Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’ star Summer Shesha finds her passion in acting

L-R: Bateel Qamlo as Lamar, Summer Shesha as Razan and Khalid AlHarbi as Hasan in 'Crashing Eid.' (Supplied)
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Updated 12 October 2023
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Netflix’s ‘Crashing Eid’ star Summer Shesha finds her passion in acting

  • The Saudi actress discusses her leading role in Netflix series ‘Crashing Eid’ and working with her mother

DUBAI: Passion changes everything. Ten years ago, Saudi actress Summer Shesha was thriving in the finance world, her drive and talent seemed guaranteed to carry her to the top of the industry. Then, a casting call on Twitter that began as a fun weekend activity ended up transforming the plan she had for her life (and, years later, would transform her mother’s as well). Now, as the star of Netflix’s first female-led Saudi original series “Crashing Eid,” which launches Oct. 19, she is set to become a global star in an industry fueled by an ambition that matches her own. 

“I’ve always been a practical person. If I’m going to pursue something, I want to know that I’m going somewhere. And for a long time, I didn’t think that something I was passionate about could be the thing that gets me to the heights I once dreamed of in life — to do something that resonates across the world,” Shesha tells Arab News.

“That’s why I’m so proud of this series. I truly believe it’s great. It’s really entertaining, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and it has themes that feel specific to Saudi but will resonate everywhere. This is an unconventional story, one that doesn’t represent all Saudis. But it’s told with love for Saudi, with a Saudi heart, and I think the world will love it, too.”

While much has changed for Shesha since she first stepped on set for a small scene in Mahmoud Sabbagh’s 2013 web series “Kash,” the feeling that she discovered then has never left her. At first, she thought it was just curiosity. She was scheduled to be there for just two hours that day, but found herself lingering long after her scene had wrapped. 




Summer Shesha as Razan, Bateel Qamlo as Lamar in 'Crashing Eid.; (Supplied)

“I just couldn’t leave the set,” Shesha remembers. “I sat next to the camera man, then the make-up artists, then the art department… I was fascinated. I stayed for 14 hours. And because I couldn’t get enough, I went to LA to try a course, and it unlocked something within me. When I finally made sense of what I was feeling, I realized what it was. It was passion.”

Still, for nine years, Shesha couldn’t bring herself to step away from the career she had built for herself, torn at all times between her two identities. Even after appearing in hit films such as “Book of Sun,” or winning Best Actress at the 8th Saudi Film Festival at Ithra for her role in “Kayan,” she was still unsure whether to introduce herself to people as an actress or a banker. And as a senior manager in one of the top banks in the country, it was hard to let that part go.

Eventually, fate stepped in, in the most unexpected of ways. In 2022, Shesha was having a conversation with her friend, Saudi actor and filmmaker Fatima Al-Banawi, who was in the process of casting her directorial debut. It was impossible, Al-Banawi told her, to find great 50-year-old Saudi actresses. That gave Shesha an idea.

“I said, ‘I think my mother would make a good actress.’ I told my mom, and she was dismissive immediately — ‘What? No, no, no,’ she said. I told her that I knew she’d be a natural. I gave her number to Fatima, and Fatima called her, auditioned her, and cast her. Mom was still resisting a day before the shoot was going to begin, asking me how she should apologize because this was all a mistake. She was ready to quit!” says Shesha.




Summer Shesha as Razan, Yasir AlSaggaf as Sofyan, Amani Idrees as Mona in 'Crashing Eid.' (Supplied)

“I told her, ‘Mom, it’s normal to be afraid right before doing something new. But the truth is you’re doing great. This is natural. And you know what? You’re an inspiration. You’re in your fifties, and you’re trying something new, and you’re getting out of your shell.’ She did it, and never looked back,” Shesha continues. 

It wasn’t long before Shesha’s mother — Amani Idrees — was booking roles herself. She was cast as the mother in “Crashing Eid” before they had yet found the right actress to play the daughter.

“I hadn’t taken a vacation in two years, I wasn’t looking to do any role at the time because I was exhausted. But then when my mother was cast and met with the showrunner and the directors, and they said, ‘Doesn’t she look just like the actress Summer Shesha? We should ask her to come!’ The casting director had to explain that I was actually her real-life daughter,” Shesha explains with a laugh. 

