Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival

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Updated 01 December 2022

Take two: Eyes of the global film industry are on Jeddah for Red Sea festival

  • The second Red Sea International Film Festival promises to be bigger and better than the first, with international stars flocking to the Kingdom’s cinematic spectacular

JEDDAH: The second Red Sea International Film Festival begins on Thursday in Jeddah and the red carpet has been rolled out at the glitzy Ritz Carlton hotel to welcome international movie stars and filmmakers from East and West.

Under the slogan “Film is Everything,” the event, which continues until Dec. 10, will showcase 131 feature films and shorts from 61 countries, in 41 languages, made by established and emerging talents, including seven feature films and 24 shorts from Saudi Arabia.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, RSIFF CEO Mohammed Al-Turki said: “This year, we have a very proud moment as we are closing the film festival with a Saudi film. This is a clear indicator of where Saudi cinema is at.

“Our programmers, especially Antoine Khalife, are very picky when it comes to films. So, for the Red Sea International Film Festival to accept a Saudi film means that it is of a quality to showcase at an international festival.

“So we are very proud and happy to show a home-bred film, “Valley Road” — with a Saudi cast, Saudi director and Saudi writer — as our closing film. It just tells you that Saudi cinema is booming at a fast pace.”

Al-Turki said that the popularity of film has soared in the Kingdom in the five years since a decades-long ban on cinemas was lifted.

“There is a hunger for film and you see that when you look at the numbers of the box office tickets — we have exceeded all neighboring countries,” he said. “We have a bigger box office revenue than the UAE, than Egypt, in just the short time since we lifted the cinema ban in 2017.”

Far from simply playing catch-up with the global cinema industry after the long ban, Saudi Arabia is already excelling in its own right, according to Al-Turki.

“I think we are on the right path … you see a lot of people trying to excel and we’re trying to catch up from the 35 years that cinema was not present,” he said.

“So everybody is trying their best and I’m sure in the next few years we will have Saudi films on a global scale and, hopefully, we can open our film festival in coming years with a Saudi film.”

This year’s opening film “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” is a cross-cultural British romantic comedy directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Lily James, Emma Thompson, Shazad Latif, Rob Brydon, Shabana Azmi, Sajal Aly, and Asim Chaudhry. It won the Best Comedy award at the Rome Film Festival last month.

The festival schedule includes 34 international premieres, 17 Arab premieres, and 47 films from the Middle East and North Africa. It will also welcome many of the talents, on both sides of the camera, involved in the making of the films.

The festival also features an official competition, the Yusr Awards, in which 26 shorts and 16 features from Asia, Africa and the Arab world will compete in a number of categories, including Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. The winners will be announced on Dec. 8.

The Saudi Film Commission has chosen the film “Raven Song” as the Kingdom’s entry for the Oscars in the Best International Feature Film category. It will have its world premiere at RSIFF on Dec. 3 and is one of the seven films competing for the Golden Yusr for Best Feature Film.

Last year, the Golden Yusr went to the drama “Brighton 4th” by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili, while the top short film award went to “Tala’Vision,” directed by Murad Abu Eisheh from Jordan.

This year, acclaimed US filmmaker Oliver Stone, the recipient of three Academy Awards and director of films such as “JFK,” “Platoon,” “Snowden” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” will head the awards jury.

The festival aims to help open the doors to the film industry for a generation of young Saudis by enriching their knowledge of the industry and providing access to expertise from around the world through a number of initiatives, including competitions that offer funding awards, and filmmaking masterclasses and workshops.

To support and help the fledgling local film industry flourish, RSIFF has its own educational program, Red Sea Labs, and has formed partnerships with TorinoFilmLab in Italy and US film institutions to teach filmmakers from Saudi Arabia and the wider region.

The RSIFF film fund also supports young Saudi and regional filmmakers during preproduction, production and postproduction, said Al-Turki, and “we have the platform, the film festival, to showcase their films. So it comes full circle.”

One of the most significant RSIFF initiatives is the Red Sea Souk, the festival’s industry market platform, which includes a wide-ranging program of curated events designed to foster agreements for coproductions and international distribution, and encourage new business opportunities.

Representatives from 46 countries will take part in the Souk, which runs from Dec. 3 to 6 and offers a chance to network and access key players in the emerging Saudi industry, along with some of the best from the wider Arab and African scenes.

This year, more than 350 distributors, producers, financiers, sales agents and festival representatives will take part in the Souk and participate in face-to-face meetings and sessions with project developers.

