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New Arab Filmmaking Talent | by Colin Brown for Screen International

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ARAB TALENT IN BLOOM …

ARAB TALENT IN BLOOM
Screen International | Oct 2011
As political change and renewal sweeps across the Middle East, the film industry in the Arab world is also undergoing a transformation. On the eve of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Colin Brown profiles some of the region’s rising film-making and acting talent now stepping onto the international stage

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  • 1. feature focuS n ten arab Film-makers and actors to watch A promotional image for Basil Khalil’s in-development comedy A Gaza Weekend Arab film opens up a t the end of September, Nadine tor Front Row is hoping that the Lebanese month confirms her international stand- Labaki’s second film Where Do success of the film could spread through- ing after her debut film Caramel. We Go Now? opened in Lebanon out the Middle East and North Africa. This month, as the Abu Dhabi and on eight screens and grossed a whopping It’s an indication of the potential appe- Doha festivals take place, we profile the $153,358. It was the seventh highest tite in the region for Arab films, boosted next generation of producers, directors opening ever in the territory and the big- by production and development initia- and actors from the Arab countries as they gest opening ever for an Arab film, beat- tives like the Doha Film Institute, Dubai strive to build local and international ing another Lebanese production Daddy’s Film Connection and Abu Dhabi’s Sanad. market profile. Former Screen editor Colin Girl from 2007 by $44,000 and coming in Labaki’s success as the winner of the Brown, who has extensive experience cov- above the latest in the Transformers and prestigious People’s Choice Award at the s ering the region, made the selection. n Pirates Of The Caribbean series. Distribu- Toronto International Film Festival last Mike Goodridge, editorTanya Habjouqa, www.tanyahabjouqa.com For the latest Film business news and reviews visit ScreenDaily.com www.screendaily.com October 2011 Screen International 27 n
  • 2. ArAB TAlenT arab talent in Bloom As political change and renewal sweeps across the Middle East, the film industry in the Arab world is Basil Khalil, Producer-director, Palestine As his full name suggests, London- based Khalil straddles multiple worlds. agent who is now working with him on an adaptation of Nathalie Abi-Ezzi’s novel A Girl Made Of Dust, set in Leba- non during the Israeli invasion of the From a British-Palestinian background, 1980s, to be directed by Wafa’a Halawi. also undergoing a transformation. On the eve of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Colin Brown profiles he started as a second-assistant director “Basil has clarity of thought and some of the region’s rising film-making and acting talent now stepping onto the international stage on Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention. articulation,” says Friedmann, “He is The surreal black comedy remains one personable and proved to be very dili- of Khalil’s cinematic touchstones as he gent when I asked if he would like to be T he volume of film production across the hottest acquisition targets at Toronto, where it have three months to find actors,” recalled Paris- develops A Gaza Weekend, a light- involved in A Girl Made Of Dust, which Arab world is enough to sustain an esti- was snapped up by CBS Films. based casting agent Gérard Moulevrier at Dubai. hearted take on Arab-Israeli politics. I am executive producing. He is realis- mated 5,000-10,000 actors across all According to Waked, the crux of an actor’s suc- “Now we can be given just two weeks to prep The project is set in a fictional contem- tic in evaluating how much clout hesalary scales. While the majority of their work has cess hinges on his ability to make the audience before shooting begins.” porary period where Israel is under an has — or doesn’t yet — as a producer:not been seen outside their respective countries, believe he is the only person who could play that It is a trend that will likely accelerate once the embargo due to a mutant virus and he suggested we should have a morelet alone outside the wider Arab-speaking world, role. Focus on being authentic, and the rest will revolutionary smoke across the Arab world begins Gaza is the only safe place in the region experienced executive producer on Zaid Abu Hamdan directing Bahiya & Mahmoudit is becoming increasingly clear their talents and follow. to settle and legions of newly empowered film- because of its isolation. board. Although he is young he isthose of their film-makers will assume an ever “You should never throw yourself in the path of makers flex their storytelling talents even more. It “I am a strong believer in thought- ambitious and open-minded.” Zaid aBu hamdan, eligible for Academy Awardsbigger role on the international stage. a casting director; that should be the job of your won’t be long before one of their creative endeav- provoking and entertaining films, and Producer-director, Jordan consideration. “I tell young actors: it’s a global career now,” agent,” he says. “Do the best you can with what ours will supersede Caramel, Nadine Labaki’s in my