Tea with Culture

A podcast about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


Dubai Design Week 2015


Dubai will host its first Dubai Design Week which will take from 26th - 31st October at Dubai Design District and several venues across the city. The programme includes talks, exhibitions across the city, workshops and book launches. 

Creating a point of time that encourages the growth of the design industry in Dubai, Dubai Design Week will not only establish the city as the regional capital for design, but also as a global meeting point for the international design community.

Design-dedicated events, activities and projects within d3 and across the city will celebrate the best in design both regionally and internationally.


You can see the complete schedule of events here. The following are some of my top recommendations.  




A series of six pavilions built to celebrate and showcase the work of the most exciting designers, studios and curators from six different countries in the MENASA region.

Abwab, which means ‘doors’ in Arabic, acts as a direct portal to the region’s local design talent. A curator from each participating country leads the designers to generate never before-seen design content under one unifying theme, this year being - Games: The Element of Play in Culture.

In 2015, JordanKuwaitPakistanSaudi ArabiaTunisia and the UAE have been invited to present the best of their countries design. Integrated into the walkways of Dubai Design District (d3), the Abwab pavilions have been designed by Dubai-based architecture and design studio, Loci Architecture + Design.

Abwab will be taking place from 26th - 31st October, located in the open areas of Dubai Design District. Open to public from 9am - 10pm.



Dubai Design Week is pleased to partner with six international design weeks to showcase innovative young brands from-Beijing, HelsinkiIstanbulMelbourneMexico City and San Francisco.

Held under the banner of 'Destination' at Downtown Design, each participating city will present a collection of three brands, representing the spirit of the city to which they belong.

Destination will be open from 27th - 30th October at Downtown Design. To visit, you must register here.


Iconic City: Beirut

The first in a new annual series of Iconic City exhibitions, Brilliant Beirut explores the impact of local urban dynamics in the areas of design, production and creative culture.

Curated and designed by Beirut-born and based designer Rana Salam, ‘Brilliant Beirut’ will be the first attempt to document the development of design -  across architecture, education, graphic design, fashion, furniture and cultural trends -  in the the Lebanese capital over the past seven decades since independence (1950s-2015).

Drawing parallels with and distinctions from Western design movements, the far-reaching show considers the shifts in design thinking engendered by civil war and the transition to stability. In addition, it examines how Beirut’s complex social make-up helped nurture creativity, while its long-standing craft traditions and ample production resources contributed to the country’s pre-eminence in the global design scene.

Iconic City: Brilliant Beirut will take place from 26th - 31st October in Building 7, Dubai Design District. Open to public from 9am - 9pm (6pm on Saturday, 31st October).



A key element of Dubai Design Week will be a programme of design installations, placed in strategic locations across the city, by renowned international and local designers.

The installations will challenge convention and explore innovation, illustrating Dubai’s creative diversity while promoting Dubai as prolific urban environment, a dynamic city where wonders and beauty can be found everywhere, unexpectedly. 

The installations will carry a sense of belonging and ownership of the place where they are located that will engage and inspire a broad set of visitors, and emblemise the host’s location success and prosperity.

Each installation will be built in Dubai and will be a world debut identifying Dubai as a city that celebrates international and local talent and continues to push boundaries. 

List of installations and venues, click on each link for more details and directions:

Venue: Al Fahidi District  

Venue: The BEACH opposite JBR 

Venue: Dubai Design District 

Venue: City Walk 

Venue: Tashkeel 





Dubai Design Week is on from 26th - 31st October. The complete schedule of events can be found here  


European Film Screenings 2015 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai

The second edition of the European Film Screenings is back this month, it will take place in Abu Dhabi from 21st-30th October in NOVO Cinemas (WTC Mall) and and in Dubai from 22nd-31st October in NOVO Cinemas (Ibn Battuta). 

The line up this year is much bigger compared to last year. It includes full feature films, short films and documentaries. Each screening will be preceded with a short film from the United Arab Emirates curated by Emirati Cinema. 

All screenings are free of charge and seats are allocated on a first come/first serve basis.

