Archive for 2012

Wadjda at the Dubai International Film Festival

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Groundbreaking is definitely an overrated word these days. Yet there are some instances when nothing else will do. Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda for example, is a film that demands the multiple use of this word. It is an unprecedented first film shot in Saudi Arabia, by a Saudi female filmmaker. It is also a simple human tale of a girl yearning for a green bicycle, yet when one delves deeper, the film uncovers a world of women — strong, independent women who know what they want yet still have to navigate the intricate rules of Saudi society to be accepted.

For a daughter who grew up with a single mother, Wadjda hits all the emotional buttons. I may have walked in looking worthy of a gala presentation at the Dubai International Film Festival this past Wednesday, but I definitely walked out with mascara smudged down my cheeks and still half sobbing from the ending.

The film is being distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics and has already opened theatrically in Europe. Interviewing Wadjda creator Al Mansour was one of the main reasons I wanted to be at this year’s DIFF and in person, she does not disappoint. Petite, intelligent and so gloriously humble, I sat with the talented groundbreaking filmmaker for a talk I will never forget.

To read the interview, check out the Huffington Post.

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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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Master Illustrator Eduard Erlikh on the Huffington Post

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

2012-11-14-EduardErlikh.jpg Do you believe in magic? I do, because I have experienced it inside the home of master illustrator Eduard Erlikh.

“My personal must-haves are light and space. In NYC, both are considered an extravagance,” declares Erlikh. And indeed, this welcomed luxury is exactly what the visitor experiences when stepping into Erlikh’s loft on the Bowery. On a particularly chilly NYC afternoon, I step into his building after the chaos of downtown, and then out of his private elevator. I’m instantaneously transported to another world: a minimalistic, fairy-tale land where things harmoniously sit where they belong, objects in different shades of pigment blend in creative and complimentary combinations and space does not appear to be at the typical premium it is in the Big Apple. Erlikh’s passion for color, particularly pink, is evident, but instead of its palette exploding in an overkill of visual stimulation, a few choice pieces of his exquisite illustrations hang over the sofa, in the exact shade of rose that Diana Vreeland was thinking of when she declared, “Pink is the navy blue of India.”

The Moscow-born Erlikh is tall, boyishly handsome and dressed in jeans and a red t-shirt when we meet. He wears a red baseball hat, which he alone can manage to transform into a chic accessory, and he speaks in an hypnotizing, soft voice with a lovely Russian inflection. He is the elegant complement to the world he has created with his illustrations, a place where life is always sophisticated and people ever graceful. “He is a master of the moment, and that is why it is impossible to tear your eyes from his works: you fear you might miss something despite being in the midst of the action.” Those words, taken from the website of international gallery Lumas, brilliantly describe the feeling one gets while getting lost in his illustrations. The world-famous Lumas recently started selling Erlikh’s work — his illustrations are featured on their homepage — including pieces from his YSL Safari series and a stunning interpretation of a red Valentino dress. Erlikh’s illustrations capture the ethereal quality of fashion, showing us the way these exquisite clothes are meant to be worn.

To read the entire interview with Erlikh, as well as glance through some beautiful slides of his work, check out the Huffington Post.

Top image courtesy of the artist

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Mohammed Al Turki Profile on the Huffington Post

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

2012-11-05-MohammedAlTurki2.jpg There are very few men who are equally at home at a gala in NYC, on the set of a blockbuster in Hollywood, in the front rows of Milan Fashion Week and around a souk in Riyadh. All the while looking equally elegant in an Armani suit, jeans and a T-shirt or a traditional Saudi thawb. Maverick producer Mohammed Al Turki is definitely one of the choice few who fit that bill. Handsome, young, powerful and with great cinematic instincts, Al Turki should be very high up on everyone’s cool celebrity meter.

The first time Al Turki crossed my radar was a little over a year ago, when I wrote about The Imperialists Are Still Alive!, a film that finally showed the kind of strong, independent and cosmopolitan Arab woman I know, having traveled — and met a few — throughout the Middle East and Europe. While this independent film may be a long way from his latest ventures, big Hollywood movies like Arbitrage and At Any Price, his talent for picking just the right project has been apparent from the beginning.