opinion, it is about time the world Born and raised in Jordan, “I believe Zaid is of one ofLondon-based casting director Dan Hubbard told you have and then people will find you.” 2007 breakthrough that established new bench- saw a wider range of films from the Hamdan was enraptured with many new-wave film-makersa panel at last December’s Dubai International And, yes, Arab actors can be prima donnas too. marks for what an Arab feature could achieve in Middle East, a comedy with a heart. drama from a very early age. rising in the Arab World,”Film Festival. Speaking alongside him was one of Persuading established Arab actors to audition for the international marketplace after opening the- “Being half-Palestinian, half-British I Years later, while studying says Masoud Amralla Al Ali,the best examplars of this globalisation: Egyptian parts can be difficult unless the director happens atrically in more than 40 countries for a collective was always able to look at the Israeli- communication arts in Beirut, artistic director of the Dubaiactor Amr Waked. With roles in two Hollywood to be a big name. “There is an incredible amount take of nearly $15m. Her follow-up, Where Do We Arab issue with different eyes. I enjoy he would find himself fascinated International Film Festival. “Hisfilms, Syriana and Contagion, Waked’s stock is of resistance across the profession,” says Waked. Go Now? won the coveted People’s Choice Award the challenge of pushing the bounda- by the natural ability of children dedication and sharp vision ofabout to rise even higher following his perform- Another tell-tale sign of Arab cinema growth is at last month’s Toronto film festival. ries of storytelling, and in this film I to act and react organically. Arab storytelling are amazing.ance opposite Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt that casting directors are now having to deal with Here is a look at future Labakis and Wakeds plan to deliver a story where the charac- That fascination led him to He tweaks his plots into ironicin Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, one of this year’s ever tighter production schedules. “We used to tipped to make an international mark. ters’ human side shines more than any- become an assistant director/ comedy with an enormous thing in the absurd world they live in.” writer for the Jordanian version sense of humour.” Among those impressed by Khalil is of Sesame Street and then, Zaid, now in the midst ofahd, Julian Friedmann, the UK literary more potently, to his short film securing Arab and Western co-actress and film-maker, saudi arabia Baram & Hamza. The tale of a producers for his first featureAhd, who is known now just by her first short-lived friendship between Nostalgia, divides his timename, is a native of Saudi Arabia, a Rula nasseR, those films have been produced by six-year-old boys, one Israeli between Hollywood and an Arabkingdom not readily associated with Producer, Jordan Rula,” marvels Alaa Karkouti, the Arab and the other Palestinian, it world he views as being on thefilm-makers or actors. And yet she has Shoestring budgets may be a necessity in film business journalist who runs the deals with Middle East politics cusp of its own breakthrough.won early acclaim in both spheres, win- a film-making micro-climate such as movie marketing company MAD Solu- in purely human terms and “We now have greatning prizes for her short film The Shoe- Jordan, but that doesn’t mean creative tions. “She’s a real pioneer and fighter, played the festival circuit platforms that allow Arabmaker, in which she co-stars opposite ambitions or audience reach need also and the person really responsible for extensively in 2010. film-makers to communicateAmr Waked, and was named best be reduced. For evidence, look no further active film-making in Jordan,” If she It is his latest short, Bahiya our art to the world, like theactress at the 2006 San Francisco Inter- than Nasser. Having cut her production could, her ambition would be enough to & Mahmoud, about an aging Doha Film Institute, Jordan’snational Film Festival for her screen teeth on BBC documentaries shot in her accommodate five features every year. Jordanian couple, that will Royal Film Commission, Dubai,debut in Razan. country, she joined Jordan’s Royal Film “The most important thing about likely stand as his career Abu Dhabi [film festivals] Based in New York, where her pro- Commission in 2006 and has been a gal- her way of production is that it con- breakthrough. Having received and others,” he says. “I haveduction company Odd Camel Films vanising presence ever since. fronts the financing challenges inher- the best of festival award at the strong hopes a very solid andreflects her open-minded spirit, Ahd “Jordan has produced less than 10 ent in Jordan,” says Karkouti. “She has 2011 Palm Springs International self-sufficient Arab film industry Thierry Van Biesenalso has extensive production experi- features in all until now and three of created a no-budget framework. People Shortfest, it now becomes will be formed in the nearence having worked alongside Peter who can make movies from nothing are future. As an artist first andBerg on The Kingdom in roles that the ones who can build a real industry. an Arab film-maker second, Iincluded set assistant and technical They will be the real base of Jordanian believe our Middle-Eastern