“The second I read the script, I loved it. I loved the character, the story, how unique it is. It’s about accepting the other — people who are different from you. And it’s comedy, which I’d never really explored before. And not just constant punchlines, but absurd family situations that make you laugh by their very nature. I was hesitant before, but once I read it, I couldn’t say no,” she continues. 

While having her mother around made the family aspect of the series feel natural, there was one aspect that was completely alien to Shesha — playing a mother herself. 

“I’m not a mother, so I didn’t think there was any way I could play the mother to a 15-year-old. When the actress and I first met, it felt silly — she didn’t feel like my daughter at all. I was so scared that the chemistry would make it feel like we were just friends instead,” says Shesha. “But then I realized, actually, my mother and I are friends. We don’t have the usual dynamic, and that’s OK too. It works for us. So I said to myself, ‘OK, I’m going to play it that way.’ And suddenly it all started to feel more natural, and our relationship started to feel real.” 

Now, a year since she left the finance world behind, Shesha is more driven than ever. She’s writing her own projects, having received a grant from Netflix’s Grow Creative Initiative, and is excited to continue navigating the many aspects of a being Saudi woman that have only just begun to be explored. And with three more films in post-production, “Crashing Eid” may be her breakout moment to the world as an actress, but it is only a herald of the myriad things to come. 

Perhaps what she enjoys most of all, though, is that her best friend is joining her on this journey, too. And that the unique mother-daughter dynamic they’ve fostered has now become that of two creative voices who are in love with a craft that once seemed impossible for both of them to pursue. 

“My sister came home recently and found us both screaming in the kitchen and had no idea what was wrong, but we were just doing an exercise assigned to us by the acting coach. She said, ‘I’m living in a crazy house!’ And, yeah, acting can be crazy sometimes. But I’m not the only crazy one in the house anymore,” says Shesha. “I’m so happy we’re doing this together.”


AlUla’s Wadi AlFann celebrates Saudi contemporary artist Manal AlDowayan 

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AlUla’s Wadi AlFann celebrates Saudi contemporary artist Manal AlDowayan 

  • Two exhibitions of the influential Saudi artist’s work mark the pre-opening program of a new cultural destination  

ALULA: The work of Manal AlDowayan, one of Saudi Arabia’s leading contemporary artists, is often focused on cultural metamorphosis, collective narratives and the representation of women, particularly from her home country. 

AlDowayan, who will represent the Kingdom at this year’s Venice Biennale, is currently the subject of two exhibitions in AlUla as part of the pre-opening program of Wadi AlFann, a major new cultural destination for art, design and performance.  

The first exhibition, “Oasis of Stories,” features hundreds of drawings and tales from local communities across AlUla. It will run in the AlJadidah Arts District as part of the AlUla Arts Festival 2024 until March 23.  

Part of the exhibition 'Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths’ by Manal AlDowayan. (Supplied)

“AlUla is a library of stories,” AlDowayan said in a statement. “This land holds an archive of narratives and identities that numerous civilizations engraved into its rocks for centuries, telling us about the tools they used, the animals they farmed and the lives they led.” 

The detailed drawings of daily personal and collective life in AlUla were created during workshops AlDowayan held that attracted 700 participants from AlUla, including farmers, cooks, teachers, tour guides, rangers, artists, students, craftspeople, junior football teams and a disability association. AlDowayan asked them to draw their personal stories on paper. The results are poignant and endearing renderings that detail the realities, hopes and dreams of AlUla’s residents as well as the beauty of the region’s natural landscape. 

“I want to give the contemporary inhabitants of AlUla a space for their narrative, allowing it to live permanently in a public artwork for future generations to contemplate,” AlDowayan said. 

Part of the exhibition 'Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths’ by Manal AlDowayan. (Supplied)

The exhibition marks a turning point in the development of AlDowayan’s permanent large-scale desert installation for Wadi AlFann, which will also be titled “Oasis of Stories,” and is expected to be completed in 2026. That work takes inspiration from the labyrinth-like passages and walls of AlUla’s Old Town. The drawings and stories from the workshhops will be inscribed into its walls, meaning that AlUla’s residents will leave their mark on a major piece of art in the region they call home.  

