Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

Filmmaker Dhafer L’Abidine and Saudi actor Ibrahim Al-Hasawi in Abha shooting ‘To My Son.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 03 December 2023
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Dhafer L’Abidine on ‘To My Son’ and the magic of Saudi Arabia’s Abha 

  • The Tunisian filmmaker and actor’s latest feature was shot in Saudi Arabia, but will ‘resonate anywhere’ 

DUBAI: There are two things that cinema can do better than any other form of artistic expression. First, it allows us to immerse ourselves in parts of the world we’ve never seen, and second, it empowers us to empathize with people we’ve never met. Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine’s lyrical directorial effort “To My Son,” which will hold its world premiere on December 3 at the Red Sea International Film Festival, excels at both. After scoring a huge global distribution deal the night the fest began, it is now poised to introduce the world to a part of Saudi Arabia never before immortalized on the big screen.  

For L’Abidine, a cross-cultural performer who has long been one of Arab film and television’s most beloved stars, the Saudi-set film is a “love letter” to a country that has fully embraced him. It also marks a welcome return to a festival that helped launched the now-thriving next phase of his career, after his debut feature, the unforgettable politically-charged drama “Ghodwa,” screened to great acclaim at RSIFF 2021.  

But while his last film was a deeply personal exploration of his home country’s political landscape in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution, “To My Son,” in which he also stars as a British-Saudi father named Feisal, is a leap outside of his lived experience — which has filled the 51-year-old with a range of emotions ahead of the film’s premiere. 

“I’m thrilled to debut ‘To My Son’ in Jeddah. It’s exciting to share this story with this amazing community, a film that aims to capture humanity as well as the beauty of this astounding place. But there’s also a bit of excited nervousness, to be honest, because it’s so different from anything I’ve attempted before,” L’Abidine tells Arab News. 




Tunisian megastar Dhafer L’Abidine in his debut feature ‘Ghodwa,’ which screened at RSIFF in 2021. (Supplied)

“My last film was about Tunisia, it was an idea born from my own culture. But with this film, I’m exploring a place I’m still discovering even years after first coming here. That carries with it a huge responsibility, which I kept at the front in my mind while making it. I knew that I had to do right by this place, these people, and this culture. It’s always challenging to step out of your comfort zone, but I’m always most attracted to making the choices that feel the least safe and easy, because that’s where I thrive,” he continues.  

The film is set primarily in the Abha, a lush, mountainous city in the southwest of the Kingdom that is beloved by Saudis but largely unknown to an international community that has only just begun to explore the country. L’Abidine first found himself there three years ago filming a hit MBC series and was amazed by the place.  

“I really didn’t know what I was in for. You have certain clichés in your head about Saudi Arabia, and then suddenly you find yourself in the middle of these huge green mountains, all with a very distinct quality to them, and so many historical places to discover. You feel really feel you’re somewhere unlike anywhere else in the world. After I left, I couldn’t get this place out of my head,” he explains.  




Dhafer L'Abidine on the set of ‘To My Son.’ (Supplied)

After the release of “Ghodwa,” L’Abidine was meeting with a producer friend, who was himself considering doing a film in Saudi Arabia. He and L’Abidine began to brainstorm, coming up with an idea that became the bones of the story that the film now explores — the story of a Saudi man living in London who, still mourning the death of his wife, decides to return with his son to the home he left 12 years ago. The man’s father, however, still resents him for having left the family, and refuses to accept him back into the fold.  

“As we sat there and explored the concept, it became clear we needed to really highlight that these are people from two different worlds. And Jeddah and Riyadh — as they’re so cosmopolitan and modern — couldn’t capture that difference. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be set in Abha.’ I was brought back to this place that I fell in love with that helped me see Saudi Arabia in a different way and I knew that would be valuable to this story, so I went away to write and it all developed from there,” says L’Abidine.  

   

While Abha helped inspire the story, what became more important to L’Abidine as he developed the film was that it not become a glorified travelogue or tourism campaign. The place, rather, had to serve as a character of sorts on its own, one that could help bring viewers deeper into the emotional journey of the people that live in it. And as he got further into his research of the place’s history, it he realized how universal their struggles really are.  

“Ultimately, this film is an exploration of the humanity that we all share within us, no matter where we’re from. They could be from Abha, Jeddah, Tunis, or Marrakesh. I wanted to make a film that would resonate anywhere, a film that shows that the struggles of the people of Abha — a place cinema has never taken us — are rooted in the same shared experiences that define us all as human beings. We all share stories like this, and the more we focus on that, the closer it brings us,” says L’Abidine.  