andadvisor. cinema.” Arab culture is full of magical As Ahd develops her first feature, and behind it, bringing life to heartfelt regardless of their background, is to In August, Transit Cities, a feature that stories, beautiful charactersSmile, You’re In Jeddah, her personal stories that transcend cultural barriers. communicate to the industry their Nasser shepherded through the Royal and fantasies that need to betake on her hometown, she has every ‘Saudi cinema “Arab Cinema in general and Saudi artistic point of view and my responsi- Film Commission, played the Montreal told to the world. There areintention of continuing this multi- has all the specifically, have all the potential in the bility as an artist is to show a full truth- World Film Festival. magnificent talents in ourhyphenate existence. potential to world to reach the universal stage: the ful picture that captures the human, Nasser says her aim is to make uni- region that just need to be “Film-making and acting go hand in timing is excellent, the stories plentiful universal side of Saudi culture along versally entertaining films. “I don’t want polished and directed towardshand,” she says. ”They complement each reach the and the talent is all available. We just with the preconceived common notions to make films that are only seen in festi- being in the right place.”other and fulfil different aspects of tell- universal stage’ need to dare to dream the impossible associated with it. So far, I’ve never vals,” she explains. “What I love about Hamdan’s short film won best ofing stories. In my next projects I hope to Ahd and focus on making it happen. been more proud or fortunate to be a cinema is that it is a bridge to connect festival at Palm Springscontinue to grow in front of the camera “The challenge for any film-maker Saudi woman.” you and take you wherever you want.” »n 28 Screen International October 2011 www.screendaily.com www.screendaily.com October 2011 Screen International 29 n
  • 3. ArAB TAlenT enced life as an assistant director on a ‘Ayten embodies number of feature films, such as Alive, that she found her true calling. exactly the type “I discovered I love directing,” she of talent that I explains. “It’s a means for me to express seek and rarely myself. Otherwise I always have trouble with the words. I never seem to express find for Film myself completely unless I am directing.” Clinic projects’ Always in search of challenging Tahrir 2011 mohamed Hefzy, projects that “push towards my limits”,ayten amin Film Clinic Amin directed arguably the most diffi- Clinic projects: young, undiscovered,director, egypt cult segment of three that made up full of promise, with a high sensibility,Now coming into her own as a film- Tahrir 2011, the documentary about the and a huge reservoir of talent.”maker in the giddy aftermath of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime L a s t D e c e m b e r, A m i n w a sArab Spring, Amin’s career path offers a in Egypt that won an award at this announced winner of the Cairo Filmtextbook case of following one’s inner year’s Venice film festival. Connection (CFC) prize for what will bevoice. After studying commerce in Cairo Despite her misgivings, acknowl- her feature-length debut 69 El Mesahaand then toiling away at HSBC, she edged in her narration, she interviewed Square (69 Medan El Mesaha). Andecided to take film-making courses, members of the security forces about unlikely comedy, it revolves around awithout necessarily knowing where their violent suppression of the Cairo 62-year-old man who faces a terminalthat might lead. While at the Art Lab at demonstrators. illness. As he nears his death, peoplethe American University in Cairo, she “I’m glad I bet on her as one of the from his past invade his isolation andproduced the short Her Man, which directors of Tahrir 2011,” says Mohamed change his view about life. “The projectwas selected for the Clermont Ferrand Hefzy, founder of the Film Clinic, the was chosen because it is ambitious andInternational Short Film Festival film’s Cairo-based production company. represents the vitality of the new Egyp-among several others. But it was when “Ayten embodies exactly the type of tal- tian cinema,” explains Samir Seif, headshe studied film directing and experi- ent that I seek and rarely find for Film of the CFC jury. certain standards for future film- makers,” he says with characteristic modesty. “As for me, I feel so proud to have placed this new benchmark for UAE and [Gulf state] film-makers; it is not only a challenge for them to surpass, but also for me too. As for UAE cinema, there have been small successes in terms of a film doing well at the box office and a company Khalid al-mahmo0d stepping into the role of producing director, uae films commercially. They are helping The United Arab Emirates (UAE) to build the infrastructure for a has been much better known for the proper industry but still it’s limited.” largesse of its multiple film festivals Others are less hesitant about Al- and film financing initiatives than for Sabeel was selected for Locarno and Berlin Mahmood’s impact. “Even in Europe its cinematic output. In other words, and the United States, with their solid a film-making superpower without long shots and zig-zagging mountain industry bases, it’s not easy to find portfolio. But watch this space. Films roads