Archive for 2014

The Cannes Diaries: Part 3

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Check out Part 1 and Part 2, then embark with me on one more entry from this year’s Cannes Film Festival…

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Star Wars: Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams, is filming in Abu Dhabi! Okay, got that out before I would burst with excitement. Now I can finally relax, after a morning spent bubbling with anticipation, half-knowing the news but not yet sure I could talk about it. See, in my world, where I like to promote cinema from the Arab world, but also movies coming into the MENA region, this is huge. It means the UAE in general, and Abu Dhabi in particular, is fast becoming a world player in the big movies production arena. And that’s wonderful news.

I sat down with twofour54 Intaj Executive Director Paul Baker (pictured above with yours truly) bright and early this morning in the UAE Pavilion at the Festival de Cannes. He explained not only the current 30 percent production rebate offered in Abu Dhabi, which has helped attract some major productions to the Emirate lately, but also twofour54′s mission of, in Baker’s own words, culturally “inspiring the youth of the Gulf and help create a long-term sustainable production hub.” As a result, both Hollywood and Bollywood have taken notice and now the media coverage on Star Wars alone will create a deafening buzz in the region. And around the world. I know of journalists who went sneaking around the desert to find out the exact location, and get some first, exclusive photos of the set and crew, which arrived in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of May.

The great thing about Abu Dhabi is that although the cinema industry there is relatively new, the Emirate possesses some of the best infrastructure and human resources ever. There is also the hospitality aspect, with hotels and airlines ready to receive with typical Emirati grace, and the collaboration of the government. In the case of recent Bollywood production Bang Bang, the entire Corniche, the central artery of Abu Dhabi, was shut down over a weekend to allow for the shooting of a scene. Just try and do that in NYC. Plus, as Baker so beautifully put it, “you can shoot a make-believe downtown Baghdad in the morning and retire to your posh hotel at night,” since both heritage and luxury live side by side in Abu Dhabi. But enough gushing, on my part. It’s no secret how I feel about the UAE, and for my own very selfish, very personal reasons, I am super happy about this latest announcement.

A couple of days ago, truly in Cannes-time it seems like years ago, I met Adrien Brody and director Lee Tamahori, who announced their latest project, a film based on Charles the Fifth titled Emperor. Although best known for his motto Plus Ultra, meaning “further beyond,” I enjoyed finding in my research this quote about him: “Not greedy of territory,” wrote Marcantonio Contarini in 1536, “but most greedy of peace and quiet.” It explained perfectly the choice of Brody for the role. Yet both Tamahori, a wonderfully uncompromising man with an infectious interest in everything and everyone, and Brody, who looked divinely dashing in his Dolce and Gabbana camel-colored suit, assured me that this more subtle side of Charles’ character would not be the focus of the film, rather a period of two years when he fought, conquered, loved and lived. Probably a better choice, much more exciting and cinematic.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post.

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The Cannes Diaries: Part 2

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Do read The Cannes Diaries: Part 1 if you haven’t already. This will make a lot more sense after you do so…

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The Festival de Cannes continues to be both astounding and demanding. While the meetings and human contact is unequaled for me — it feels like a wonderfully inclusive high school reunion where I get to see all the people I adore, and none of the ones I can’t stand — running back and forth between the Carlton, the Grand Hotel and the Palais through the Croisette, dodging tourists eating their ice creams proves, at best, challenging. Alessandra Priante, the Cultural Attaché for the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Gulf said it best when she stated, “Nina, blisters is the nickname of Cannes for ladies!” Blisters will definitely be one of the souvenirs I take home from this trip. Along with memories to last me a lifetime.

On Day Three of the festival, I got into a screening of Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem by the skin of my teeth, that’s how late I was. But running for the film, which is part of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, proved full of reward. Gett (the name of the document of divorce in Israel) by brother and sister filmmakers Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz, is a beautifully shot, stunningly acted oeuvre, which sneaks in a daring commentary on Israeli society and Orthodox deviations when it comes to women’s rights. While the Torah could be a teaching tool full of tolerance and wisdom, the Rabbinic laws, as in most fundamentalist variations on religions, have deviated from the books’ original, well balanced views. So Viviane (played with seductive dignity and courage by Ronit Elkabetz), a character introduced along with husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian, who grows from unlikable to detestable in a stunning crescendo of talent) in previous films by the Elkabetz, is subjected to a court made up of three rabbinical judges. These three men see her claims of incompatibility as unfounded, and clearly, but not forthrightly, insufficient grounds for a divorce. For five years, lived along with the audience, Viviane is subjected to her husband’s passive aggressive behavior, while the court and witnesses discredit her and her decision by chipping away at her being. Never too dramatically of course, but her freedom, her independence as a strong woman is attacked in ways that made me squirm in my seat.