Below is the list of films and screening schedule in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. You can download the detailed schedule here

Song of the Sea (2014)
Director: Tomm Moore
Running time: 94 min  

Abu Dhabi - Thursday, 21st October at 8pm
Dubai - Friday, 22nd October at 8pm 

Director: Frans Weisz
Running time: 90 min

Abu Dhabi - 22nd October at 6pm
Dubai - 23rd October at 6pm   

The Grump
Director: Dome Karukoski
Running time: 104 min 

Abu Dhabi - 22nd October at 8pm
Dubai -  23rd October at 8pm 

Luxemborg Short Film Corner
Director: Various
Running time: 12 min

Abu Dhabi - 23rd October at 6pm
Dubai -  24th October at 6pm  

La Famille Bélier 
Director: Eric Lartigau
Running time: 106 min  

Abu Dhabi - 23rd October at 8pm
Dubai -  24th October at 8pm   

Orient Express
Director: Sergiu Nicolaescu
Running time: 115 min

Abu Dhabi - 24th October at 6pm
Dubai -  25th October at 6pm   

Director: Pablo Berger
Running time: 104 min 

Abu Dhabi - 24th October at 8pm
Dubai -  25th October at 8pm  

Oki - In the Middle of the Ocean
Director: Maris Martinsons
Running time: 85 min   

Abu Dhabi - 25th October at 6pm
Dubai -  26th October at 6pm  

Therapy for a Vampire
Director: David Rühm
Running time: 87 min  
Abu Dhabi - 25th October at 8pm
Dubai -  26th October at 8pm  

Terraferma (2011) 
Director: Emanuele Crialese
Running time: 88 min  
Abu Dhabi - 26th October at 6pm
Dubai -  27th October at 6pm  

Director: Viktor Tauš
Running time: 120 min  
Abu Dhabi - 26th October at 8pm
Dubai -  27th October at 8pm   

Alentejo, Alentejo 
Director: Sérgio Tréfaut
Running time: 98 min 

Abu Dhabi - 27th October at 6pm
Dubai -  28th October at 6pm 


One Million Dubliners (2014)
Director: Aoife Kelleher
Running time: 80 min

Abu Dhabi - 27th October at 8pm
Dubai -  28th October at 8pm 

The Dark Horse
Director: Louise Osmond
Running time: 124 min

Abu Dhabi - 28th October at 6pm
Dubai -  29th October at 6pm 

Bogowie (Gods)  (2014)
Director: Łukasz Palkowski
Running time: 120 min

Abu Dhabi - 28th October at 8pm
Dubai -  29th October at 8pm 

The 100 Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared (2013)
Director:  Felix Herngren
Running time: 114 min 

Abu Dhabi - 29th October at 6pm
Dubai -  30th October at 6pm   

Flying Home
Director: Dominique Deruddere
Running time: 95 min 

Abu Dhabi - 29th October at 8pm
Dubai -  30th October at 8pm  

Director: Ask Hasselbalch
Running time: 77 min 

Abu Dhabi - 30th October at 6pm
Dubai -  31st October at 6pm 
Honig im Kopf (2014)   
Director:  Til Schweiger
Running time: 139 min 

Abu Dhabi - 30th October at 8pm
Dubai -  31st October at 8pm 



NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center - Performances in November 2015 

Tacit Group

The line up of performances at the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center for November looks great. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Tacit Group. 
Here's the complete line up:


Noise from the Middle East - Featuring Fari Bradley, Yara Mekawei, Mutamassik, and Tashweesh
When: Wednesday, 4th November 2015 at 8pm
Venue: East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi 


Spotlighting electronic dance music, hip-hop, trance, and experimental electronica with local influences, Noise from the Middle East is a micro-festival that promotes groundbreaking artists from the region.

This mini-marathon showcases four inventive artists:
Fari Bradley - London-based Iranian musician, sound-artist and broadcaster who recently finished a residency at Tashkeel

Yara Mekawei - Egyptian composer of electronic music and curator who has been part of the 100 Copies electronic music festival

Mutamassik (aka Guilia Loli) - producer/musician/dj/artist/synesthete, mixing Egyptian and Afro-Asiatic Roots with the head-nod of hip-hop and the bass and syncopation of hardstep

Muqata’a and Basel Abbas of Palestinian sound and image collective Tashweesh give a special sound performance



Tacit Group
When: Wednesday and Thursday, 11th and 12th November 2015 at 8pm 
Venue: Black Box, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi 

Tacit Group devises improvised algorithmic visual and sound art that is mad, experimental fun for audiences, who both participate in and are enveloped by the action on stage. They focus as much on process as result—combining sources like mathematical code, video game systems, and real-time personal computer interactions live on stage to generate music and video that is viscerally thrilling and full of sly invention.