During last year’s festival, the Red Sea Souk hosted more than 560 meetings and welcomed more than 3,115 film and media professionals. It was credited with playing a significant role in connecting a new generation of emerging talent with established figures in the cinema industry.

Last year’s marketplace was managed by Saudi artist Zain Zedan, who told Arab News after the festival: “This year was a great first start and we are ready to work on the second edition. The energy is great and the possibilities are endless. We are creating history here.”

This year, cash awards will be provided by the Red Sea Fund and awarded by two juries. The Project Market jury will choose the recipients of Jury Special Mention awards for development ($35,000) and production ($100,000). All selected projects will be eligible for additional awards funded by Red Sea Souk sponsors and partners totaling $670,000.

Also as part of Red Sea Souk, the second Talent Days initiative will take place on Dec. 7 and 8. It will feature sessions designed to nurture the next generation of filmmakers and effectively offers an initiation into the cinema industry for aspiring filmmakers through inspirational talks and individual meetings. Acclaimed Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania will lead this year’s Talent Days.

The manager of the inaugural Talent Days last year was Rana Jarbou, a Saudi director who said that the aim was “to encourage up-and-coming young Saudi filmmakers and grow the local film industry.”

Alongside the Red Sea Souk, the competitions, the red-carpet galas, outdoor screenings, and other special presentations, the festival will also host a range of themed film programs such as Festival Favorites, New Saudi/New Cinema, Red Sea: Treasures, Red Sea: Arab and International Spectacular, Red Sea: Family and Children, Red Sea: Virtual Reality, and Red Sea: Series. In addition, Red Sea: New Vision is a new strand dedicated to filmmakers who push the boundaries of creativity with a style of genre-defining filmmaking that challenges audiences.

Kaleem Aftab, director of international programming for the festival, told Arab News about the vibrant scene within the Saudi film industry, especially after the success of the first RSIFF last year.

“The Saudi film industry is incredible, considering where it was just five years ago,” he said. “There's a lot of movement forward and a big shift in the right direction. We’re still at the beginning but it’s making a mark in the International Festival space.

“I think the success of the Red Sea Film Festival, the inaugural edition, really gave a positive feeling to Saudi people and I had the sense that cinema was being celebrated, cinema was a possibility as a career, cinema is something to be proud of rather than something to be scared of, to hide away. I think we’re seeing a change in the perception of the way people want to tell stories.”

Last week, RSIFF organizers announced that this year’s Yusr Honorary Awards would be presented to veteran Egyptian actor Yousra, acclaimed British director Guy Ritchie and Indian actor and producer Shah Rukh Khan, in recognition of their exceptional contributions to film.

Yousra was among the stars who attended the festival last year, during which she advised young Saudi filmmakers to “be patient. Do not rush to stardom, and love your career for what it is. Try and fail, and learn how to choose the right time and career circumstances. Remember, no one jumps to success.”

She added: “I want to see Saudi films that speak to the world, not to a certain region, so the world understands what and who you are.”


Paco Rabanne, who brought the space age to the catwalk, dies aged 88

Updated 04 February 2023

Paco Rabanne, who brought the space age to the catwalk, dies aged 88

  • The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as "among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century"
  • Tunisian managing director of Paco Rabanne, Nadia Dhouib, paid tribute to the ‘legendary’ fashion designer

PARIS: Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer best known for his metallic ensembles and space age designs of the 1960s, has died at the age of 88.
The eponymous label he exited more than two decades ago hailed him as “among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century.”
Rabanne dressed some of the most prominent stars of the 1960s, including French singer Francoise Hardy, whose outfits from the designer included a minidress made from gold plates and a metal link jumpsuit, as well as Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, who were pictured in matching silver outfits.
Among his most famous looks were the fitted, skin-baring ensembles worn by Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s cult science fiction film “Barbarella.”
The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo, Paco Rabanne’s birth name, was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which now controls the fashion house.
“A major personality in fashion, his was a daring, revolutionary and provocative vision, conveyed through a unique aesthetic,” said Marc Puig, chairman and CEO of Puig.

“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamor for dresses made of plastic and metal? Who but Paco Rabanne could imagine a fragrance called Calandre — the word means ‘automobile grill,’ you know — and turn it into an icon of modern femininity?" the group's statement said.

Tunisian creative director Nadia Dhouib, who was named managing director of Paco Rabanne in March last year, paid tribute to the fashion designer on her Instagram stories with a black and white photo of him captioned “Legend.”