In zooming in on characters locked in the struggle between individual fulfillment and duty to family, and in exploring generational divides that require honest discussion in order to get to the heart of what divides them, L’Abidine soon realized this wasn’t just a story about Saudi Arabia, or Arab societies. It was a story about all of us, even himself.  

Quickly, it became clear to him that once again he was making a film about fathers and their children, this time at a period in his life when he is raising a 13-year-old daughter in London who is herself growing up in a world so different that which shaped him back in Tunisia. In the end, as much as he thought he was stepping outside of himself to find the truths of another culture, many of the answers were to be found in his own experience all along.  

“Storytelling is always personal, whether you intend it to be or not. There’s so much in our heads that we have to resolve. And in raising my daughter, there’s so many lessons I’ve had to learn, so much perspective I’ve gained,” says L’Abidine. “I wanted to explore that journey through the main character from both sides, because I think so many people can relate. We all share stories like this.” 


Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

Updated 21 April 2024
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Christie’s to hold ‘Art of Islamic and Indian Worlds’ auction in London

LONDON: Christie’s has announced a spring sale of “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets,” which will be presented during a live auction at the British auction house’s London headquarters on April 25.

“This season the sale offers a curated selection of 261 lots including four unique collections,” Christie’s said in a statement. “Illustrating the breadth of craftsmanship across 10 centuries, works date from the 10th century to the 20th century and cover a diversity of artistic traditions.”

The works include paintings, ceramics, metal work, works on paper, arms, textiles and rugs and carpets from across the Islamic world, spanning the Silk Route linking China to the West.

A number of private collections will be auctioned, including early Iranian ceramics from a private American collection, as well as Persian and Indian paintings from the collection of art specialists Charles and Regina Slatkin that features a rare work by the Bukhara artist Mahmud Muzahhib.

The carpet section of the auction “is led by Sultans of Silk: The George Farrow Collection, which is a comprehensive study of the very best of silk rug weaving of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gathered over forty years by the late George Farrow,” Christie’s said in its statement. The collection will offer more than 40 finely woven silk carpets.

According to Christie’s, Farrow was a British collector of silk rugs and his “expansive collection” comprises a variety of silk weavings from different origins.

Sara Plumbly, head of Islamic and Indian art at Christie’s, said: “We are delighted to offer a wide variety of works of art from across the Islamic and Indian worlds this season (and) we are particularly excited about three private collections, all with long provenance, that highlight the breadth and diversity of the artistic traditions of Iran — from Safavid textiles and painting to medieval pottery.”

Louise Broadhurst, international head of rugs and carpets at Christie’s, said the auction house “is honored to offer the collection of George Farrow, whose passion for antique silk rugs is reflected in the illuminating breadth of examples gathered over four decades, which include highlights rarely seen on today’s market.”

The “Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Rugs and Carpets” is open to the public ahead of the live auction from April 21-24 at Christie’s in London.


Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening

Updated 20 April 2024
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Sofia Boutella dazzles at London ‘Rebel Moon’ screening

DUBAI: French-Algerian actress Sofia Boutella turned heads at the UK premiere of her film “Rebel Moon — Part 2: The Scargiver” in London this week.

Boutella wore a black suit from British fashion designer Stella McCartney with a cropped satin blazer and low-rise straight-leg trousers. She styled her short, dark hair in loose waves, complemented by dramatic cat-eye makeup.

In the sci-fi adventure — a sequel to last year’s “Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire” — which debuted on Netflix April 19, a peaceful colony on the edge of a galaxy finds itself threatened by the armies of a tyrannical ruling force.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

Kora, played by Boutella, has assembled a small band of warriors — outsiders, insurgents, peasants and orphans of war from different worlds who share a common need for redemption and revenge, and must band together to fight the Motherworld.

Snyder previously spoke about the two-part epic space opera at Netflix’s Tudum global fan event in Brazil, where he showcased a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film, based on a concept he has been developing since college.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sofia Boutella (@sofisia7)

“I’ve been working on this story for quite a while,” Snyder said on stage, according to Deadline. “It’s about a group of farmers on the edge of the galaxy that get visited by the armies of the Motherworld, who are the bad guys. The farmers have to decide to fight or submit.”

He continued: “I don’t want to give it all away, but if they had decided to fight, let’s say that was an option, they would have to travel around the galaxy to find warriors to fight with them. And so, it had us traveling quite a bit.”