A new breed of composers with laptops as instruments and a deep sense of play, this motley team’s real-time projection mapping and computer graphics create a unique performance that draws the audience into compelling soundscapes and stunning visual environments for the ultimate interactive concert.

The program will include the world premiere of a work commissioned by The Arts Center: an Arabic alphabet version visualizing Terry Riley’s pioneering minimalist work “In C.” 



Les Ambassadeurs - featuring Salif Keita, Cheick Tidiane Seck & Amadou Bagayoko (from Amadou & Mariam)
When: Sunday, 18th November 2015
Venue: East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi 

Original members of the Malian supergroup Salif Keita, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Amadou Bagayoko (of Amadou & Mariam) reunite to revisit their pioneering blend of salsa, jazz, soul, rock ’n’ roll and the ancient art of the griots.

From 1970 to 1985, the iconic Malian band Les Ambassadeurs wrote and rewrote the rule book for the Manding pop sound that drove the world music boom of the 1980s and 1990s with a collection of songs forged from the dreams and tensions of post-Independence West Africa: socialism, pan-Africanism, black pride, authenticité.

The reunion of Les Ambassadeurs is a banner headline long dreamt of by Malians, West Africans and lovers of African music the world over. What the band’s surviving singers and instrumentalists are preparing to deliver when they stroll on stage is more than just nostalgia for a time when Mali was young and full of of hope and possibility, more than an excuse to rekindle past friendships and relive old glories, and more than an hour or two of unforgettable Malian orchestral pop. What Les Ambassadeurs will deliver is proof that Malian musicians, given the right conditions and support, can create truly revolutionary music. 



Rudresh Mahanthappa and Gamak
When: Saturday, 24th November 2015 at 8pm  
Venue: East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi


The dazzlingly inventive composer and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa delves deep into the hybridization of progressive jazz and South Indian classical.

Taking its name taken from the South Indian term for melodic ornamentation “gamaka” and featuring longtime musical partners Rez Abbasi, Rich Brown, and, Dan Weiss, this quartet exemplifies Mahanthappa’s matchless ability to embody the expansive possibilities of blending his music with his culture. He combines progressive jazz and South Indian classical music in a fluid and forward-looking form reflecting his own experience growing up a second-generation Indian-American.

Just as his personal experience is never wholly lived on one side of the hyphenate or the other, his music speaks in a voice dedicated to forging a brave new path forward. With Gamak, Mahanthappa’s fearless explorations conjure a polyphonic landscape that manages to incorporate Western forms of jazz, progressive rock, heavy metal, country, American folk, go-go, and ambient while simultaneously engaging the rich traditions of Indian, Chinese, African, and Indonesian music. The end result is music that defies category, music that very much fits with the times in which we live.


Daido Moriyama. Marrakech: Shooting Light at The Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts

© Daido Moriyama, Marrakech, 1989.

Daido Moriyama. Marrakech: Shooting Light is the latest exhibition at The Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts, on till 10th January 2016. I recently bought the book Daido Moriyama: Marrakech and would love to see the work in larger prints.  




Marrakech: Shooting Light comprises three groups of works in three spaces.

In Room 1 a selection of Moriyama’s most iconic and recognizable images from Japan in the 1970s and 80s, including images from his best-known publications Japan A Photo TheatreA HunterLight and Shadow and Lettre à St-Loup.

In Room 2, the slide-shows Hokkaido, an extensive body of work made in the north of Japan since the late 1970s; and Record, works published by Moriyama of photographs of cities around the world from 1972 to the present day.

In Room 3 Marrakech, an installation of photographs taken during Moriyama’s first visit to Morocco in 1989.

Marrakech is just one of a number of cities in which Moriyama has made work as an outsider, in stark contrast to his lifelong commitment to revisiting and re-photographing the streets of Tokyo where he has lived for half a century.

Moriyama came to Marrakech in 1989 having been asked to take pictures in the city as a commission for a Japanese magazine. At the time he was living mostly in Paris (despite speaking little French or English), exploring a city that had occupied his thoughts and imagination since seeing French cinema while growing up. Inspired equally by an idealized, romantic sense of Paris, and the dead-pan photographic documents of the historic city made by the Eugène Atget at the end of the nineteenth-century, Moriyama began to make his own reflections on a place which previously knew only from a distance.

