Archive for the ‘The List’ Category

Pitti Fragranze: Scent and Sensibility

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

There are two people in Florence who contribute to my life in so many ways! They are Roberto Ruta and Lisa Chiari, two exceptional human beings who have enlightened me, from film to fashion to fragrances. I’ve never met anyone like them, and I vouch for it right now, will never again. From Pitti Uomo and Pitti Fragranze, which they’ve introduced me to thus rekindling within me a passion for menswear and perfumes to the Middle East Now festival, a yearly event truly helping the dialogue between the Middle East and the West, these two would be my nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. But enough gushing, here is the intro to a piece for the latest wonder I’ve discovered, thanks to them: Pitti Fragranze.

Read up on “Scent of a Man”– two companies and one scent connoisseur, Chandler Burr, that are changing the way we “look” at perfume today — and a fascinatingly scent-astic profile of actor Luca Calvani, which I titled “The Perfume Affair” both on the Huffington Post. And in case you need a visual prompt to entice you to the latter, well, here it is. Yes, I like my job. A LOT.

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My Own Six Fave Arab Films of All Times

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

So I read a wonderful list on The Guardian and could not leave it at that. It’s inspiring to find more films and more to love and so I added my own voice to the conversation, on the Huffington Post. Here is a teaser of two, but you’ll have to read the whole piece to see the rest and why…

While I deeply admire filmmaker Omar al-Qattan, for obvious professional reasons but also for putting together his short guide of must-watch movies from the past 50 years of Arab cinema, I must also respectfully disagree with his list of “The 10 Best Arab Films,” published this past Saturday in The Guardian. As someone who believes, perhaps misguidedly but never quietly, in the healing power of cinema and the ability of filmmakers to help bridge the divide, I could not imagine any list of Arab cinema that does not include these six modern masters: Hany Abu-Assad, Yousry Nasrallah, Annemarie Jacir, Nadine Labaki, Haifaa al-Mansour and Ziad Doueiri.

It is in this vein, slightly irreverent to those poetic works of olden days, but also looking at what I like to call “cinema with a conscience” — where you might actually leave the plush, dark comfort of your theater seat a bit enlightened, a whole lot inspired but also craving to be a better person — that I created my own, albeit it shorter list. In absolutely no particular order.

CARAMEL (Lebanon/France, 2007)
Nadine Labaki

Labaki’s film was my in. I’m a relative newcomer to the magical world of cinema from MENA, having been brought up on a mixture of Woody Allen, the works of Fellini and Visconti, all sprinkled with a bit of Lina Wertmüller, and Caramel got me hooked from the first frame. It’s sensual, full of life and each time I watch it, it makes me proud to be a woman. It’s also the reason I yearned to travel to Beirut, and once I got there, I could see Labaki’s lushly constructed characters at every turn. I may be a romantic, but it’s a must watch for anyone who has yet to discover the beauty of Lebanese cinema. And its people. Labaki’s follow up, Where Do We Go Now? is also a greatly entertaining lesson in peace.

OMAR (Palestine, 2013)
Hany Abu-Assad

All right, I’m cheating a bit, because most could not have watched Abu-Assad’s masterpiece yet. It just premiered in Cannes and it’s releasing in France at the beginning of October. Hardly a convenient trip to your local multiplex. But I include it here, because Omar is complex, shocking and absolutely gorgeous to watch and I’m positive it will be featured in my top tens for as long as I’m allowed to make lists. While waiting for Omar‘s release, catch up with Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now which should be on any movie-lover’s list of must-see.

Read about the remaining films on the Huffington Post

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Cannes 2013: The Freebies

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

There is luxury all around Cannes during this year’s 66th edition of the most famous film festival in the world. From the Chanel windows strategically placed right across from the Palais des Festivals, to the ever-flowing lavish new coffee blends served at the Nespresso bars inside the grandiose venue. Even when I decide to stop for a moment and step away from the epicenter of all things cinema taking place on the Croisette, I end up watching a melange of great poodles, wondrous fashions and all around French elegance from my side street seat (and delicious meal) at Le Petit Paris brasserie on Avenue des Belges.

2013-05-20-2013052015.351.jpg So Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Watts and the likes have their pick of Chanel, the company is hosting a special couture lounge inside the Majestic, Swarovski jewels, handbags and Jimmy Choo shoes, all framed by the beautifying treatments at Dior. But the most coveted spot in the gift lounge firmament belongs to Nathalie Dubois who runs the Cannes 2013 DPA Lounge in a suite at the Carlton Hotel, where all celebrities — and some very, very lucky writers — get to frolic surrounded by refreshments, great beauty treatments, fun clothing and wonderful jewelry.

Personal favorites include the hippie chic bracelets by Kim & Zozi, trendy yet wearable red carpet fashions by Ukrainian designer Olena Dats’, the totes and pillows at Teo Jasmin, all featuring the adorable Teo the bulldog, the Bio Effect EGF Serum made in Iceland, which includes a Nobel-prize winning ingredient in its formula, Sal y Limon bangles, Padina eyelash conditioner from Japan, and Batiste dry shampoo. Who knew washing one’s hair could be optional.