“I decided to speak with the AlUla residents to learn about their old town,” AlDowayan told Arab News. “I realized that the story of the people of AlUla has not been documented. (And I thought they needed to) inscribe their story onto something in the surrounding landscape. 

“I visited women’s homes and asked them to document their recipes; I attended weddings and danced and also asked eldery women to tell their stories,” she continued. “Me and my studio manager, Carla, were constantly trying to build a relationship of love and trust with the people from AlUla.” 

One of the pieces in the 'Oasis of Stories' exhibition. (Supplied)

Wadi AlFann is a 65-kilometer “Valley of the Arts” in the desert of AlUla. It will include large-scale art installations set against the natural desert landscape and alluring rock formations. The first five commissions will be by AlDowayan, her fellow Saudi artist Ahmed Mater, and the US-based artists Agnes Denes, Michael Heizer, and James Turrell.  

“There is no desert quite like the AlUla desert,” Wadi AlFann’s lead curator Iwona Blazwick said during the press tour. “This was once a large plateau that was underwater over millennia. The cliffs have been eroded. They’re made of sandstone. There are 7,000 years of human presence in this area, and we find it through rock art markings, petroglyphs, pictograms and hieroglyphs. They’re everywhere you look. But we want to find an expression of the 21st century that we can also add to the landscape.”  

Wadi AlFann, AlUla. (Supplied)

AlDowayan’s second exhibition, presented in collaboration with Madrid-based Sabrina Amrani Gallery, is “Their Love Is Like All Loves, Their Death Is Like All Deaths,” a solo exhibition that delves further into her artistic practice. Sculptural works and drawings in a range of mediums explore the idea of ruin — all inspired by the engravings and architecture of the ancient tombs of AlUla. 

In several rooms of the exhibition, there are soft desert rose-shaped sculptures made from tussar silk, on which are printed subtle images reflective of AlUla’s heritage. Elsewhere, AlDowayan’s labyrinth-like drawings bring to mind the winding passages of AlUla’s Old Town.  

The 'Oasis of Stories' exhibition in Wadi AlFann. (Supplied)

There are also intricate works created by Sadu weaving, a technique traditionally used by Bedouin women, mounted on the wall. Once again, AlDowayan engaged the larger AlUla community, and its imprint powerfully resonates throughout.  

“I want to be sure that everyone enjoys art,” AlDowayan told Arab News. “Saudi Arabia is going through a huge transformative moment and public art is being commissioned across the Kingdom. This is part of a vision that art will be ingrained in our communities.” 


Saudi director Khalid Fahad discusses his Netflix hit ‘From the Ashes’ 

Updated 12 min 33 sec ago
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Saudi director Khalid Fahad discusses his Netflix hit ‘From the Ashes’ 

  • ‘It’s a great time to be a Saudi filmmaker,’ said Khalid Fahad

 

DUBAI: When Saudi filmmaker Khalid Fahad received the script for his latest project — the Netflix movie “From the Ashes” — it didn’t take him long to sign up. 

“I got attached to the characters, I got attached to the ‘villains,’ I got attached to the idea that we, as a society, make a villain, then we judge him or her for their badness,” Fahad tells Arab News. “I related to the idea that parental pressure can make someone make a mistake. And I wanted to tell people that what happens in a school can be because of what we do in our homes. The school is responsible for educating children, but kids learn a lot from each other, and kids can be aggressive or very kind depending on their parents’ guidance.” 

The film garnered attention ahead of its January release in part because of the real-life events that inspired it. It is set on the campus of an all-girls’ school in Saudi Arabia in which a fire breaks out, resulting in several deaths — echoing the 2002 fire at a school for girls in Makkah that left 15 students dead and many more injured. 

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However, Fahad is quick to stress that “From the Ashes” is not a retelling of that incident.  