Despite having travelled to Europe prior to 1988, Moriyama had made little work there, and had published only one book on a city outside Japan: a self-published photo-copy book entitled Another Country in New York (1974). However, from the late 1980s onwards Moriyama would travel extensively making work in, and about, some of the world’s great cities from Europe to Asia and in both North and Latin America.


Read full text here


Film screening - For One More Hour With You by Alina Marazzi


NYU Abu Dhabi will host a film screening of  One More Hour With You (Un'ora sola ti vorre) followed by a talk with its director, Alina Marazzi on Tuesday, 20th October 2015. 

The screening is free to attend, but you must register in advance here



Director Alina Marazzi’s mother, Liseli, died when Alina was 7 years old. Having few personal memories herself, Alina always knew that the visual memory of her mother was locked inside one of her grandparents’ closets, containing amateur 16mm films shot by her grandfather between 1926 and 1970.

Only as an adult did she dare watch the films, suddenly projecting her mother to life. From a recording of her mother speaking to her in a forgotten moment, to letters, journals, medical reports, and films, Alina reconstructs her mother's life at different times: childhood, love, family, illness, existential malaise. 



Event details
Date: Tuesday, 20th October 2015, 6.30-8.30pm 
Venue: NYU Abu Dhabi Saadiyat Campus, Conference Center (location map 


Happy 90th Birthday Angela Lansbury 

The wonderful Angela Lansbury turned 90 years old on 16th October. 

Here's a video with Angela Lansbury talking about "Positive Moves". I love her.  

Back from the BFI London Film Festival


I'm back from an almost three weeks stay in London attending the 59th edition of the BFI London Film Festival. I attended the press screenings, some of the public screenings and also watched a few other films that were not part of the festival.

I spent most of my time at BFI and Picturehouse Central watching films on a diet that consisted of coffee, croissants and sandwiches. I also managed to watch a few films in other cinemas too. 

Look out for my film festival highlights in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can read and see highlights from BFI London Film Festival's live blog here



My top 25 picks for London Film Festival 2015

I arrived in London a few days ago to attend the 59th London Film Festival which is on from 7th - 18th October 2015. I am currently attending the press screenings which will continue during the festival and will try to attend some public screenings if tickets are available.

This year's edition includes 238 fiction and documentary features, including 16 World Premieres, 8 International Premieres, 40 European Premieres and 11 Archive films including 5 Restoration World Premieres. There will also be screenings of 182 live action and animated shorts, plus a line up of talks. The complete London Film Festival 2015 schedule and more information can be found here.

Below is my list of top 25 films to see. If you're on Twitter, you can follow my daily updates here and look out for a more extensive update and reviews after the festival.

Arabian Nights   
Volume 1: The Resltess One (125 min)
Volume 2: The Desolate One (131 min)
Volume 3: The Enchanted One (126 min) 
Director: Miguel Gomes  
Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu) sets out to adapt the Arabian Nights, but is racked by anxiety about undertaking such a venture in today’s economic crisis. His solution is to create something that confronts Scheherezade’s stories with real-life tales gleaned from the experiences of Portuguese people grappling with hard times. The result is a unique hybrid that takes in housing projects and palaces, punk rockers and princesses, baliffs and caliphs – an encyclopedic sprawl of a film that mixes fantasy, documentary, docu-fiction, Brechtian pantomime and echoes of MGM musical. Non-professionals – sometimes playing characters, sometimes being themselves – mingle with genies, wizards, camels, dogs and IMF economists, all to a deliriously eclectic soundtrack. Whether watched as three stand-alone films, or as one vast, ever-mutating triptych, Arabian Nights is a uniquely radical artistic response to political realities – and a hugely entertaining celebration of the power of cinema and storytelling.
Buy tickets for Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3.