Walking up the stairs of the Theatre Croisette inside the JW Marriott after the screening, I felt as if I was thankfully coming up for air, after having been submersed in feelings and beautifully cinematic anguish for nearly two hours.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post

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The Cannes Diaries: Part 1

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

I wanted to do things differently this year for the Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps to simplify my life, but mostly to cover everything, talk about everything, even if just briefly. So I did a diary of sorts, though the daily thing didn’t quite work out… Following is a teaser, for the full piece, check out The Huffington Post. P.S. How much do we love Tim Roth?!

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The Festival de Cannes so far has been overwhelming, and overwhelmingly amazing. Everyone is here, and I mean everyone. But beyond the celebrities, the parties, the red carpets and the premieres, there are films, serious films, wonderful films, sublime filmmakers and incredible actors. And, if you’re lucky and keep your eyes focused on people, instead of your phone (as most industry insiders seem to do as they walk straight into you) you can actually catch the very best the film world has to offer. Right on the Croisette.

The festival kicked off perfectly for me as I settled into my comfy seat inside the Palais on Wednesday morning, to watch the first Cannes screening of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman. I expected entertainment from the film and instead, got a lesson in what it means to be a woman, a strong woman. The kind of woman who, I’m convinced if alive today, would turn upside down the chaos of this world. If you wonder why the reviews for Grace were so unfavorable, just check out their bylines. Most, if not all critics are men. And how can a man accept that a woman is a better diplomat and can offer a more balanced view than all the men put together? You can find my mini “review” for Grace of Monaco on the Dubai International Film Festival blog, Cinemy.

If you think I’m making up the sexism in cinema, and of course as a result in film critique today, well, don’t listen to me, rather to Cannes Jury President Jane Campion, who is also the only woman ever to have been awarded the Palme d’Or in the festival’s 67-year history. Her full statement, which she made during the opening press conference for the jury, is a gem:

… There is some inherent sexism in the industry. Thierry Frémaux told us that us only seven percent, out of the 1,800 films submitted to the Cannes Film Festival, were directed by women. He was proud to say that we had 20 percent in all of the programs. Nevertheless, it feels very undemocratic, and women do notice. Time and time again we don’t get our share of representation. Excuse me gentlemen, but the guys seem to eat all the cake. It’s not that I resent the male filmmakers. I love all of them. But there is something that women are thinking of doing that we don’t get to know enough about. It’s always a surprise when a woman filmmaker does come about.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post.

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Discovering Azerbaijan in Cannes: Torn

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

While I anxiously await watching another gem from Azerbaijan in Venice, Nabat by talented director Elchin Musaoglu, I wanted to revisit this short film, Torn, that with its simplicity of message and minimalism of words and look, really stayed with me. Following the excerpt of the article, for the full interview with the filmmakers, check out The Huffington Post.

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While a cacophony of media and breaking news buzz around us in our daily lives, I personally need the human touch to help me understand a country or a situation. And for that human touch I turn to art, music or even better, cinema to get me to the heart of the matter.

In Cannes this year, the country of Azerbaijan seemed to leap out at me from every corner. It was inescapable. There were friendly conversations incorporating quotes from Laila and Majnun, the famous poem about the Romeo and Juliet of the East, by Nizami Ganjavi, considered a Persian poet but who is of course, by birth, Azerbaijani.

During the festival it was also announced that my favorite future Arab superstar, mark my words on the super, Adam Bakri had been cast in the Asif Kapadia helmed movie version of the novel Ali and Nino, about a romance between a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in Baku, at the onset of the WWI. To be filmed in Baku, Azerbaijan, of course, and produced by Leyla Aliyeva, all around cool girl and daughter of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev. There was also mention of a film festival starting in the country, at the buzzed about Azerbaijan pavilion.

And then, Torn. A beautiful, touching short film, filled with heart and soul, which also happened to be the first film from Azerbaijan at the Festival de Cannes, screening in the Directors’ Fortnight…

Check out the entire piece on The Huffington Post.

