Ever since its creation in 2010 on the peninsular country of Qatar, the Doha Film Institute has been revolutionizing cinema in the Region. The word “revolution” is never a sign of good things in the Arab world and yet at DFI, they should welcome the term when it comes to describing the work they’ve been doing almost singlehandedly to create and foster a healthy cinema culture in the Arab world. And beyond.Read More
Sight and sound are definitely a part of our earliest memories. They say children can remember only from the age of three and a half upward and I have to say, my first memory has to do with sticking my finger in the electric socket and feeling the jolt. I remember feeling like someone had pushed me and apparently — this is my parents’ memory of the event — I ran to the living room crying holding my index finger, utterly frightened.
But how much does scent, the smells around us, have to do with our individual memory bank? Personally, I can’t help but remember my favorite uncle Pippo every time I smell a certain brand of cigarette smoking up the air. And I go back to my childhood quickly, as soon as I step off the train in Florence and smell the city’s distinctive scent of, well how do I put it nicely, sewer… Just recently I was told why that smell is so intrinsically Florentine and it has to do with the lack of a sewage system dating back to Medici time. Apparently, every time the system fills up, giant trucks come to gather up the goodies and carry them away. There are serious studies done on it!
So it’s no surprise that the Florentines were some of the first people to use scents, ambiance fragrances and perfume to change the air around them.Read More
This year, the iconic once-a-year fragrance fair Pitti Fragranze, which is held in Florence every September, incorporated the entire city into its scent design. Thus, in the process, let the select audience of buyers and journalists that attended the event, in on the secret nooks and crannies of the great renaissance town. From the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, to the church of San Miniato al Monte, from the center to the outskirts, Florence became the “City of Fragrances” and in the process, reclaimed its scent, health and beauty heritage.
Following are a few personal highlights from this incredible journey of scent.Read More
How would you cope with being told you have a terminal illness?
That is a question I’ve asked myself often these days, as I deal with people I love getting ill and the recent death of my father. Where do you find the strength to go on, when you know the days are numbered and how do you continue to be a functioning member of society when probably all you wish to do is go into the woods and hide?
Well, in Natalya Merkulova’s and Alexey Chupov’s haunting, beautiful and at times painfully truthful film ‘The Man Who Surprised Everyone’ which screened in the Orizzonti section in Venice, the real life husband and wife team tackle the difficult question.Read More
'The Day I Lost My Shadow' by Soudade Kaadan won the Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film Jury at the 75th Venice Film Festival. It's a win to be celebrated for all women filmmakers, of course, but also for Syrian filmmakers who, since the start of the war in 2011 have all but disappeared. Scattered around foreign lands, their voices and visions have become the true casualties of this conflict.
In her film, which world premiered at the festival in the Orizzonti section, Kaadan uses the metaphor of personal shadows as a way to show how the war strips people of their humanity and hope. When Sana, played by the beautiful Sawsan Arsheed, goes out looking for a gas canister so she can cook for her son, she is pulled into a three day nightmare that eventually ends the way everything ends in Syria... I'll leave that to your imagination and perhaps your first viewing of the film.Read More
Think back to the last time a film redefined love for you. That felt like a magical discovery then, didn't it? For me, cinema exists at its best when it does something that changes me -- and of course I want that change to be for the better.
In Claire Burger's touching follow up to her Cannes Camera d'Or winner 'Party Girl' -- which she co-directed with Marie Amachoukeli and Samuel Theis -- I found a new fatherhood role model. For a woman whose own father was at best unavailable throughout my teenage years and beyond, Burger's wondrous father figure Mario (played by the spellbinding Bouli Lanners) is a revelation and offers a sense of newfound hope. His quest to be a good father to the young Frida (the perfectly rebellious Justine Lacroix) and the teenage Kiki (cool and flirty Sarah Henochsberg) takes the audience on a journey of discovery along with the characters.
But 'C'est ça l'amour' is a multilayered film and so it's no surprise that, among quite a few strong and beautiful stories featured in this year's Giornate degli Autori line up, Burger's film ended up walking away with the top prize -- the GdA Director's Award.Read More
As we watch our nightly dose of immigration porn fed to us by the local news channels, particularly those of us who live in Europe we see row after row of young men stepping off boats and assorted vessels. We could be mistaken into thinking that they left their women safe at home, in their country of origin, the wives and girlfriends and mothers awaiting their return, as well as their paycheck. That's so far from the truth and if you ever held such a wrong opinion, 'Joy' by Sudabeh Mortezai will set you straight.