The Assassin

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien  

The Best Director winner at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Hou Hsiao-Hsien is the subject of a major retrospective – Also Like Life – at BFI Southbank this September, ahead of LFF’s UK premiere of his mesmerising first foray into wuxia (martial arts). Breathtakingly elegant and ravishing in its composition, The Assassin is set in 9th-century China towards the end of the Tang dynasty. Lethal assassin Nie Yinniang (the incandescent Shu Qi, star of Hou’s Three Times and Millennium Mambo) fails an important assignment and is sent back to her homeland on the orders of the nun who abducted her as a child and trained her in the deadly arts. Her new orders, designed to both punish her and eliminate the last vestiges of feeling in her being, are to kill the man to whom she was once betrothed – her cousin, the powerful governor of Weibo, played by Chang Chen (Three Times, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). However, Yinniang’s emotions lead her to defy her Mistress and discover a new, unexpected source of strength. Her journey is mirrored by the film’s transition from crisp, high-contrast black-and-white Academy ratio in the prelude, to glorious, expressive colour and 1.85:1 ratio when she arrives in Weibo. In a quietly audacious move for a genre that often uses brisk editing to match the action, Hou’s regular cinematographer Mark Lee Ping Bing holds exquisitely framed wide shots, with kinetic flashes used sparingly in the brilliant action sequences.

A Bigger Splash
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is a glittering rock star on a hiatus with her filmmaker lover Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). Recovering from an operation on her throat, she has retreated from both the public gaze and her performance persona (an androgynous cross between Mick Jagger and David Bowie). Poolside, stripped naked in the scorching Italian sun and seemingly at ease, the lovers are completely unprepared for the sudden arrival of cocky music producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his recently discovered daughter, the petulant and sexy Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Some clothes get ripped off, while others get put back on in this deliciously overheated drama with a dangerous edge. A remake of Jacques Deray and Jean-Claude Carrière’s La Piscine (1969) which draws its title from David Hockney’s painting of the same era, A Bigger Splash transposes the original story from the French Riviera to Pantelleria, a volcanic, windswept Sicilian island that heaves with the same violence as the character’s emotions. Luca Guadagnino sharply contrasts the cocooned oasis of these privileged tourists with the everyday lives of the local islanders and the illegal African immigrants looking for shelter. As with Guadagnino and Swinton’s previous collaboration I am Love, the film cleaves the surfaces of a rarefied lifestyle. Here though, emotions are luxuriously untethered and celebrity wins out over morality and the law.


Director: Todd Haynes
Cinema at its most intoxicating and immaculate, Todd Haynes’ Carol is a deeply romantic, emotionally honest love story about two women who courageously defy the suffocating conformities of mid-century America. Therese (Rooney Mara) is an aspiring photographer, working in a Manhattan department store where she first encounters Carol (Cate Blanchett), an alluring older woman whose marriage is breaking down. Ambushed by their sudden attraction, the two women gravitate toward each other despite the threat their connection poses to both Therese’s relationship with her steady beau and Carol’s custody of her beloved young daughter. Blanchett is magnificent as Carol, whose elegant poise thinly veils her crumbling interior world, whilst Mara is mesmerising as the ingénue whose capacity for love awakens a newfound fearlessness. Phyllis Nagy’s (Mrs. Harris) adaptation deftly retains the rich interiors and exquisite tension of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking novel The Price of Salt, written and published in 1952 at a time when its subject was considered scandalous. Haynes has created a shimmering companion work to both his lush Technicolor melodrama Far From Heaven and the shadowy domestic noir Mildred Pierce, adopting a starkly different, more naturalistic prism through which to examine the contradictory optimism and paranoia of post-war America and its oppressive social mores. Whilst never abandoning its characters and their story, the film also consistently reveals the power of the image itself – Therese’s interest in photography, a glimpse of Sunset Boulevard, and Haynes’ brilliant use of the gaze in the film’s final moments. 

Cemetery of Splendour
Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul  
The hypnotic filmmaking of Apichatpong Weerasethakul – whose Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival in 2010 – is infused with a dreamy tropical heat that frequently plays havoc with narrative, reality and his characters. In his latest beguiling creation, a group of soldiers have succumbed to a mysterious sleeping sickness. They are transferred to a temporary clinic in a former school (not unlike the regional hospital setting of Syndromes and a Century), where friendly local volunteer Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas Widner) tends to Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), a handsome soldier who receives no visitors. Hovering by the bedside of the other men is a young medium Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), who uses her considerable psychic power to help visiting family and friends communicate with their comatose loved ones (though she cannot guarantee they will always hear what they want). As events quietly unfold, Jenjira begins to suspect that the soldiers’ enigmatic syndrome links them to an ancient burial ground that lies beneath the clinic. Rippling with sly humour and emanating a profound sense of magic, the film conjures – rather than implies – the political uncertainty of contemporary Thailand. Weerasethakul’s coded lament for his homeland is as joyful as it is melancholy.

Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Six men on a boat. A late-night game turns sour as the winner gloats. A bitter loser chides him, ‘You may be the best at that one thing, but that doesn’t mean you’re the best in general.’ So who is the best in general? This is the question the men set themselves to answering, developing a series of tests to judge each other and applying the random criteria as they see fit. Who has the best posture while sleeping? The largest erection in the morning? The coolest jet-ski style? The competition becomes addictive, pushing the men further in conforming to chimeric ideals of taste, sexuality, class and personal achievement. Yet in these cries for external validation, each man’s flaws are writ large and the interpersonal relationships within the group warp into strange formations. For her highly-anticipated follow-up to Attenberg, Athina Rachel Tsangari conducts a thorough dissection of the male ego. Shot in a palette of greys, the film has an absurd style that gets under your skin even as you’re laughing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself suddenly thinking about Chevalier at random moments over the hours, days and years to come.

Director: Lucile Hadžihalilović
In the long-awaited second feature by Lucile Hadžihalilović, 10-year-old Nicolas lives on a remote island, inhabited solely by women and young boys. He spends his days exploring the sea and the rocky shore, and playing with the other lads from the island. But after making an eerie discovery that no-one else will believe, Nicolas is due to keep an appointment at the island’s hospital, where he will confront the mysteries of his origins and his destiny. In her remarkable 2004 debut Innocence, set in a girls’ school, Hadžihalilović told a female coming-of-age story; Evolution offers a male variant, but it also sees this visionary writer-director exploring some unsettling new areas. Beyond easy categorisation, Evolution is at once a boy’s own detective story; an elegantly eerie horror movie with undertones of Cronenberg and H P Lovecraft; and a deeply poetic essay in modern neo-surrealism, with leitmotifs of landscape, the sea and subaquatic life. With Manu Dacosse’s photography cloaking the enigmatic events in intense, discomforting atmosphere, Evolution is one of those rare films that create an entire world following only its own logic. The result is a crafted work of dark beauty, from one of contemporary cinema’s most inspired dreamers.

The Forbidden Room
Director: Guy Maddin
Gleeful, hypnotic and totally deranged, Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg, The Saddest Music in the World) and co-director Evan Johnson’s phantasmagoric opus screens supersize (a world first!) as our Experimenta Special Presentation at BFI IMAX. Opening with an absurd 1960s-era instructional from a pot-bellied letch on how to take a bath; rapidly segueing to a Canadian lumberjack on a mission to rescue a damsel with amnesia being held captive by cave dwelling wolf-men; and at some later point cutting to Udo Kier being lobotomised to curb his penchant for pinching derrieres; this whacked-out medley of weird tableaus travels deep under the ocean, high into the sky and far into the darkest regions of the psyche. The Forbidden Room evolved from the interactive Seances project, with Maddin as the director/medium channeling the spirits of silent films, lost to the archives, through improvised live ‘happenings’. They took place in temporary sets at Montreal’s Phi Center and The Pompidou Centre in Paris, and featured participants such as Geraldine Chaplin, Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling and Ariane Labed. Taking ‘really hideous, raw video’ and reworking all the palettes and colour-timing on over 4,000 hours of rushes, then experimenting with super-imposition and adding luridly entertaining inter-titles, The Forbidden Room is epic both as a formal filmmaking feat and a deliriously heightened cinephilic pleasure.
Buy tickets here.


Director: Alexander Sokurov
At a moment when Europe is taking a long hard look at itself, this art-historical tour-de-force from Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark, Faust) could not feel more relevant. While many films about life under occupation focus on resistance movements, we are in much more complex territory with this exploration of the occasionally ugly choices that were made in the name of great art. Francofonia considers how French society and their occupying Nazi forces viewed culture – and thus themselves – during the Second World War. Mixing re-enactment and archive footage, Sokurov builds his narrative around the Musée du Louvre, focusing on the relationship between Jacques Jaujard, Director of the French National Museums, and Count Wolff Metternich, who is sent from Germany to oversee France’s art collection. An insightful, poetic and pointed vision of how liberty, equality and fraternity operates under occupation.