Born in a village in the Spanish Basque region in 1934, his mother was a head seamstress at Balenciaga. He died in Portsall in Brittany.
Rabanne grew up in France, where the family moved after Spanish troops shot dead his father, who had been a Republican commander during the civil war.
He studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He started his career sketching handbags for a supplier to prestigious fashion houses including Givenchy and Chanel, as well as shoes for Charles Jourdan.
He then branched into fashion, designing garments and jewelry with unconventional materials such as metal and plastic.
INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION
His first collection, which he described as “unwearable dresses made of contemporary materials” were pieces made of strips of plastic linked with metal rings, worn by barefoot models at a presentation at the upscale Paris hotel George V.
The Paris cabaret Crazy Horse Saloon was his next venue, where models paraded his skimpy dresses and bathing suits while wearing hardhats.
While his innovation and futuristic designs won plaudits, his fascination with the supernatural prompted public derision at times. He was known for recounting past reincarnations, and in 1999, he predicted the space station Mir would crash into France, coinciding with a solar eclipse.
Surrealist Salvador Dali famously approved of his compatriot, calling him “Spain’s second genius.”
The designer teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching perfumes that served as a springboard for the company’s international expansion.
“Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal,” said Jose Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division.
The label has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years, under the creative direction of Julien Dossena, who has updated the house’s signature chainmail designs.
“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities,” the fashion house said in a statement.
The designer’s work with metallic plastic gave a “sharp edge” to women’s clothes, an effect that was “so much more than a New Look,” fashion historian Suzy Menkes said on Instagram Friday.
“It was rather a revolutionary attitude for women who wanted both to protect and assert themselves.”

(With Reuters and AP)

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Hijabi ‘indie mothers’ embraced by young Indonesian music fans

Updated 01 February 2023

Hijabi ‘indie mothers’ embraced by young Indonesian music fans

  • Originally formed 47 years ago as a Qur'an recital group, the all-female Nasida Ria band now numbers a dozen performers, fusing Arabic and traditional Indonesian dangdut music

JAKARTA: At a packed festival in central Jakarta, hijab-clad sexagenarian singer Rien Djamain bursts into an upbeat track about nuclear destruction to a crowd of thousands, mostly young Indonesians.
Behind the frontwoman of the all-female Nasida Ria band are her fellow musicians, dressed in silver and black sequined dresses, backing up her velvety vocals with bongos, violins, mandolins, bamboo flutes and tambourines.
“O cursed creator of the nuclear bomb, why do you invite the day of judgment?” she sang on the track “Bom Nuklir.”
Young concert-goers swung from side to side during the macabre ditty, shouting “mother!” at their favorite band members.
Originally formed 47 years ago as a Qur'an recital group, the band now numbers a dozen performers, fusing Arabic and traditional Indonesian dangdut music, which was once thought tacky and dated in cosmopolitan circles.
Their humorous Islamic pop tunes about serious themes, such as justice and human rights, have caught on with social media-obsessed young people looking for some levity in their playlists.
Riding the wave of Indonesia’s increasingly vibrant music scene, the band’s droll lyrics have gained them a certain notoriety.
Their songs are laden with similes and metaphors, comparing womanizers to “seditious bats” or describing how “monkeys like to carry rifles, humans like to show nipples.”
Twenty-three-year-old Fathul Amin said he thinks the band is “more than just cool.”

The Nasida Ria band performs on stage at a festival in Jakarta on January 6, 2023. (AFP)

“Why? Because all of the members are women who can play more than three musical instruments,” he said.
Screen grabs of Nasida Ria’s expressive words have been widely shared as memes, forging a connection between the band and the younger generation.
“That is how youths communicate nowadays, and that is OK. More importantly, it shows that our messages through the songs are well accepted,” Djamain told AFP.
“I am grateful that despite the mostly old members, Nasida Ria is still loved by the youths. That our music is still enjoyable to them.”

Music consumption in Indonesia is evolving, experts say, with listeners adding combinations of genres that include more traditional sounds — such as dangdut with Javanese lyrics or reggae-pop sung in eastern Indonesian dialects — to their Western favorites.
That growing trend has made Nasida Ria more relevant than ever, according to music journalist Shindu Alpito.
“The younger generations tend to celebrate music with a sense of humor. They are attracted not only to the musical aesthetics but also musical comedy,” he told AFP.
Dangdut music has been increasing in popularity, with acts now playing at festivals across Indonesia, performing for young audiences alongside rock bands, in addition to gigs for their usual crowds in smaller villages.
“A lot of youths in... Jakarta are re-embracing local music. Now, these types of music are what they call a guilty pleasure,” Alpito said.
“Islamic songs are usually serious, with lyrics carefully quoting Islamic teachings. However, Nasida Ria have charmed broader society through a language style that is easy to understand and amusing.”