In her beautifully shot and perfectly told film premiering in the Giornate degli Autori, Venice Days sidebar at the Venice Film Festival, Mortezai shows us the complex network of Nigerian women who virtually invisibly inhabit our European streets. 'Joy' is as much about the oldest profession in the world, the prostitution networks these women get sucked into and then, once they have paid off their debts, also manage and run in Europe, as it is about womanhood itself. We follow the story of these young women from the juju ritual they are subjected to at home, in Benin City Nigeria, to the streets of Vienna where they owe their traffickers the kind of money one wouldn't spend traveling around the world for a year and staying at the best hotels.Read More
I'm a sucker for a great love story. But often, the films that hit me deepest aren't filled with happily ever after endings and the perfect romance between a handsome boy and a beautiful girl. It's the redefinition of true love that gets me to my core.
In Mikhaël Hers' latest 'Amanda' which premiered in the Orizzonti section at this year's Venice Film Festival, the filmmaker reworks the idea of family and in the process, also rewrites the perfect romance. Of course Hers' film is not missing out on a handsome boy -- the charming Vincent Lacoste breaks hearts as David -- and a pretty girl -- with the striking Stacy Martin playing his love interest Léna. But at the center of 'Amanda' is the title character, a little girl played beautifully by Isaure Multrier, a child who suddenly goes from being an occasional playmate in the life of her somewhat immature uncle David, to being entrusted to him permanently.Read More
Of all the films we watched at this year's Venice Film Festival Roberto Minervini's was the most important.
For two very specific reasons. One, it's a documentary, and while many narrative films did explain my own personal struggle as a modern woman in today's world, those fictional stories can be dismissed by their critics as simply made up. 'What You Gonna Do When the World's On Fire?' cannot, since it's real life, it's in your face and it's downright true.
Point number two follows closely my first point, in that while watching the press preview of Minervini's film, which premiered in Competition at the festival, I saw more of my colleagues shift in their seat and -- after what appeared like much inner debate and a prolonged anxiety -- leave the theater than ever before. The answer is not a reflection on the quality of 'What You Gonna Do...' which is visually stunning, features a terrific soundtrack and makes its two hours duration fly by in what seemed like fifteen minutes.Read More
As I sat down to meet legendary fashion photographer Bruce Weber I said "Mr. Weber, I can't say I grew up with your photographs because I'm older than I look, but I definitely grew into my sexuality thanks to your iconic images." It's true. Those NYC billboards in Times Square of underwear models for Calvin Klein, the Ralph Lauren "out of Africa" campaign, Kate Moss in the bathtub, the beach scenes, the catalogues I devoured before the advent of the internet, I grew into my skin thanks to Weber's images.
Today, Weber has helped me to rediscover the beauty and genius of classic American actor Robert Mitchum. 'Nice Girls Don't Stay for Breakfast' screens at the Venice Film Festival in the Venice Classics section and is co-produced by Weber's wife Nan Bush. In the documentary, Mitchum is shown as never before, a singer, a lover and a poet, aided in part by cameos by Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Polly Bergen, Brenda Vaccaro and Liam Neeson, among many many more.
So why a film about Mitchum, why from Weber and why now?Read More
Filmmaker Rick Alverson has never made films that are easily comprehensible to an audience. His work is the antithesis to the American superhero movie. From his first work 'The Builder' in 2010 he's proudly yet quietly worn the "independent filmmaker" badge of American moviemakers. In the tradition of greats like Dennis Hopper and John Cassavetes who came before him.
