Fazal and Butler are fierce rivals on screen, off it the two shared every meal at AlUla’s Banyan Tree resort, with Butler’s playful spirit creating a tight bond between each of the cast members that continues until today.  

“(Butler) just immediately brings you into the fold. He could easily just come in, do his job and go, but he made a point to champion all of us, and that takes a lot of humility and integrity. He would come up to me every day and say, ‘I saw your rushes, and they’re good but I think we can take it in a different direction.’ He always had great notes. He made the film better, and he made me better,” says Fazal. 

“We had this tight-knit little community by night, and by day I think the people of AlUla thought there were earthquakes coming through, because of the hardcore action mayhem we were creating,” Fazal continues. 

Working on huge international projects has many benefits. Every time Fazal works with someone like Gerard Butler, Judi Dench, Stephen Frears or Kenneth Branagh, he takes away personal lessons on how he can be a better actor and a better person, and sees what it takes to reach the pinnacle of his chosen art.  

“I keep thinking back to one moment with Branagh. It was the night before the Oscar nominations were to be announced, and we were all at the British Museum after the premiere of “Death on the Nile” — sitting back and celebrating — but he was sitting in the corner writing his next stage play. That’s diligence. He puts the time in. The next morning, he was nominated for seven Oscars,” says Fazal.  

Thinking about those moments, he confesses, also has made it harder and harder to accept offers for projects that don’t come with that same substance and commitment. As a result, he’s gotten a lot more discerning, and a lot more wary of the limelight of Bollywood, though he knows he’s holding himself back from becoming the kind of celebrity some of his colleagues have become.  

“I run away from the vanity that has kept us in a bubble in Bollywood. I don’t judge the people — it’s the system itself. Indian film can be so much more, and the rest of India is showing that now. If you go down south, we have some of the best films in the world coming out of Malayalam cinema and Tamil cinema, and both the Oscars and Cannes, for example, are taking notice,” Fazal adds. 

Fazal sees Saudi Arabia pushing itself further, sees artists like Branagh and Butler pushing themselves further, and only wants to surround himself with people, and operate in places, that do the same.  

“I just don’t want to do mediocre stuff. If the economics of our respective industries is keeping us apart, that doesn’t mean our sensibilities should suddenly dumb down,” says Fazal. “Everything is in competition with everything else right now, anyways. If you’re on a streaming platform, your project is sitting next to an Oscar winner and some groundbreaking new Polish show and you’re only a click away from rejection. You can’t cheat and get away with mediocrity. You have to really get to the truth of things — the painstaking, emotionally draining truth — or people across the world will just ignore it.”  

Fazal wants to step up his own game, but he also wants to identify and raise awareness of the types of artists and performers who are putting in the work but not yet receiving recognition. After all, while the great Irrfan Khan was able to find massive success in both India and Hollywood before his death, he spent decades not getting the respect he deserved.  

“I want to champion people, because nobody champions artists like us. The same people who are now writing books about Irrfan spent years disregarding him,” he says. “We need people to support great artists not when the rest of the world discovers their talent, but now.” 

Thankfully, the recognition that took Khan decades to find is coming to Fazal more easily. True to his word, his next projects fit the mold of what he yearns for, first with the Netflix original film “Khufiya,” from renowned filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, and then a starring role in Academy Award winning director Bill Guttentag’s film “Afghan Dreamers,” the true story of Afghanistan’s all-girls robotics team. 

“I want to be uncomfortable. I want to feel something I’ve never felt before. Great vision pushes you places you have never been, and then something new comes out,” he says. “That’s what I love. That’s where I find my greatest joy.” 

Acclaimed Tunisian film now being shown at Saudi cinemas

Updated 26 May 2023

Acclaimed Tunisian film now being shown at Saudi cinemas

  • ‘Gadeha: A Second Life’, which recently won three awards at the Greece International Film Festival, explores various themes, including friendship, family and loss, and hardships endured by working class people trying to achieve manageable lives

RIYADH: “Gadeha: A Second Life,” an acclaimed Tunisian feature film directed by Anis Lassoued, first released in 2021, is now being shown at cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

The film recently received, among several others worldwide, three awards at the Greece International Film Festival — Best Director for a feature film, Best Child Actor for the role of Gadeha, played by Yassine Tormsi, and Best Supporting Child Actor for the role of Oussama, played by Ahmed Zakaria Chiboub.

The story begins when the titular character Gadeha, a 12-year-old boy, is injured in a car accident. After waking up in hospital, he realizes that his life has changed drastically. This is due to a benevolent couple who offered to pay his hospital fees and uplift his destitute family by providing a home and better work and educational opportunities.

Film director Anis Lassoued. (Supplied)

However, soon the mystery of Gadeha’s new life begins to unravel, while he also develops a strong friendship with Oussama, the wealthy couple’s son.

The film takes one on an emotional journey as the boy discovers how his life has been altered at the hands of adults.

The story explores various themes, including friendship, family and loss, delving into the hardships endured by working class people trying to achieve manageable lives. The viewer bears witness to a boy’s developing character as he initially resists, and eventually accepts, the challenges in life that are beyond his control.

Gadeha: A Second Life, tells the story of a how a 12-year-old boy copes with the challenges in life as he recovers from a car injury. (Supplied)

Visually, the film is picturesque, offering captivating scenes of Tunisian beaches and the country’s natural beauty.

Heartbreaking and poignant, “Gadeha: A Second Life” enthralls with its striking beauty and leaves one contemplating its profound message and meaning.