“The writers went with their own — different — story,” he says. “The film’s not really about the fire; it’s about the relationship between the schoolgirls and the teachers and the parents. Some of the girls get bullied, and if we don’t address bullying in schools, then bad things can happen. That’s the real message that we wanted to deliver. These incidents — bullying, or arson, or vandalism — we wanted to show that they happen because of relationships between people and to look at why they’re doing this to each other. What’s the real reason for harming other people?” 

There are several such reasons raised in the film — from parental pressure to outperform one’s peers to institutionalized tendencies to label kids as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without really trying to understand their circumstances or the underlying causes of their behavior. 

Fahad on the set of 'From the Ashes.' (Supplied)

For a film dealing with such nuanced topics, and so many strong emotions, Fahad knew the casting, particularly for the students, would be crucial. 

“For the teachers, it wasn’t hard because we have some expert actresses,” he says. “But for the students, it was very hard to find new people who fit these roles. It took five or six days of auditioning to find the right people.”  

When they did find them, Fahad’s experience of working with young actors (as he did in his debut feature, last year’s fantasy adventure “Valley Road”) came to the fore.  

Saudi actress Shaima Al Tayeb in 'From the Ashes.' (Supplied)

“My previous project taught me a lot about how to work with kids, which was very hard for me at first. It taught me what they need from me: I need to be their best friend, to tell them what I need and they’ll do their best to give that to me, in terms of emotion. All of them were very talented and I think this film will open the door for them to enter the industry.” 

The Kingdom’s still-nascent movie industry can only benefit from the younger generation picking up valuable experience on well-funded projects such as “From the Ashes,” which — despite the rapid growth — are still relatively thin on the ground.  

“Our industry is still young,” Fahad says. “It’s hard enough just making one film. In terms of capacity, I think it’s very hard to do, like, 10 movies in one year in Saudi Arabia.” 

Despite that, Fahad is only optimistic about the near future. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Khalid Fahad (@khalidf11)

“It’s a great time to be a Saudi filmmaker,” he says. “Everything is open, everything is new. And it’s OK to make mistakes. If you go into the industry in any other country — say, Egypt or Bollywood — there’s no way you can make mistakes, because there’s history there. But for us, mistakes are OK; we’ve just started and we want to learn from our mistakes.  

“But we also have to respect those companies that want to invest in our country and tell our stories,” he adds. “So there’s a balance necessary — we have to take those projects very seriously and deal with them respectfully and professionally.” 

That was clearly the case with “From the Ashes,” and Netflix has been well rewarded for its faith in the film. It made the list of the Top 10 non-English movies on Netflix in 37 countries, accumulating more than 7 million views in a little over a fortnight. 

“I’ve had comments from Mexico, from Spain, talking about bullies and how girls get into fights in schools — it’s similar to their schools,” says Fahad. “And this tells me that we’ve so much in common with other societies. It’s relatable for other people, which is very good. The message that we wanted to deliver is delivered.” 


Where We Are Going Today: Pierre Herme Paris

Updated 22 February 2024
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Where We Are Going Today: Pierre Herme Paris

Visitors to the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh can get a taste for luxury from more than just the decor and surroundings.

At Pierre Herme Paris they can sample pastries and sweets conceived by French pastry chef Herme, known as the “Picasso of pastry.”

Among the most popular desserts are French macarons, and vanille cakes infused with exotic vanilla cream from Tahiti, Mexico, and Madagascar.

Dacquoise biscuits are adorned with crunchy hazelnuts, hazelnut flakes, thin layers of milk chocolate, milk chocolate ganache, Chantilly cream, and several ice cream flavors, while the pink rose macarons from Isfahan, Iran are filled with rose petal cream and raspberries.

All the pastries are lovingly prepared in the hotel’s kitchens and showcased in museum- style class cabinets.

One of the things that  impressed me about Pierre Hermé Paris is that it is headed by the Executive Pastry Chef Steve Thiery from France, who joined the global pastry-making operations in 2019 after honing his talents for a decade and
a half in pastry kitchens from French Polynesia to France and Morocco.