I am Belfast
Director: Mark Cousins
Festival favourite Mark Cousins (6 Desires: DH Lawrence and Sardinia, LFF2014; Here Be Dragons, LFF2013) returns with this metaphorical essay film about Belfast. The city is a 10,000-year-old lady who takes you on an emotional journey through the rich, complex and often tragic history of the place. Cousins’ talent at finding beauty in the mundane and composing painterly pictures of what lies before his eyes are skilfully interspersed with film clips and archive footage. The powerfully evocative soundtrack by great Belfast DJ and film composer David Holmes (Ocean’s Eleven, Hunger, ‘71) mixed with Cousins’ poetical narration give the film its dreamlike quality. From wandering through the streets, meeting jaunty pensioners Rosie and Maud, to the horrors of the Troubles, I Am Belfast is an impassioned, politically engaged and inventive love letter from Cousins to his hometown. And the striking cinematography by Christopher Doyle is the cherry on the cake

Jia Zhang-ke, a Guy from Fenyang 
Director: Walter Salles
Walter Salles’ exemplary documentary about the illustrious Chinese filmmaker (see Jia’s Mountains May Depart, and a Screen Talk with the two filmmakers) succeeds both as an affectionate, respectful but never overly reverential tribute from one artist to another and as a revealing look at the relationship between Jia’s life and work. Accompanying his subject to locations around the city he grew up in (many of them familiar from Jia’s films), Salles gets him to speak openly about a range of subjects; further fascinating insights, meanwhile, are provided by family, friends and collaborators, including Jia’s wife, actress and muse Zhao Tao. Evocatively juxtaposing the interviews with generous, judiciously selected clips from Jia’s movies (which deftly underscores their concern with the everyday effects of social, political and economic change on ordinary people), Salles has created a vivid, beautifully rounded portrait which is at once highly illuminating and, when Jia finally discusses his father, deeply moving.

Mountains May Depart

Director: Jia Zhang-ke
Jia Zhangke delivers a picture every bit as ambitious, astute and humane as his previous films, covering three time periods in the life of a group of friends who become family. We open on the eve of the new Millennium and Chinese capitalism is burgeoning. Tao must choose a suitor between flashy Zhang, with his fancy motor and stoic worker Liangzi. The film then jumps forward, catching up with the characters 15 and 25 years later. As always, Jia is perceptive and analytical about how societal and economic forces affect lives and values, but the film avoids any schematic contrivance. From its audacious opening dance sequence to The Pet Shop Boys’ Go West, to an imagined Australia in 2025 (the section marks Jia’s first foray into English language), Mountains May Depart presents a sympathetic portrait of its characters. This is humanist cinema with a powerful political core.
Buy tickets here.

NOTFILM: A Kino-essay by Ross Lipman
Director: Ross Lipman
Was Buster Keaton Samuel Beckett’s doppelgänger? In this extensive kino-essay, Ross Lipman explores the literary, cinematic and personal history surrounding the production of Beckett’s only screenplay for cinema, the Buster Keaton starrer FILM (1965). Beckett himself considered the formal experiment of FILM a failure, while Keaton was mystified by the whole project. Lipman, by contrast, remains fascinated by it. Drawing upon his experience as a former Senior Film Restorationist at UCLA Film & Television Archive, Lipman ensures that NOTFILM is full of material that will excite even the most casual cinephile. His energetic, associative editing gives us clips from the work of Buñuel, Vertov, Vigo, Eisenstein and so many more as he explores Beckett’s ideas and their genesis. Including interviews with Haskell Wexler and Beckett’s friend Barney Rosset, a film producer and fearless publisher, this is clearly a passion project for Lipman and has been researched with curiosity and vigour.

The Pearl Button
Director: Patricio Guzmán
Whereas in Nostalgia for the Light Patricio Guzmán used the stars and the sands of the Atacama Desert as both starting point and leitmotif for his illuminating meditation on Chilean history, his likewise lyrical new film – clearly a sequel yet wholly comprehensible in itself – begins with water. Exploring the country’s long indented coastline – with Katell Djian’s gliding camera making the most of massive mountains, volcanoes and glaciers – Guzmán investigates the fate of Patagonia’s indigenous tribes: nomadic boatpeople who are now, thanks in no small degree to the arrival of European colonisers, extinct save for a few survivors. (The title alludes in part to one ‘Jeremy Button’, who in the 1830s was brought, disastrously, to Britain to be ‘civilised’.) Like its predecessor, the film proceeds to consider more recent disappearances – of those tortured, killed and dumped in the ocean by Pinochet’s regime. Curiosity, compassion and righteous disgust meet to powerful effect.
Queen of Earth
Director: Alex Ross Perry
What’s not to love about a film that cites Woody Allen’s Interiors and Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant as influences? Especially when it’s as deliciously put together as Queen of Earth, Alex Ross Perry’s follow up to last year’s brilliant and witheringly acerbic Listen Up Phillip. A devilish study of mental breakdown and dysfunctional power dynamics between female best friends – Elisabeth Moss’s Catherine and Katherine Waterston’s Ginny – who come together immediately following Catherine’s father’s suicide and her being unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend, James. From the opening shot (with no reverse shot) of Catherine in hysterics as she pleads with James to reconsider, it’s clear this is dynamic filmmaking of the highest order, relying on superlative performances and Perry’s characteristically dark wit. And nothing show’s the filmmaker’s dominance over the medium more than a breathtaking 9-minute pan, as power shifts from one woman to the other.
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Rattle the Cage