To read the entire profile from my sit-down with Al Turki at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, go to the Huffington Post.

Image courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival

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When I Saw You: Could This Palestinian Film Win the Next Foreign Language Oscar?

Saturday, October 27th, 2012

There are two dates that are crucial to all Palestinians. The first is 1948, when the Arab-Israeli War displaced the first wave of perpetual refugees during a time known as the Nakba — “the disaster.” The second is 1967, when those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza were also unsettled by the Six-Day War, families were forever separated and a new Palestinian exodus surged.

But there may be a third date to add to Palestinian history, this time a positive marker of great things to come. In 2013 the Palestinian state may acquire non-member “observer state” status at the UN which would mark a day when, in the words of veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, “life will not be the same.” This coming year could also see the first Palestinian entry on an Oscar short list and quite possibly an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film going to Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You. Yes, her film is just that good and with Iran withdrawing, the members of the Academy should be looking for a new milestone.

If it sounds like I’m gushing about Jacir’s film, don’t be mistaken, I am. I’ve been a huge fan of her work since watching her first feature two year ago. Salt of this Sea was beautiful cinema, with a strong, angry and perfectly right to be so heroine. But her latest, When I Saw You, is cinematic poetry, the perfect blend of stunning cinematography, humanly portrayed characters and a story that hits you with an immediate gut reaction, yet colors your dreams and inhabits your thoughts for days to come.

Perhaps my deep-rooted love of Jacir’s work stems from the fact I believe that as individuals, all we really want in our heart is to belong and to be understood. While most filmmakers explore this basic human craving with stories about lovers and romance, Annemarie Jacir has always hit closer to home for me, journeying through the plight of the displaced. And anyone who has ever left their home behind, for however long or by whatever reasons, cannot be left unmoved by Jacir’s films.

Read the entire post with Annemarie Jacir’s interview on the Huffington Post.

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ADFF12: The Citizen — Four Men, a Movie and the American Dream

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

“I need to digest your film, I hope you don’t mind?” I hear myself saying this to the director and writer of one of the biggest red carpet premieres at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Sam Kadi is sitting across from me, asking me what I thought of his film, which screened the night before to a sold-out audience in the Emirates Palace theater. The film’s basic synopsis tells the story of a Muslim Lebanese man who comes to NYC on a Green Card lottery visa, the day before the attacks on the World Trade Center.

In fact, there are some films that leave you breathless at first sight and others that cover so many layers, have so much insight that it’s simply impossible to stop thinking about them for days, weeks, perhaps months to come. Sam Kadi’s The Citizen, starring Egyptian superstar Khaled El Nabawy and American screen legend William Atherton is a film that belongs to this latter category — the kind of movie that fills your day thoughts and colors your dreams for a long time after viewing it.

Perhaps the greatest quality of Kadi’s film is that at first glance it may appear to give another insight into the mistreatment of Muslims in America after 9/11, yet soon enough the viewer discovers it’s actually not that simple. Beyond the initial premise, The Citizen is a film tribute to a great country, to our slightly dusty “American Dream” and an homage by one of its adoptive Arab sons to the land he loves. Kadi could be Ibrahim, his lead character, but the even finer point here is that we all should be. As the caramel-skinned, flawlessly handsome Nabawy says, in his kind, fluid English with just a hint of indefinable accent, “If you want love, love first” and as a film, The Citizen shows us the way.

For the full article and interviews check out the Huffington Post.

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What I Learned from Richard Gere in Abu Dhabi

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

2012-10-15-ANR_2444.jpg At this year’s dazzling Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the celebrity buzz has been deafening. After all, it would be An Officer and a Gentleman himself Richard Gere walking the red carpet on opening night, for the film Arbitrage, which is now playing throughout the Middle East. The festival has done things grand and it felt otherworldly to walk alongside the celebrities on a path that took this movie lover right under the spotlights, cameras and microphones and then threw me in the midst of all the excitement — from beginning (the film’s screening inside the Emirates Palace theater) to end (a dazzling party by the sea where even silver sequins felt underdressed).