are resonant of the Iranian a film-maker with nerve,” observes by UAE nationals are just starting to film-maker Abbas Kiarostami — Egyptian film journalist Alaa Karkouti. ripple outwards, starting with Sabeel, although Al-Mahmood himself would “So imagine a film-maker coming the first film from a Gulf country to be the first to downplay such from UAE, where there is practically be selected for either the Berlinale or lofty comparisons at such an zero industry, and exhibiting that the Locarno film festivals. embryonic stage in his career. nerve. With Khalid, you can The award-winning 20-minute He is patiently putting feel a real vision coming from drama, by Abu Dhabi-born, University together the elements for a film-maker who knows of Denver-schooled Al-Mahmood, his follow-up. exactly what he wants follows two small boys in the Emirati “I doubt Sabeel would — the result probably of mountains who sell vegetables on have reached so far without the having worked in numerous the road in order to buy medicine for successes of earlier films from industry capacities, including at their grandmother. A succession of other regional directors who set film festivals.” »n 30 Screen International October 2011 www.screendaily.com
  • 4. ArAB TAlenT medium, one that has seen his photo- aRwa Gouda “Over the last decade most graphs displayed at prestigious show- actress, egypt female starts in Egypt focused cases throughout the world. It is tempting to see Gouda more on their beauty, while Equally self-taught when it comes to as the Arab world’s answer to essentially playing characters cinema, Al-Beik has nonetheless Aishwarya Rai. Much like the that were good. Arwa become one of Syria’s leading film-mak- Bollywood superstar, Gouda understood the game. Her first ers and one who follows in the tradition is a former beauty contestant cinematic role was Khaled El of Syrian auteur cinema and its strong who worked as a model after Hagar’s None But That! In which association with social critique. His reaching the finals of Miss she plays a malleable young girl invitation to the 2006 Venice film festi- Earth 2004 and wearing the who wants to become a famous val, where his feature I Am the One Who best model in the world tiara singer. Then she took the role Brings Flowers To Her Grave won an a year later. Her screen career of a drug addict and her career award, was a first in the history of Syr- happened almost by accident, was launched from there. In ian cinema. He returned this year to the after she was offered a walk-on the five years since, she has Lido to present his short film, The Sun’s The Sun’s Incubator screened at Venice part as, yes, the best model in become of the best new actors Incubator. the world by a friend. in Egypt.” ammaR al-BeiK “My story is kind of funny,” acknowl- about, how to talk about it, and how the But a year later, she stunned It is a reputation that was documentary film-maker, syria edges Al-Beik in a video portrait com- film will actually look. There is a saying everyone in the Egyptian further burnished during Al-Beik is a self-professed pigeon missioned for the Doha Film Institute. I like by Robert Bresson. He says that ‘There is magic industry with her portrayal of Ramadan this year, traditionally breeder, football player, conceptual art- “At one point, I dreamed of becoming a when he goes to make a film, he feels in making film a drug addict in Amr Salama’s the most watched season ist and film-maker. Hearing that, it professional football player. But later like he is going into battle.” and there is On A Day Like Today which went in the annual calendar, with Darine Hamze in Locarno competition title Beirut Hotel won’t come as too much of a surprise to you realise that time flies by: you can He describes his planned second fea- on to play at the Abu Dhabi Film her performance in Citizen learn that his artistic career — one that only play football until a certain age. In ture project, Aspirin And A Bullet, as an even more Festival in 2008. Not only that X that also flew in the face daRine hamZe based in a Beirut nightclub. is as at home in still images as it is in a way I feel that film-making has no age audiovisual confession about his magic making but Gouda was named best of the stereotypical gentle actress, lebanon Her appearances in Iranian films moving ones — stems from unconven- limit. You can start at a very young age parents, a liberating autobiography independent actress for that role in Egypt’s Egyptian female. In the series Hamze’s early childhood was one of and TV shows involved learning lines tional roots. Having earned a degree in and keep making films until you die.” made in preference to paying to see equivalent of the Oscars. she stands out as a tough-yet- constant movement. Seeking sanctu- in the foreign language of Farsi, not to business administration from the Uni- “There is magic in making film and psychiatrists. film’ “How could such a beauty charming biker girl who owns a ary from the constant threat of bomb- mention a challenging regional com- versity of Damascus, Al-Beik’s real pro- there is even more magic making inde- “Aspirin And A Bullet is not only a Ammar Al-Beik play so ugly,” asks local film motorcycle agency. shells, her family fled the mountains of mute. And her time in London was fessional education came from the 10 pendent film. You can