Anyway, for some very short but wonderfully exciting moments, I felt like a star too, surrounded by the wonders of the DPA Gift Lounge. And then, back on the rainy Croisette — this year the weather did not cooperate during the first few days of the festival — with those pesky traffic officers shouting at me to cross the street in the right spot, I remembered who I am once more. No, not Nicole Kidman — not in this lifetime.

Check out the slideshow with all the great products on the Huffington Post.

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HiBROW: Fulfilling Every Art Need

Friday, April 19th, 2013

I dreamed of a day when I could get everything I need from one single online site — all the art, film, music, culture and fun I crave constantly in one place, neatly. Then I discovered HiBROW.

Launched in 2012, HiBROW is a free, curatorial, digital arts platform based in London and currently visited by cultural online explorers from over 200 countries. UK filmmaker Don Boyd is HiBROW’s creator and with his endeavor he’s basically changing the game. If HiBROW succeeds in its mission — to bring the wisdom of a wide range of established arts professional to international audiences far and wide — then film festivals, arts exhibits, concerts and cultural gatherings become accessible to all, with only one prerequisite: Access to a computer.

So what distinguishes HiBROW from say, a museum’s page on YouTube, or streaming a film on Hulu and the likes? Right off the bat, two things jump at me. One, its content is all original, created exclusively for HiBROW by a team of curators which include journalists, artists, creative directors and musicians. Two, everything on HiBROW is HD, high definition to the max. High quality content in every possible way is what one walks away from the site remembering. And thereafter craving.

A personal favorite on HiBROW is a focus series on the FESPACO festival, a cinematic and television event held in Burkina Faso every two years. Filmed in 2011 by the HiBROW team, the segments are introduced and curated by their resident film expert Dave Calhoun, and include interviews with renowned filmmakers Souleymane Cissé, Jihar El-Tahri and Jean-Pierre Bekolo. Think of the event as the African Cannes. To help us further understand the undeniable importance of cinema from the African continent, HiBROW has in the works a feature length celebration of African cinema, which will shortly be featured on the site.

Forging crucial technological collaborations with the likes of Ooyala, the leading US online supplier of personalized video experiences in the world, to provide HiBROW’s unique video player, as well as Code Circus for their web design, HiBROW is introducing never before seen content. From Peter Capaldi to John le Carré, from dance company Protein to art gallery The TATE St Ives’ artistic director Martin Clark, all the way to Mike Figgis in conversation with Richard Strange, it’s a whole new world of culture for the taking.

Check out the full Huffington Post piece, which includes a slideshow and links to a few of the videos featured on the HiBROW site. A must-do for this weekend!

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Bekas Secures Distribution, in ME & Italy

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

2013-03-06-BEKAS_Poster.jpg It is said that girls are always looking for a knight in shining armor — and perhaps that’s true. But from the looks of a few recent cinematic projects, it seems we are all, men and women alike, looking for a superhero. In a current Kickstarter campaign — which was brought to my attention by recent interview and artistic maverick Sultan Saeed Al Darmaki — filmmaker Brett Culp delves into the wonder of Batman and all the great positivity the superhero has always inspired in kids, big and small, everywhere. Culp’s fascinating documentary is titled Legends of the Knight and offers a touching look at how the myth of Batman helps heal and triumph, even in sometimes seemingly impossible situations. And by the looks of how many current Kickstarter campaigns feature superheroes, I’d say Batman, Spider-man and the likes are definitely here to stay as man’s favorite fantasy confidants.

At the Dubai International Film Festival back in December, I watched Bekas, a film about two young orphaned brothers living in Kurdistan during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Zana and Dana are children of the land made infamous by Hussein’s atrocities, but they lean upon the legend of an unlikely ally to help them survive their difficult surroundings and miserable situation: Superman. Or, as the brothers call him, “Zooperman.” When they surreptitiously watch the superhero in action through a hole in the wall of their local cinema, they decide to go to Amrika (America) to find Superman and live within the shelter of his super life. “Does Zooperman have a father?” One asks the other. “Yes, his name is Super Dad!”


Read the entire piece on the HUFFINGTON POST

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Why You MUST Watch Caesar Must Die!

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

There are two outstanding events that shaped a personal Italian renaissance for me in 2012. One was interviewing the great Nanni Moretti in his office, after having been mesmerized by his latest film We Have a Pope at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. The other was watching the Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die at the Nuovo Sacher in Rome, on a balmy Sunday afternoon, and being so absorbed that I never once regretted foregoing the glorious sun shining outside for the cool, dark cinema hall.

Incidentally, both of those incredible experiences ended up being courtesy of Moretti, who not only owns the Nuovo Sacher in Rome’s cool neighborhood of Trastevere but also believed so strongly in Caesar Must Die that he picked up distribution rights in Italy through his Sacher Distribuzione and in so doing, turned the film’s destiny downside up.