Lassoued is a Tunisian filmmaker, producer and director who has been involved in numerous Tunisian and international projects since 2004. He is widely recognized for his work on notable projects including “Saba Flouss” (2006), “Bent Walad” (2010) and “Majnoun Al-Bahr” (2018). In 2013, he founded, with other filmmakers, a production company named Lumieres Films.


Saudi designer Honayda Serafi talks symbolism in Rajwa Al-Saif’s henna gown ahead of Jordan’s royal wedding

Updated 23 May 2023

Saudi designer Honayda Serafi talks symbolism in Rajwa Al-Saif’s henna gown ahead of Jordan’s royal wedding

  • Jordan’s Queen Rania hosted the pre-wedding henna night celebrations for the soon-to-be Princess Rajwa Al-Saif
  • Saudi citizen Rajwa Al-Saif looked radiant in an ethereal white creation by celebrity-loved Saudi designer Honayda Serafi

DUBAI: On Monday night, Jordan’s Queen Rania hosted the pre-wedding henna night celebrations for Saudi Arabia’s Rajwa Al-Saif, who will marry Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II on June 1.

Al-Saif looked radiant in an ethereal white creation by celebrity-loved Saudi designer Honayda Serafi, who spoke to Arab News about the meaning behind the fashion statement.

“When I first got the call, I was extremely happy and proud to be part of this exceptional and historical moment. What I am especially proud of is communicating the love story between the crown prince and Rajwa in the design itself,” Serafi told Arab News, adding that she was first briefed about the design at the end of February 2023.

“The brief was that she wanted to wear something very modest and something from Saudi Arabian culture, but with a modern twist. She wanted the piece to be very elegant, and she also wanted it to be white,” added Serafi, whose label Honayda became the first Saudi fashion brand to be showcased at luxury London department store Harrods in 2022.

For the gown, designer Honayda Serafi took inspiration from the Al-Shaby thobe of the Najd region in Saudi Arabia, where Al-Saif’s family is from. (Courtesy of Honayda) 

For the gown, Serafi took inspiration from the Al-Shaby thobe of the Najd region in Saudi Arabia, where Al-Saif’s family is from.  

“The thobe is known for its long sleeves. They’re so long, the sleeves become the veil of the bride’s dress,” said Serafi.  

Rajwa Al-Saif wanted to wear white at the henna party, signifying a modern take on the traditional dress. (Courtesy of Honayda)

“The white color usually symbolizes purity and elegance. And there is a beautiful meaning to a bride wearing white. However, the henna dress is not really known to be white. So, this is a modern and new take,” added Serafi, talking about Al-Saif’s desire to wear white on the occasion. 

Another bride who wore white to celebrate her henna party recently was Al-Saif’s future sister-in-law, Princess Iman bint Abdullah II, ahead of her marriage with Jameel Alexander Thermiotis, which took place on March 12.  



Serafi wanted the henna party gown to reflect a new era of Saudi fashion, one that is modern yet rooted in tradition and history.  

Apart from the references to Al-Saif’s Saudi heritage, the dress also has nods to Jordanian culture in honor of the bride’s future family.  

Serafi included the seven-pointed white star that is present on the Jordanian national flag, which symbolizes the seven verses of Surat Al-Fatiha in the Qur’an. (Courtesy of Honayda)

Serafi included the seven-pointed white star that is present on the Jordanian national flag, which symbolizes the seven verses of Surat Al-Fatiha in the Qur’an, as well as the “seven hills Amman was built on,” the designer explained.  

“The symbol is a protection for the couple’s eternal love,” she added.

Other details in the dress include Saudi Arabia’s palm trees, which symbolize life and vitality, as well as a verse by famous Tunisian poet Aboul Qacem Echebbi, which translates to, “When my eyes see you, life becomes right,” etched into the dress in Arabic lettering.


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“My intention behind designing this dress was to document the eternal love and the history of the royal wedding. And, of course, I have used traditional threads and it is all hand embroidered,” said Serafi.

“This is a big moment for the brand to be part of such a historical (event). It is such an honor and I feel that I’m very, very proud to represent Saudi designers, as well as to communicate to the new generation how to not only honor Saudi Arabia’s historical identity and heritage, but to express it in a modern way,” she added.  

Jennifer Lawrence-produced Afghan documentary premieres at Cannes

Updated 22 May 2023

Jennifer Lawrence-produced Afghan documentary premieres at Cannes

  • The documentary shows daily lives of three women after the Taliban's resurgence 
  • The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan shortly after US withdrawal in 2021 

CANNES: While the world watched Kabul fall and the Taliban surge back to power in 2021 following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, actor Jennifer Lawrence and producer Justine Ciarrocchi were asking themselves what they could do to support women's rights. 

"Jen's first response was to find an Afghan filmmaker and give them a platform," Ciarrocchi told The Hollywood Reporter. 

They eventually found director Sahra Mani, whose 2019 documentary "A Thousand Girls Like Me" looked at a sexually abused woman's quest for justice. 

On Sunday, "Bread and Roses," Mani's documentary about the daily lives of three women after the Taliban's resurgence, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in a special screening. 

"This film has a message from women in Afghanistan, a soft message; please be their voice who are voiceless under Taliban dictatorship," said Mani at the premiere. 

The director said in an interview on the Cannes website that she wanted to show the reality of how drastically life has changed under the Taliban for women, even if filming was difficult. "Now that women can no longer leave the house without the veil, I thought we should tell their stories," she said. 

The safety of the camera crews and the people filmed was of top priority, said Mani, who currently lives in France. 

"The way in which their lives have changed under the Taliban is an everyday reality for us, it's life under a dictatorship, a cruel reality we cannot ignore."