In his latest film 'The Mountain' which premiered in Competition at this year's Venice Film Festival, Alverson throws the audience a proverbial bone. What I mean is that 'The Mountain', starring Jeff Goldblum and Tye Sheridan, is as close to a traditional film as we will ever get from Alverson. While he still describes it as "an anti-utopian film" in his director's statement, 'The Mountain' takes the audience through a hippie trippy ride on a sparse, pastel hued rollercoaster with few words, great acting, haunting images and sounds and by the end, leaves us feeling lobotomizes. I could swear the entire crowd of the Sala Darsena, where the press and industry screening took place the day before the film's official premiere, walked out with a very specific look on their faces. Not unlike that of the leading character of Andy, played by Sheridan.Read More
One of the freshest and most romantic films I watched in Cannes was Gianni Zanasi’s ‘Lucia’s Grace’ which screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section. On Thursday night it was awarded the Label Europa Cinema prize and personally, I was elated. Zanasi’s film is another one of those modern Italian cinematic gems that have brought me home. Quite literally.
I moved back to my birth country five years ago because its newest wave of movies and filmmakers made me once again proud of being Italian. And Zanasi’s film also features as Lucia one of the most exciting young actresses in indie cinema today, Alba Rohrwacher, whom we can definitely claim as Italian but who is so much bigger and better than that label alone. Her wit, the way she can take the most basic of characters and build around them grand nuances and subtle mannerisms make her so cool that she may as well read the phone book on the big screen. And I’ll pay to watch that.Read More
From the black and white stock image reels that kick off the titles of Jean-Bernard Marlin's 'Shéhérazade', the viewer knows they'll be experiencing something different. Even though the film could at first glance appear to be yet another Romeo and Juliet type romance between star crossed lovers, it quickly unfolds into something much more unique and spellbindingly truthful.
Seventeen year old Zach (played by Dylan Roberts) comes out of jail in his native Marseille, only to find that his mother isn't picking him up, she seems to have forsaken him. He is thus taken to a group home and quickly escapes only to try and reconnect with the life that sent him to prison in the first place. But one day, his friends take him to find a prostitute, and there he meets a girl, Shéhérazade (played by Kenza Fortas) whom he remembers from school. Their encounter isn't romance perfect at first, though their "meet cute", the moment in which their stars cross in cinematic terms is perfect. And perfectly human.
Will they make it despite the entire world seemingly being against them?Read More
In the midst of the screening of Alice Rohrwacher's latest 'Happy as Lazzaro' ('Lazzaro Felice') I was overcome by a nearly unbearable sense of pride at being Italian. It's something I've come across one or two times before and I believe it is due to this new wave of fellow compatriot filmmakers who have brought back the idea of magic to Italian cinema.
As I sobbed in my seat, I realized that all the inspiration that lacked in our movies from about the late Seventies to now, has surged powerfully into a movement that has infiltrating the old status quo and created a brand new tsunami of talent in the process. And that simply takes my breath away.
When I sat with Rohrwacher a day later, she admitted that while in the past there existed a competition between Italian filmmakers as to who would be named the best one, now there is a stronger sense of community among the younger talents and that has made for better cinema.Read More
At the center of filmmaker Lukas Dhont's groundbreaking first feature 'Girl' -- screening at this year's Festival de Cannes in Un Certain Regard -- is a teenager who wants to be a ballerina. Complex, as all teenagers typically are, beautiful, painfully honest and exquisitely feminine, the only twist here is that Lara was born a boy. And it's obvious from her very first moments on the screen that having that part of the body which separates the boys from the girls is something utterly unbearable for Lara.
But instead of creating conflict around this beauty, be it coming from her family, friends and the world at large, Dhont brings us instead into a world where a girl born into a boy's body who begins treatment to transition to her true self when we first meet her, has all the support she could ever hope for. And yet, her own passions, her self discipline, her sense of displacement inside the body fate dealt her at birth create enough strife, hold-your-breath moments and emotions to fully charge a one hour and forty-five minutes film. And fill our dreams for days and days to come.Read More
Road movies have been done throughout the age of cinema every which way possible in film. And yet, the formula is so perfect that hardly I've found a dissonant note when it comes to taking a story on the road, on the big screen.