describe the film, it is also a way of living, the first journalist Alaa Karkouti with “The beauty of acting is that Lebanon for Beirut, then rural Baalbek marked by some experimental films in years spent working at a camera repair world as you see it. I don’t feel the prob- step towards my future independent the same wonderment that was you can be anyone you want and finally France. Hamze herself was English and even a published collec- shop during the 1990s. It was there he lem is just about money. The bigger films to be made with patience, honesty, shared at the time by many of who you can’t be in real life,” packed off to boarding school in the tion of poetry. received his formal training in the issue is what you actually want to talk madness and a lot, a lot of freedom.” his countrymen. she says. UK. The experience not only left her “Yes, I like to choose diverse roles with an appreciation of Shakespeare, and dare myself to transform into such courtesy of those school plays in Eng- opposite characters,” says Hamze, who wael omaR, “The generational divide, which As for his personal ambitions, land, but a propensity for change and this year caught the international eye Producer, egypt is arguably the most important Omar’s upcoming projects, breaking new ground that has carried with a starring performance as a chan- Those who saw Omar’s short factor fuelling the Arab spring, is both due for release next winter, over into her professional acting teuse in Danielle Arbid’s Hotel Beirut, documentary State Of Emergency very much extending into Arab underline his insistence that so career. which also showcased her singing six years ago, will have seen cinema,” he suggests. “There is a many Arab stories are left to be “My ambition, as it relates to Arab voice. The film premiered in competi- the writing on the Cairo wall. A new term we are throwing around told. Les Petits Chats follows an cinema, is to be able to have more tion at the Locarno film festival. firsthand account about police these days, which is ‘revolutionary Egyptian cover band from the 1960s young directors tell their stories more “Once she has a character to play she brutality and torture during the film’. That’s not necessarily a film and 1970s who came together for courageously and say what is going on studies it from different angles, tries to Hosni Mubarak’s 2005 presidential about any revolution, but rather a reunion concert last year; The in this region of the world,” says understand it and even creates its his- election campaign, the bravura film a film that is itself revolutionary Dream Of Shahrazad by director Hamze. “I hope we can keep investing tory,” says Sabine Sidawa, executive anticipated the simmering anger or innovative and pioneering in its Francois Verster, explores the new all our talents and potential in the producer of Hotel Beirut, through Bei- that boiled over last December style and substance. landscape of resistance as Arab Arab film-making world to be able to rut-based Orjouane Productions. in Tahrir Square. Like many of his “Young Middle Eastern women join the good fight through see our own image in movies, and peers, Omar rushed in to film — only film-makers are breaking new the power of storytelling. He is also make it an industry that competes at to set aside the camera, join the taboos daily and are increasingly working on 69 El Mesaha Square, the the highest standards out there.” protest and serve as a witness for focusing on our own Arab identity feature debut of Ayten Amin (see While certainly not a newcomer in the organisation Human Rights desire to change perceptions 10 and Arab audiences. I’ve had separate profile). her native country, where she enjoys a Watch. He got shot in the process, years after conservatives from both many conversations lately about “Considering the relatively strong following, Hamze’s willingness but his injuries only kept him away sides of the Atlantic dominated the ‘tightening’ the Arab world short time he has been in the to take on startlingly different and risk- for three days. media dialogue. It all starts in the cinematically and culturally, and business,” observes Charles taking performances makes her the Ten months on and Omar hopes mind, and film is a tremendous tool think this will be a recurring theme Schuerhoff, commissioning editor likeliest to break out of Lebanon. She “to capitalise on the attention and in this respect.” in the future. I expect a lot more for PBS International, “Wael shows caused a stir when she took the lead role optimism world viewers seem to In Omar’s view, there are distinct Arab stories will have inherently an excellent understanding of in Fouad Khoury’s Shola Cohen: The share about the Middle East. Even if parallels between what is happening youth-oriented issues, ideas, and how things work, good business Pearl, portraying the Jewish-Lebanese it’s mixed with a sense of reservation on the ground politically and on the will attempt or aspire to redefine judgment and a real passion for the woman who became known as Israel’s and anticipation, there is a pervasive screen cinematically. what Arab cinema actually is.” projects he gets involved with.” Arwa Gouda in TV series Citizen X Mata Hari after organising a spy ringn 32 Screen International October 2011 www.screendaily.com www.screendaily.com October 2011 Screen International 33 n