Yet for yours truly, the highlight of the evening and the following press day for the film, would be the wisdom I learned watching the classy Gere in action, surrounded by a media frenzy and yet completely at ease among the welcoming atmosphere created by his Gulf fans. Gere in Abu Dhabi embodied a magnetic spokesperson for elegance and culture, and turned out to be a great ambassador for the West in the region.

For Gere’s wisdom, check out the full piece in the Huffington Post. N-joy!

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ADFF Is a Film Lover’s Dream Come True

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Fall is my favorite time of year, because it’s when great film festivals begin blooming in the Arabian Gulf, just as autumn leaves drop off trees across Europe and the US. A great trio of events kicks off with the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October, followed by the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in November and ending with Dubai International Film Festival in December. For a movie lover with strong sense of respect for the elegance of the Arab world, it’s the season dreams really do come true! Last year’s edition of the festival was a personal highlight and I know I won’t be disappointed by expecting even more this time around.

2012-10-03-ADFFDirectorcopy.jpg This year there is a sense of endless possibilities in the air at ADFF, with the festival’s new artistic director Ali Al Jabri at the helm. The Emirates are hardly a part of the world touched directly by the Arab Spring, and yet if we were to look for an Emirati Spring, it would be the movement that reclaims this part of the world’s outstandingly brilliant culture and shares it more deeply, more globally. Al Jabri honors with his presence one of the region’s most stellar organization by being true to its demographics, heritage and filmmaking craft.

The upcoming sixth edition of the festival will also mark its first year under giant media conglomerate TwoFour54 – the government-backed media and creative industries hub in Abu Dhabi. TwoFour54 has been responsible for bringing Hollywood blockbusters to the emirate and has made it a cinematic force to be reckoned within the region and beyond.

Check out the rest of this article, as well as my top ten picks for the festival on the Huffington Post. N-joy!

All images courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, used with permission

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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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Accentuate the Positive: Watch Great Films Like Zaytoun

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

I remember growing up being taught that good girls didn’t talk trash behind their friend’s back and that a potty mouth was the exclusive domain of the sellers at the central market, or the ladies of the night. Of course, I had no experience with the latter, at five and living in Florence, Italy and always seemed to show up at the market when it was meeker grandma’s turn to sell the veggies. But I took my elders’ word for it, and kept my life negative-free in my idyllic younger days.

These days it’s a whole different story. As soon as I get together with a dear girlfriend or catch up with a co-worker, it’s always a who-gets-it-out-first fest of gossip, recounting bad behavior and just all around plain verbal attacks on others we know. Or celebrities we think we know. Why is that? When did we become “those” women?

In the last week, since the horrific attack on the U.S. Ambassador in Libya, and now word of that stupid cartoon in a French newspaper, I’ve been haunted by that question. Why is that? Why would bad behavior always get the press, get the most attention and manage to affect the world (for the worst of course). This while great, positive acts of everyday kindness are sometimes ridiculed as “weakness” and human stories on the big screen struggle to find distribution and even an audience. An ex used to say, often “Bad press is better than no press at all” but these days it’s more like “Bad press is better than any good press, any day.” Sad.

In the midst of all this, I was glad that my piece on Eran Riklis’ Zaytoun at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival was published a bit late on HuffPost. I managed to sneak into the queue right before it was posted and edit in a few words that referred to the unrest around the Arab world, all because of a grossly irresponsible YouTube video. If as many people watched Zaytoun as those who watched — or pretended to have watched — this amateurish short film, we would today live in a slightly better world, instead of a scarier one… And yet, the media pounces on the anger, ignites more fear and disgust, squeezes every possible story out of it, distributors are probably falling all over themselves to get in touch with the idiotic producer of said film, while great artwork with a positive message still struggles. Thankfully, not Zaytoun, call it the little olive of a film that could (the title of the film is the Arabic word for olive). Runner up at TIFF for Audience Choice Award, it’s been picked up for distributions in many countries already and, mark my words, will make headways come Oscar time. Just saying…

So, find out more about this gem of a movie, by reading my own kind of “review” of Zaytoun on the Huffington Post, and this lovely interview with filmmaker Eran Riklis, also just published on the HuffPo. N-joy!

Top image from the set of Zaytoun: Stephen Dorff and Abdallah El Akal, by Eitan Riklis, courtesy of Touchwood PR

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