In A. B. Shawky's 'Yomeddine', which screened in Competition at this year's Festival de Cannes, the central idea remains that of a journey across the land but the Austro-Egyptian filmmaker -- yes Shawky's mom is Austrian, his father Egyptian and he grew up there -- substitutes the usual characters with two wonderful outcasts who charm their way into our hearts, slowly but surely, and manage to take up home there. Beshay is a small, disfigured man from a leper colony and the Pancho Villa to his Don Quixote is a little orphan boy named Obama. Both Rady Gamal, who plays Beshay and Ahmed Abdelhafiz who plays Obama are on their first acting roles in 'Yomeddine' and their freshness in experience is only paralleled by their awesome talent. Whenever the film could have played on our emotions too heavily, because of its intense subject matter, Gamal and Abdelhafiz find it within themselves to carry us through to the other side, and inspire, fill us with hope in the process.Read More
Best selling author R.A. Salvatore once wrote "It is better, I think, to grab at the stars than to sit flustered because you know you cannot reach them." In all they do, and how they unrelentingly and tirelessly support filmmakers, the Doha Film Institute folks prove time and time again that they are grabbing at the stars, not sitting by, flustered.
After having been to Qumra this past spring, I can't imagine the Arab cinema landscape without the presence of DFI. In fact, even after the Dubai International Film Festival called off its 2018 edition, because of DFI's mission I remain hopeful for the future of cinema in and from the Region, and I know I'm not the only one to feel that way.
This year, in fact, in Cannes there are six DFI-supported films. In the main Competition, there are Nadine Labaki's 'Capharnaüm' -- check out my interview with the filmmaker in The National newspaper -- and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 'The Wild Pear Tree'; ''Sofia' by Meryem Benm’Barek and 'Long Day’s Journey Into Night' by Gan Bi are screening in Un Certain Regard; and in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar audiences will find both 'Weldi' by Mohamed Ben Attia and 'The Load' by Ognjen Glavonić. So, if you thought that DFI was only about cinema from MENA think again!Read More
They say if you want to learn about something, go to the source.
For filmmakers in the Middle East, but also around the world, Elia Suleiman has long been the Oracle, the man with a knowledge to create momentous cinema, cinema that can change the world. Suleiman is the most brilliant source today of modern Arab cinema, the kind that breaks across borders and tears down the divide -- as his frequent trips to international film festivals and award ceremonies have proved.
So I thought, if it works for filmmakers, it could work for me. I shall ask Suleiman about Qumra myself, so I can unravel the mystery of this yearly event held in Qatar, under the auspices of the Doha Film Institute. I mean, the DFI has been very open and forthcoming about their week-long-mentorship-slash-industry-meet-and-greet-slash-film-connection event, but I still hadn't found a fascinating enough explanation of it in the media. One that would hold my attention and really explain the ins and out of Qumra.
Until I met Suleiman, DFI's Artistic Advisor and Hanaa Issa, Deputy Director of Qumra and Director of Strategy and Development at Doha Film Institute during Berlinale. One Sunday morning in Berlin, a leisurely breakfast talk later and now eagerly anticipating the start of Qumra in Doha, I finally understand.Read More
“Are you ready for us to make history again?!”
As I stepped into one of the magnificent Majlis — literally translating as a “place of sitting” from the Arabic — a meeting room inside the Madinat Jumeirah complex to catch up with the Chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival, Abdulhamid Juma uttered those words. I was taken aback for a moment and then I remembered that throughout the six years I’ve attended DIFF, I’ve sat down with him and together, we’ve come up with some of best questions about Arab cinema, its place in the world and its importance in dispelling stereotypes and breaking down walls.
This year, I came to DIFF with a heavy heart and I leave it still wondering if all the efforts — personal and collective have been worth it. We’ve witnessed how easily the mighty of the film stratosphere can be taken down in Hollywood when no longer of use to their business partners, destroying careers that should be looked at with respect, regardless of these men’s questionable behavior. We seem to have forgotten that “the casting couch” is a term as old as the movies themselves. Now we just “throw out the baby with the bathwater” as the old saying goes...Read More
In the biography for Florentine-born designer Federico Curradi, his extensive experience at the helm of Ermanno Scervino, as head of menswear for Roberto Cavalli. as creative director for menswear at Iceberg and various consultancy jobs including one at Dunhill are collectively described as his “unique baggage of experiences”. I love to think of life as a journey and nowhere in Florence this year — where I find myself for the Pitti UomoSpring/Summer 2018 collections — was that concept more apparent than in Curradi’s line.Read More