2013-02-04-2012031117.23.jpg Before Moretti, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani had struggled with finding a distributor who would give their return to filmmaking, after five years of absence, a chance. Yes, the very masters whose best known Padre Padrone is still considered one of the cornerstones of Italian cinema, had been ignored by the often short-sighted distributors in a country that once ruled the culture of movies. Caesar Must Die of course then went on to win the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlinale, cementing Moretti’s artistic visionary status, as well as the film’s great, contemporary value.


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Jane Birkin – More Than Just Inspiration for a Bag

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

This week I’m starting a new column on this blog, one that satisfies my craving for style as much as my need for culture. I’d be lying to my true nature if I only read great books, watched beautiful films and learned about faraway lands. Sometimes I’m just a girl, a girl who wants to look pretty and feel pretty. And when that happens, I turn to fashion magazines for inspiration.

On my flight home last week, I came across a photo of Jane Birkin and finally realized where Charlotte Gainsbourg gets her rockin’ sense of style from. I mean, forget Lars von Trier’s eccentricities, he’s got a great eye for leading ladies and Gainsbourg takes the cake for that.

Her mother also had it all, as is apparent from the photo above with her arm candy, former boyfriend (and father of Charlotte) French chanteur Serge Gainsbourg. She inspired the Birkin bag, still one of the most coveted creations by the house of Hermes. These days she’s also active within Amnesty International, proving that true style is also a state of mind.

So, for being great looking, courageous (in many of her life choices) and giving, Jane Birkin is The Ajnabee Style Icon of the week.

Top image courtesy of

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The 9th Dubai International Film Festival

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

There are three definite yearly milestones when it comes to film festivals in the Gulf. While they all collectively fulfill my innermost desire that cinema help unite our worlds and make us embrace our differences, each organization does it in its own way. The Abu Dhabi Film Festival is where foreign language Oscar contenders seem to find their wings, encouraged by the welcoming arms of the Abu Dhabi audiences and organizers, who truly make cinema magic. Then there’s the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which is finally focusing on its true roots and during their fourth edition allowed yet undiscovered talents of Arab cinema a well deserved platform.

But of the three, the Dubai International Film Festival is the one which most resembles Cannes — just to make an uncomplicated comparison — with its stellar line-up, the unrivaled industry attendance and the deals created during its marketplace. With DIFF there is as much going on away from the star-filled galas, the glamorous parties and the sold-out screenings, if not actually more. In fact, a lot of the deals of what we’ll all be watching in world cinema in the years to come are forged during DIFF. (Continued)

See the entire piece and a slideshow of my personal favorites on the Huffington Post.

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Dinner and a Movie

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

It’s the simplest of dates, the most easily organized outing whether for one or twenty-five and yet I don’t seem to do it often enough. It is in unexpected moments like the time I walked into the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, right before a panel conducted by the legendary Richard Peña, that I remember how much I love that old standard — dinner and a movie.

The brand new cinematic hub for FSLC is complete with its own fantastic eatery, the aptly named Indie, which serves lattes alongside dug leg confit sandwiches and bread pudding for dessert — with loads of other great dishes in between. The ambiance is this lovely dark, romantic wooden cabin of a place, and the food absolutely scrumptious. And I went there by myself! I can only imagine it with the right man… As a funny aside, guy behind the counter was a working actor and when I gave my name for the order, we started a lovely conversation about Nina in The Seagull.

This week, Arbitrage starring Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere screens at the Munroe Film Center and, just in case you need a bit more exciting with that, it’s the film that has been chosen to kick off this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Just saying…

So, do as I did and try it on your own by making it lunch and a movie, or grab your favorite friend for dinner and a flick, or even ask out that guy/girl you’ve been too shy to approach for a late night cinematic date but don’t say you didn’t know. I’ve told you, now it’s your job to do the rest. N-joy!

Top image courtesy of Indie Food and Wine

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Arab Films on a Big Apple Weekend

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

The weekend doesn’t promise great weather, well, at least Saturday does not… And when it’s hot, muggy and rainy outside I like to be inside, comfortably plopped into a movie theater chair, watching something that inspires me. Or just allows me to travel from the coziness and stillness of my armchair. Cinematic voyages are the best way to see the world, not to mention the cheapest and easiest. No boarding pass, no packing, no aggravation, just a few hours in the company of people from another land, speaking different tongues and lulling me to the belief that there is kindness in strangers. Yup, I watch THOSE types of movies.

Anyway, this weekend, and continuing through August 29th, the Film Society of Lincoln Center is showing some great new Arab cinema, as part of a series called Orientation. Personal favorites like Habibi, City of Life and Amreeka are featured, as well as newfound (just discovered by me, I mean) gems like Beirut Hotel, The Rif Lover and Zindeeq.

But don’t take my word for it, read an interview with FSLC program director Richard Peña on the Huffington Post. All I can say is I wish someone like him would run for president…

Oh, and don’t forget the free panel on Saturday August 25th, featuring filmmakers from MENA talking to Peña about their films, their culture and the future of Arab cinema. Yup, you read right, it’s FREE!

Top image of “Habibi” courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, used with permission.

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