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

Khalid Fahad is a Saudi filmmaker. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 February 2024
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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.” 


Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved.
Updated 20 May 2024
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Ithra celebrates ‘creative voices’ at Cannes Film Festival

  • Panel discussion was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry
  • Panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program

RIYADH: Ithra organized a panel discussion entitled “Creative Voices” to shed light on young Saudi cinematic talents on the sidelines of the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

It was held within the Saudi pavilion of the Film Commission, with attendees from the global cinematic industry.

The panelists discussed the 15 projects that won support from the Ithra Film Production Program, including 11 short films and four feature-length films.

According to film director Hamza Jamjoom, the present opportunities for Saudi directors have greatly improved compared to previous years, allowing them to showcase local stories through cinematic works that reflect the Saudi culture internationally. 

Raneem Al-Muhandis, the director who debuted her film “Swing” in 2022 with support from Ithra, said Saudi Arabia boasts a rich pool of narratives ripe for cinematic exploration with worldwide appeal.   

Ithra cinema coordinator Mansour Al-Badran said that this program has taken local filmmaking to a new level.

“We produced the film ‘Hajjan’ within IFPP which has so far won nine awards in local and regional film festivals and was chosen to be the opening or closing film in prestigious festivals,” he said.

Al-Badran added that “Hajjan” is a prime example of the cinematic projects Ithra is working on.

He highlighted that Ithra is interested in stories that draw inspiration from the rich Saudi culture and aims to raise the standards of filmmaking in the local community through workshops and seminars.

Additionally, he highlighted Ithra’s collaboration with the Cinema Society to host the Saudi Film Festival, which is as a major platform for showcasing up-and-coming talents in the film industry. 

The Ithra event at the Saudi pavilion featured a luncheon bringing together representatives of organizations that support filmmakers in Saudi Arabia. The aim was to strengthen relationships and promote the exchange of cinematic experiences between industry professionals and enthusiasts. 


Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

Updated 20 May 2024
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Dubai Fashion Week announces Spring/Summer 2025 edition dates

DUBAI: Dubai Fashion Week (DFW) has announced its Spring/Summer 2025 dates, with international labels set to hit the runway from Sept. 1-5, 2024.

 “By positioning it ahead of the fashion weeks of New York, London, Milan and Paris, DFW provides an opportunity for participating designers to set the season’s trends and capture the attention of buyers,” organizing bodies the Arab Fashion council and Dubai Design District said in a released statement.  

Previous iterations of DFW saw New York-based label Carolina Herrera as the guest of honor last October with a presentation by the brand’s Creative Director Wes Gordon; supermodel Naomi Campbell closing the October edition by walking for Rizman Ruzaini; and Moroccan designer Maison Sara Chaibi making her DFW debut in February after presenting her collection at Paris Haute Couture Week.


Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

Updated 20 May 2024
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Emirati actress Meera AlMidfa reflects on Cannes and her first feature-length film, co-starring Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi

DUBAI: Emirati actress and filmmaker Meera AlMidfa has two short films screening on the sidelines of the ongoing Cannes Film Festival — “Shame” and “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. 

Set to entertain audiences in the French Riviera, although the films are not playing on the official calendar of the film festival, each provides sharp insight and commentary on Arab womanhood, while approaching the subject from separate viewpoints and taking a different tone.

While in “Shame” AlMidfa plays a woman whose attempt to flee from home is abruptly halted when her mother catches her and leads to an intense confrontation, in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker,” she plays the daughter of a matchmaker trying to avoid getting hitched.

Meera AlMidfa (right) in “Umm Salama The Matchmaker”. (Supplied)

“The two films were made as part of Arab Film Studio workshop by Image Nation Abu Dhabi. And I was cast by the filmmakers who were doing the filmmaking course, both female directors. And they both explore similar issues about women and marriage,” AlMidfa said in an interview with Arab News.

However, AlMidfa is most excited about her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. “I play an Emirati woman married to a Saudi man,” said AlMidfa.

Starring opposite AlMidfa is Saudi actor Fahad Al-Butairi (“Telfaz11,” “The Office,” “From A to B”), with the film’s worldwide release planned for July 4.

Meera AlMidfa will soon star in her first full-length feature, “Al Eid Eiden,” Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s Saudi-Emirati family comedy. (Supplied)

The production brings together an all-female Emirati creative team featuring first feature director Maitha Alawadi, producer Rawia Abdullah and writer Sara Al-Sayegh.

The film’s logline reads, “‘Al Eid Eiden’ follows a Saudi-Emirati family as they make the final preparations for an Eid getaway in Abu Dhabi. An unexpected turn of events on their day of travel changes things drastically for the parents, but not wanting to disappoint their three young children, they decide to go ahead as planned.