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Cinema at the Edge Film Festival in Santa Monica

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

When I lived in LA, I spent most of my time in Santa Monica and Venice. The Westside is the coolest — quite literally, there is always a breeze — and the most fun. And there is always culture to be found. Since I was a step away from The Grove, the mecca of shopping in Los Angeles, I needed regular trips to Santa Monica to keep me grounded, informed and “culturized”.

Seems that these days there is one more event for those who enjoy a little learning with their entertainment, and it’s about to kick off. Scheduled to run from July 11th through the 13th, the second edition of the Cinema at the Edge film festival promises to outdo itself. Last year’s edition boasted honorary chair and guest jurors Brett Ratner, Susan Sarandon and John Singleton. Who will it be this year?

Although, in all fairness, I haven’t caught any of the films on this year’s schedule, I can safely say that a few are interesting and very, very important. The festival will open with A Star for Rose by Daniel Yost, which focuses on three lost souls, homeless on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk Of Fame, who start out as enemies but then become each others’ lifelines.

If only we could begin to do that in the Middle East…

Speaking of my favorite part of the world and a constant source of personal worry these days of turmoil, there are two films that immediately caught my eye, one about Israel, one about the Syrian struggle. The latter, a 14-minute short titled Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution by filmmaker Matthew VanDyke has as a synopsis the following: “The story of the Syrian revolution as told through the experiences of two young Syrians, a male rebel fighter and a female journalist, as they fight an oppressive regime for the freedom of their people.” While the film about Israel is called GOLEM and is directed by Adam Deutsch. It’s about two lost souls who wonder through the eerily calm urban landscape of Tel Aviv, and are somehow transformed by their connection.

There’s also a feature documentary from the UK titled Music & Coexistence, by filmmaker Osseily Hanna, a fellow Huffington Post blogger who has created a music movement through his film, one easiest explained by his synopsis: “Music and Coexistence is a documentary which provides a compelling account of the possibilities and limitations of music in specific parts of Europe and the Middle East. Both well established and young music groups are featured to show the healing power of music in situations where people are separated, for example Turks and Kurds in Turkey, Serbs and Kosovars in Kosovo, and Israeli’s and Palestinians in Israel.”

The festival then comes to a close with the French film Le Vie Revee de David L by Julien Pichard and Paul Lê, “The imaginary story of the director David Lynch as a student in art school.” Indeed. I wish I could be there. Truly.

For the full program and more info, check out the Cinema at the Edge website. If you are looking for a cool place to eat nearby, personal favorites are Rose Cafe and a stroll through the Santa Monica Place mall. But you can let your driving do the walking… It’s LA, after all!

Top image from the documentary Music & Coexistence courtesy of Carlo de Agostini’s blog

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Gotta Love Choupette (Karl Lagerfeld’s Cat)!

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

These days, Karl Lagerfeld’s cat Choupette is often in the news. The fashion news, that is. The only kind I like to read when I want to get away from the films that supply me with knowledge and culture, and often heartache. Fashion for me is like the common cat’s (pardon the pun) E! gossip shows or The National Enquirer. Wonderfully mindless, fashion news and interviews transport me to a world where anything is possible.

This one with Karl Lagerfeld from Harper’s Bazaar, about his fluffy, outstandingly cute cat Choupette, has got to be one of the most surreal I’ve stumbled across in years. With quotes like “the doctor does her manicure. She hates when we do it ourselves. The only time she makes a scandal is then.” And “she doesn’t like to eat on the floor, so I have to put the food on the table. Her dishes are by Goyard,” all by Karl himself, I giggled myself silly. And longed to be a cat.

So, Choupette, and her dishes, her princess style and her two full time maids, is my Style Icon of the week!

Read the full interview on Harper’s Bazaar

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Syria’s Heartache in Return to Homs

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Perhaps these days Syria seems even more important than it ever was, with ISIS in Iraq and their intentions of cutting across geographical borders to create a sectarian state for the Sunnis in both countries. The Region is so complicated, I can’t imagine what George W. Bush was thinking when he decided to step in and upset the delicate balances… But I’m not a political writer, never will be, also not a conflict journo. What I know about, where I get my info, is all about the movies.

At an amazing event in Florence, the Middle East Now Film Festival, I watched Talal Derki’s Return to Homs and since then, I have not looked at a headline from Syria without a pang of sadness and deep loss. That’s why I think cinema can change the world, because it changes me, every day. Below, a few thoughts from my Huffington Post piece on the film.