The group capitalized on the demand for entertainment while the world was stuck indoors and concert venues were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nasida Ria’s youngest member, 27-year-old Nazla Zain, attributes their success to modern technology allowing people from all backgrounds to be exposed to their music.
“We are keeping up with the trend by using YouTube and other music applications,” she said.
“So now youths with mobile phones can listen to our songs. That might be a reason why they like us.”
They have seen their YouTube subscriber count surge six-fold since March 2020 to nearly 500,000.
They also boast nearly 50,000 listeners every month on streaming platform Spotify and 38,000 followers on Instagram.
“They are so cool as they still perform at a not-so-young age,” said 32-year-old metal and punk fan Ricky Prasetyo.
“No wonder many people call them the indie mothers.”
 


Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil delights Jeddah audience with hit songs

  • Kaifi Khalil enjoyed a rapid rise to fame thanks to his mesmerizing vocals and soulful music
  • The singer said the love and warmth shown from the audience in Jeddah were 'spectacular'

JEDDAH: Rising Pakistani music star Kaifi Khalil captivated audience members at a concert held on Jan. 26 at the WA Hotel in Jeddah.

The singer enjoyed a rapid rise to fame thanks to his mesmerizing vocals and soulful music. During the concert, he performed recent release “Kahani Suno 2.0” — which hit global world charts last year — along with other desi, folk and Sufi songs.

Speaking to Arab News, Khalil said the amount of love and warmth shown from the audience in Jeddah at his first international concert was “spectacular,” adding: “I had promised myself to fill the evening with a rendition of all my songs and tried my best to make sure every single person had a good time.”

He said: “My excitement hit the roof when I first learned that I will be performing in Saudi Arabia. I cannot describe this moment and the love I have received from the time I stepped into the country.”

Pakistani singer Kaifi Khalil performs at the WA Hotel in Jeddah on January 26, 2023. (Supplied)

Although he has performed many times back in Pakistan, Khalil was overwhelmed to see the response from an international audience, which has inspired him to return to the Kingdom.

“The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever,” he said.

The constant cheering from the crowd was pure magic. When the performance was coming to an end, it dawned on me that everything that I felt was so precious that I will cherish it forever.

Kaifi Khalil

After Khalil’s music went viral last year, the singer became an inspiration to many, with children, teenagers and adults attending in the Jeddah concert.

One concertgoer described the event as a “magical night,” adding: “I don’t know how many times I have listened to Kaifi Khalil’s songs. To watch him perform live was a dream come true moment. He has such a soulful voice that made the entire hall sing along with him.”

Mohammed Abdullah, another fan, said: “I was so excited to experience the vibe and music of Kaifi Khalil. He is totally a gem in the music industry. Besides, I would like to extend gratitude to the organizers for the very well executed event as we could watch him clearly from our seats.”

Alongside Khalil, the event also included versatile singers Abida Hussain and Saleem Rifiq.

Fans react as Pakistani singer Kafii Khalil performs onstage in Jeddah on January 26, 2023. (Supplied)

Nosheen Waseem, founder of Nosheen Arts Culture Center, which oversaw the concert, said that the center aim to take the entertainment industry in the Kingdom to the “next level.” The event was organized to mark the successful completion of the first year of NACC, which involved organizing a range of nonprofit events.

Salman Lodhi and Talha Abdul Ghafoor, who organized the event, said: “The turnout was incredible — around 300 people attended the musical night. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone had a great time and the audience was on their feet for the entire performance.”


ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

Updated 28 January 2023

ULTRA Abu Dhabi music festival releases lineup of headliners for debut edition

LONDON: The international music festival, ULTRA Worldwide, has announced the first wave of headliners set to play the inaugural edition of ULTRA Abu Dhabi on March 4-5 at Etihad Park.

“Multi-award winning and platinum-record selling artist Afrojack is no stranger to headlining ULTRA Main Stages across the world, and will be on hand to deliver yet another high-octane set,” organizers said.