Kora is not Algiers-born Boutella’s first role as a sword-wielding extraterrestrial. The actress, who at the age of 10 fled to Paris with her family during the Algerian civil war, is known for her breakout performance in the Oscar-nominated film, “Star Trek Beyond,” in which she portrayed the fierce alien warrior, Jaylah.


Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

Updated 20 April 2024
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Rami Kadi unveils couture collection in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

DUBAI: Lebanese designer Rami Kadi presented his latest haute couture collection on Friday in AlUla with star-studded guests. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rami Kadi (@ramikadi_pvt)

 

His summer/spring designs offered something for everyone. The dresses showcased a variety of necklines, ranging from halter gowns and plunging V-shaped dresses to off-the-shoulder styles, strapless designs and more. 

 

 

The dresses, crafted from fabrics such as tulle, chiffon and crepe, exuded voluminous, glitzy and metallic aesthetics. However, there were also satin options and simpler designs available.

 

 

The collection boasted a palette of pastel hues including pink, peach, blue, green, purple, and an array of other colors such as off-white, beige, silver and gold.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rami Kadi (@ramikadi_pvt)

 

The show was a collaboration between Kadi and AlUla moments. It was attended by Lebanese superstar Najwa Karam, Saudi actress Mila Al-Zahrani, Tunisian actress Dorra Zarouk, and Saudi influencers Nojoud Al-Rumaihi and Lama Alakeel.


Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles

Updated 20 April 2024
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Hollywood Arab Film Festival: Showcasing Arab cinema in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES: The third annual Hollywood Arab Film Festival began this week, bringing the best of 2024’s Arab cinema to Los Angeles and giving fans a chance to see the films in theaters as well as introducing a new audience to the Arab world’s top talent.

The event, which runs until April 21, was attended by a number of celebrity guests including Egyptian producer and screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy, Tunisian actor Dhaffer L’Abidine, renowned Egyptian star Elham Shahin and Egyptian producer Tarek El-Ganainy.

 

 

At the event, Hefty said: “Arab cinema really needs a platform to tell our stories and to show who we are, our identity, our hopes and dreams, our pains, and all the different social topics that are tackled in some of the films that are being presented are maybe more relevant today than ever. So I think it’s a great opportunity to have this dialogue.”

Hefzy’s film “Hajjan” was showing at the event. It is a Saudi Arabia-based film directed by Egyptian filmmaker Abu Bakr Shawky.

“Hajjan is a film about a young boy who got a very special connection to his camel, who has a brother who was a camel jockey and races,” Hefzy said. “And, one day when something really unexpected happens to his brother, and shatters his world, it forces him to step into his brother’s shoes and become a camel jockey, and so starts racing himself.”

The movie is a co-production between the Kingdom’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, or Ithra, and Hefzy’s Film Clinic.

“It was a film made in Saudi Arabia with Saudi talents and actors with an Egyptian director, but with the Saudi co-writer and Saudi actors and shot mostly in Saudi Arabia,” Hefzy said. “So I think it’s, it was a great experience, and learned a lot about Saudi Arabia, learned a lot about the culture.”

The festival featured cinema from various Arab countries, presenting films from 16 different nations. Marlin Soliman, strategic planning director of HAFF, highlighted the inclusion of six feature films, ten short films and six student films.

Spanning five days, HAFF offered its audience a vibrant experience, including a red-carpet affair, panel discussions on filmmaking and diversity in Hollywood, and, of course, screenings of high-profile films.

The festival also saw several filmmakers singing the praises of Saudi Arabia’s expanding film industry.

L’Abidine, the writer and director of “To My Son,” said: “I’m thrilled to be back again with my second feature film ‘To My Son,’ a Saudi film… I think there is a great evolution of Saudi cinema that’s been happening in the last few years.”


Dave Chappelle to perform at Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Updated 19 April 2024
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Dave Chappelle to perform at Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

DUBAI: US award-winning comedian Dave Chappelle is set to perform in the UAE at the Abu Dhabi Comedy Week on May 23, organizers announced on Friday.

The capital city’s first-ever comedy festival will run from May 18-26 at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena.

Chappelle will join a long list of comedians performing at the event, including Chris Tucker, Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura, Jo Koy, Tommy Tiernan, Kevin Bridges, Andrew Santino, Bobby Lee, Andrew Schulz, Bassem Youssef and Maz Jobrani.

With numerous accolades and awards to his name, including multiple Grammy Awards and Emmy Awards, Chappelle is renowned for his wit and fearless commentary on contemporary issues.

While May 23 will mark Chappelle’s inaugural performance in Abu Dhabi, he has previously captivated audiences with two sold-out shows in Dubai.