I’m not sure why but Janis Joplin’s lyrics from “Me and Bobby McGee” play in my mind whenever anyone speaks of the Arab Spring: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, Nothing don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.”

Haunting, but perhaps because Joplin herself knew exactly what price is attached to that elusive word or even realized, through her own struggles, that in our search for it, the Utopian concept of freedom, we forget how important comfort, peace and routine are in our human daily lives…

These days, the results of the revolutions that started in 2011 in Tunisia, then spread to Egypt and many more countries, finally to erupt in Syria, still haven’t achieved freedom. What the people demanded is not what the people got, with Tunisia tethering on Salafism, the Army running the show in Egypt and Syria — well, that’s where Talal Derki’s apocalyptic documentary Return to Homs comes in. Syria has become a wasteland, physically and emotionally, humanly forgotten yet constantly talked about in the news, a devastatingly real representation of the phrase “hell on earth.”

It’s as if we’re all watching the daily show of a developing catastrophe, one too gigantic for us to believe, and so we tune out, turn off and try to reason that it’s perhaps media propaganda… I know I felt that way, until Derki’s film set me straight.

For the entire blog post, click here. 

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Lets Go Brazilian with Castanha!

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Since we’ll all be talking about Brazil and football (soccer) for a while now, why not get in the mood with a wonderful, strong, really raw Brazilian film? I’m talking about Davi Pretto’s Castanha. Below, some of my thoughts about it for The Huffington Post. N-joy.

There is one particular person responsible for my love of Brazilian cinema. While I sit and watch movies, day after day, never tiring of it, I’ve discovered it’s way more fun to bring other viewers along on the exceptional journey I’ve been allowed to embark on, learning through the masterpieces I’ve been lucky enough to experience how to navigate the world with more humanity. And meeting filmmakers up close who explain, through their very presence, the meaning of life.

Life as that necessary cycle of sadness, happiness, success and disappointment, with some really memorable moments that make up for the mundane.

It’s no surprise that Sandro Fiorin of FiGa Films has sent this latest masterpiece, Castanha my way. It is just one in a series of very perfect accidents in the great wheel of daily joy that is movie watching for me. The film just happens to be in NYC at this time, enjoying its North American premiere at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, part of their Art of the Real 2014 series.

Brazilian cinema for me always possesses a dream-like quality that is punctuated by the grittiness of everyday life. Castanha is no exception, but it does add another layer to the puzzle. Because the film is a narrative about a real character, João Carlos Castanha, his real mother Celina and their daily life — but it’s not a documentary.

Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad has said about some of his more real-to-life films (like the controversial Ford Transit) that they are “100 percent reality and 100 percent fiction” and this can also be the perfect way to describe director Davi Pretto’s first feature length film. While inspired by the life of 52-year-old actor-slash-cross-dressing-erotic-club-hostess Castanha, the film reinterprets some events from his life and blends them perhaps with those moments we’ve all dreamed about secretly, the perfect shots from our cinematic, private lives. Castanha himself is divinely charismatic, a perfect aging rockstar who is haunted by his own demons: the loss of the love of his life to AIDS and the need to be there for his single mother, as her only son.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post.

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While on the Subject of Italian Cinema: Salvo

Friday, June 13th, 2014

I adore fairy tales and have never really grown up from that joy I felt as a child, listening to my grandfather read me stories by the Brothers Grimm or watching the Disney videos that my parents put on for me, whenever they needed some time alone.

But these days I require a little more heft, turmoil and character development than Cinderella to make me believe. And that’s where Fabio Grassadonia’s and Antonio Piazza’s touching drama Salvo seamlessly comes in.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word ‘Salvo’ as “a simultaneous discharge of two or more guns in military action or as a salute.” In Sicily, where the film takes place, it’s a nickname for those named Salvatore and in Italian the word means “safe, unharmed”. The filmmakers clearly meant to include a bit of that, and perhaps none at all, in their title.

More importantly, Salvo is one of those films that stays with you long after viewing it, deep inside your heart, vivid in your mind. Its images haunting, the acting impeccable — by the talented, spellbinding Sara Serraiocco as Rita and quite possibly the best actor in world cinema today Saleh Bakri, as Salvo. The plot, one of those beautiful cinematic premises that you simply have to throw yourself into wholeheartedly to fully enjoy the film. I did, and so I did. Salvo left me breathless.

And thinking.

Read the entire piece on The Huffington Post. 

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The Great Beauty: The Trailer

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Read the entire piece by clicking here.

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