“Responsible for some of the biggest hits in the world, Grammy-nominated Calvin Harris will bring the beats to Yas Island for one of his signature high-energy sets (and) Dharma Worldwide boss KSHMR will whip the crowd into a frenzy with his culture-crossing sonics,” they also said.

Gud Vibrations label co-founder NGHTMRE will appear on the Main Stage with his signature blend of electronic music and producer Skrillex, who has won eight Grammy Awards — more than any other electronic dance music artist, will bring his shapeshifting soundscapes to the festival.

ULTRA Abu Dhabi will also host ULTRA’s underground techno and house concept RESISTANCE, featuring Drumcode founder and Swedish techno titan Adam Beyer.

“Producer and EXHALE label boss Amelie Lens will return to the Middle East to deliver her mesmerising blend of techno, while British legends Sasha_John Digweed bring decades of dance floor expertise to Abu Dhabi,” they added.

Etihad Park, located on Yas Island, is the largest open-air venue in the region and one of the world’s fastest growing leisure and entertainment destinations.

“ULTRA Worldwide sets the benchmark when it comes to delivering the ultimate festival experience, combining top-tier talent, cutting-edge technology and large-scale productions,” the statement said, adding: “As the most international music festival brand boasting active events on all six inhabited continents, it’s no surprise that ULTRA Worldwide’s Middle East debut will be one of the most highly anticipated events across the UAE this year.”

The three-day festival will offer a premium general experience pass that allows access holders to dedicated entrance gates, toilets, food and beverage stands, as well as a private lounge area. It will also offer VVIP passes at both stages.

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What Joyland achieved ‘unprecedented,’ producer says as film misses Oscar nominations

Updated 25 January 2023

What Joyland achieved ‘unprecedented,’ producer says as film misses Oscar nominations

  • Joyland continues to fight legal battles for its release in Punjab province where it has been banned
  • The film celebrates ‘transgender culture’ in Pakistan, won the Cannes ‘Queer Palm’ prize last year

KARACHI: After missing the nomination in the International Feature Film category for the 95th Academy Awards, the makers of Joyland promised to follow the “unprecedented” success of the film on Wednesday by coming up with more creative productions to dominate the global entertainment industry.
Joyland won the Cannes “Queer Palm” prize for best feminist-themed movie last year as well as the Jury Prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, a segment focusing on young, innovative cinema talent. It also made it to the ongoing Sundance Film Festival 2023 in the United States.
Last month, the Pakistani film also featured in the list of 15 outstanding international productions that advanced to the final nomination stage ahead of the award ceremony scheduled to take place in March. However, it could not make the cut in the list of final five.
“What Joyland has been able to achieve so far is unprecedented and gives us hope for many more films to come out of Pakistan and take the global stage,” the film’s co-producer and casting director Sana Jafri told Arab News. “Being selected in the top 15 films out of over a hundred films at the Academy Awards is a testimony of the talent and hard work that went into creating the film and shows the potential of the creatives in Pakistan, especially keeping in mind the limited resources and support we have.”
Despite receiving critical acclaim abroad, Joyland has had a tough run in Pakistan that banned its screening at movie theaters last November by reversing a previous all-clear for release order. The film, which celebrates “transgender culture” in Pakistan, was later allowed to be released in some parts of the country, though it remains banned in the most populous Punjab province.
“While we are still fighting a legal battle to get the film released in Punjab for over two months, every day our inbox is filled with messages of people asking us about the release and it is heartbreaking to know that our own people have been deprived of what is theirs,” Jafri continued.
She added Pakistan had seldom celebrated its own creatives and hoped to witness a change soon.
The Joyland producer maintained there were many important voices and stories in the country that needed to be heard while pointing out that everyone should have the freedom to talk about what is important to them.
“We, as a nation, need to stop policing artists,” Jafri said. “This isn’t something new for us. We did this to [the 18th century Punjabi poet] Bulleh Shah and [Urdu short story writer] Saadat Hassan Manto. I hope we learn our lesson before it is too late.”
Joyland stars an ensemble cast including Ali Junejo, Rasti Farooq, Alina Khan, Sarwat Gilani, Sania Saeed, Sohail Sameer and Salman Peer.
Reacting to the film missing the final nomination for the Oscars, veteran Pakistani actress Sania Saeed said: “It didn’t make it, it didn’t make it. It has come this far and is still going strong despite everything. Also, a first to have been shown and won so many awards around the world at the most prestigious festivals, made some money too. We all worked so hard. We had so much fun working on it and with each other. I am so grateful.”