 


‘Disgusted’ British fashion icon bins honor from late queen over UK’s Gaza stance

Updated 22 February 2024
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‘Disgusted’ British fashion icon bins honor from late queen over UK’s Gaza stance

  • Katharine Hamnett: ‘I’m disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza’
  • She released a video saying her CBE ‘belongs in the dustbin’ along with PM, opposition leader

LONDON: British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett has renounced an honor she received from the late Queen Elizabeth II to protest against the UK government’s stance on Gaza.

Hamnett, 76, famed for pioneering the slogan T-shirt, was made a commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2011 in recognition of her influence on the fashion industry.

This week she released a short video clip showing her outside her front door, wearing a signature T-shirt with the words “Disgusted to be British” emblazoned on the front, throwing her CBE medal into a bin.

“I’m disgusted to be British for our role in genocide in Gaza,” she said. “This is my CBE. It belongs in the dustbin, with (UK Prime Minister Rishi) Sunak and (Labour leader Sir Keir) Starmer.”

Hamnett, who is noted for her political activism, released the clip ahead of a series of proposed motions in the House of Commons calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.


Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller

Updated 22 February 2024
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Review: ‘Dune: Part Two’ solidifies Denis Villeneuve as a master storyteller

DUBAI: French Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve can rest easy as “Dune: Part Two” pulls off the most elusive of filmmaking wins: improving on the original movie with a sequel. A lot of it comes down to the fact that “Dune: Part One,” released in October 2021, utilized most of its 2 hours and 48 minutes of runtime to set up 2024’s sweeping spectacle of a conclusion to Frank Herbert’s first novel in the “Dune” series.

And what a spectacle it is. Not only is “Part Two” a sensorial treat in every possible way, but Villeneuve also injects the movie with an emotional verve and gravitas, as well as playfulness, that was drastically missing in the first, in comparison.

“Dune: Part Two” picks up on the heels of the first film, locating itself deep in the desert landscape of Arrakis (shot extensively in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter), where young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) must earn the trust of the native Fremen tribes after his entire house was massacred by the Harkonens in a bloody coup.

While Fremen warrior Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is convinced Paul is the prophesized messiah come to save their world from the colonizing forces of Baron Harkonen (Stellan Skarsgard) and battle-hardened war-monger Rabban Harkonnen (Dave Bautista), other Arrakis natives view the young noble with suspicion.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by DUNE (@dunemovie)

As the battles between the Harkonnens and the Fremen play out in gigantic and awesome displays of fire power, Paul grapples with the consequences of his rising power as Muad’Dib and his need for vengeance, goaded by the growing occult influence of his mother, Lady Jessica, a powerful member of the Bene Gesserit sisterhood.

There is also a budding romance between Paul and Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen fighter who is vocal about her distrust in prophecies, and wants her people to earn their freedom themselves, instead of relying on an outsider.

Zendaya as Fremen warrior Chani in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

High on the list of Paul’s hit list is Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) for a reason that is made clear pretty early in the film, while his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) serves as the audience’s entry point into the geopolitical nuances of “Part Two,” as she narrates the film.

Props go entirely to Villeneuve and writer Jon Spaihts for homing in on Herbert’s distaste for the Chosen One trope and dismantling the hero’s journey to reveal the greys that lie beneath what may initially seem like a very black-and-white story. Villeneuve also pulls on the religious threads of the story, ever so carefully, and the results are as mystical as they are cerebral.

Rebecca Ferguson as Reverend Mother Jessica in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Meanwhile, cinematographer Greig Fraser is well on his way to collect his next Oscar with “Part Two” — the first instalment of the film won the Best Cinematography Academy Award in 2022 — as he levels up his craft in the sequel. Also, composer Hans Zimmer delivers a superior soundtrack that will stick with audiences long after they have left the theater.

As far as performances go, main players Chalamet and Zendaya turn in expected performances, but never really push the envelope. However, the supporting cast, including Fergusson, Bardem, Bautista and Josh Brolin, are superlative and seem to have remembered to have fun with their characters. Even newcomer Austin Butler as the psychopathic Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is an absolute treat to behold.

Austin Butler plays Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

While “Part Two” brings about a satisfying end to the events of the first book, the movie heavily hints at a third outing, and it would be a welcome one.

So if you have recently found yourself losing faith in blockbuster movies, “Dune: Part Two” is here to turn you back into a believer.