“What ensues is a roller-coaster ride of comedic mishaps and misunderstandings as they hurtle through uncharted parenting territory, a theme park, and Eid gatherings with relatives. Through the chaos, they discover unity as a family.”

Having been an integral part of the theatre and acting scene for more than a decade in the UAE, AlMidfa — who has a master’s degree in film directing from the American Film Institute — is also interested in working behind the camera as much as she is performing in front of it.

“I would say acting comes more naturally to me. But the more I do production work, the more it sinks in as well. But it’s like a complete personality switch. So, you need to kind of figure out how to balance yourself when you switch from one to the other based on the project. So, I don’t mix them up too much — I don’t direct something and then act like back-to-back,” she said.


Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

Updated 20 May 2024
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Review: Cannes title ‘Everybody Loves Touda’ is a sparkling example of Nabil Ayouch’s work

CANNES: Directed by Morocco’s Nabil Ayouch, Cannes Film Festival title “Everybody Loves Touda” is a compelling look at a single mother, Touda (an excellent Nisrin Erradi), who lives by the age-old dictum “never say die.”

Living in a small town, she is a bundle of music and mirth and her dances seem to bring cheer to her audience, but she soon faces unwanted attention.

The Cannes screening ended with a standing ovation, and Ayouch’s fourth outing at the festival seemed to garner far more audience appreciation than in earlier years. In 2012, his critically acclaimed drama “Horses of God” played in the Un Certain Regard section, which is second in importance to the main competition and is widely seen as a platform for experimental cinema. But Ayouch has also played in the In Competition section for the coveted Palme d’Or — his 2021 feature “Casablanca Beats,” the first title from Morocco since 1962 to vie for this honor, proved a sensation.

 Maryam Touzani and Nabil Ayouch attend the "Everybody Loves Touda" Photocall at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival. (Getty Images)

Like his other movies, Ayouch approaches “Everybody Loves Touda” with fascinating realism that at times may appear a little too harsh. Having written the script with Mayam Touzani (“The Blue Caftan”), Ayouch may have given us formulaic fare, but he infuses Touda with a kind of determination that is awesome. Striving to relocate to Casablanca, where her deaf son would have better schooling and she herself could find greater opportunities, Touda begins to sing in village nightclubs, bearing with a grin the lecherous gaze of men drunk with delusion.

This is not the first time that Ayouch puts women in such precarious positions. His 2008 “Whatever Lola Wants” talks about the trials of a postal worker in New York who dreams of becoming an Egyptian belly dancer, and “Much Loved” (which played at in the Director's Fortnight section) created a storm with its exploration of prostitution in Morocco.

Peppered with lively music (by Flemming Nordkrog), Touda croons folkloric songs on liberation and other forms of women’s rights. The actress’s gripping performance causes the narrative to sparkle —Erradi has a remarkable on-screen presence that makes the movie a joy to watch.


Lebanese designer Georges Chakra puts on a show at the Cannes Film Festival

Updated 20 May 2024
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Lebanese designer Georges Chakra puts on a show at the Cannes Film Festival

DUBAI: Lebanese designer Georges Chakra is making a splash at the ongoing 77th Cannes Film Festival and has so far dressed a number of stars on the red carpet.

Australian actress Claire Holt hit the red carpet before the premiere of Kevin Costner’s “Horizon: An American Saga” in an all-white gown by the designer.

The Georges Chakra Couture look was created from white satin and chiffon and featured pleated detailing across the hips and a dramatic chiffon shoulder train. The look hailed from the designer’s Spring/Summer 2024 collection.

Meanwhile, Tunisian actress Dorra Zarrouk attended the “Women in Cinema” gala dinner hosted by Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Film Festival in a white satin bustier gown with a satin cape encrusted with hand painted gold feathers from the label’s Fall/Winter 2023-2024 line.

Dorra Zarrouk in Georges Chakra. (Getty Images)

Finally, Chinese actress and model Crystal Zhang chose a Georges Chakra Couture gold sequined gown with a draped veil from the Spring/Summer 2024 collection to attend the Marie Claire China event which took place on the sidelines of the festival.

Holt showed off her choice at the premiere of Costner’s latest film on Sunday. “Horizon: An American Saga” sees the director return to his favorite Western genre with a three-hour film that is just the first of four mooted chapters.

Costner put millions of dollars of his own fortune into the decades-long passion project.

“At a certain moment I just said OK, I'm going to do this myself. And so I mortgaged property, I raised the money,” he told AFP at the festival.

The early reviews were mixed, with The Hollywood Reporter deriding it as a “clumsy slog” while British newspaper The Telegraph said it was “earnest yet hopeful... (and) perhaps its full grandeur won't be fully realized until part two.”

Costner says he is unconcerned about risking his money.

“If they take it away from me, I still have my movie. I still have my integrity. I still listened to my heart,” he said.