Director: Majid Al-Ansari

Emirati filmmaker Majid Al Ansari makes a spectacular directing debut with the restlessly inventive Rattle the Cage. A taut, stylishly-executed thriller that confines its lead character to a jail cell, the film comes up with an endless stream of cinematic techniques to play with the limited space, throwing in restless camera angles and a refreshingly badass attitude that sees proceedings race along at breakneck speed. Talal (Saleh Bakri) wakes up in jail, bruised and bloodied, and with no ID. As he waits, helplessly, for his situation to be resolved, he finally realises that he is nothing more than a pawn in an increasingly bloody game overseen by the mysterious and coldly ruthless Dabaan (Ali Suliman). Al Ansari displays a deftness of both touch and tone with this devilishly refreshing ‘Eastern’, which takes delight in defying our expectations of what constitutes a film from the Gulf.

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Red Leaves
Director: Bazzi Gete
This marvellous first feature by Tel Aviv-based Ethiopian director Bazzi Gete tells the story of Meseganio, an immigrant who has been living in Israel for almost 30 years. After the death of his wife, he announces to his family that he will be selling his house and living with them. A stubborn patriarch, Meseganio is used to having everything done his way, so he is angry and hurt when his hard-line traditional values are challenged. He clashes with his daughter-in-law when she stands up to him and is shocked that his teenage granddaughter has a non-Ethiopian boyfriend. What makes this portrait of a man out of time with the world so compelling is Debebe Eshetu’s central performance. Scrupulously watched by Eddan Sasson’s camera – often in extreme close up to capture his anguish and outrage – Eshetu perfectly captures Meseganio’s inability to understand his children or exercise any power over them.

Directors: Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman
This incisive documentary chronicles the life of the internationally acclaimed filmmaker, considered by many to be the father of African cinema. Ousmane Sembène was a self-taught novelist and filmmaker. His ambition was to make films that would reach a vast African audience, from the illiterate to the educated. He dropped out from school when he was in the fifth grade and left Senegal, embarking on a journey that took him to Marseille where he worked as a docker. It was following an accident and the subsequent months lain in bed that Sembène began writing. From there he attended the Gorky Film Institute in Moscow and shortly after directed his first short film. Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s film details Semebène’s transformation into a world class filmmaker, through personal recollection, archive footage and the magnificent films he made. It is a fitting tribute to one of cinema’s great pioneers and storytellers.
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Son of Saul
Director: László Nemes
László Nemes’ brilliant debut feature is propelled by the same harrowing intensity as its central character, a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau who is forced to assist in the grisly day-to-day management of the exterminations. When Saul recognises a boy who miraculously, but only fleetingly, survives the gas chamber, he decides to give him a proper burial. However, his search for a Rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish places both his own life and the escape plan hatched by his fellow inmates in jeopardy. From its blurred opening shot, with Saul only coming into focus when he is inches away from the camera, Nemes eschews any grand overview of the Final Solution in favour of a penetrating, subjective portrait of one man’s experience. As Saul travels through every part of the camp on the search, the atrocities are heard off camera, or glimpsed beyond the focus of Saul’s immediate vicinity, consistently reinforcing the horror and barbarity. Poet Géza Röhrig’s mesmerising debut performance is all the more extraordinary because the situation requires that he remain expressionless while the camera stays on him for almost the entire film. Son of a filmmaker and for a time, assistant to Bela Tarr, Nemes urgently declares himself a major new directorial talent. Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sunset Song
Director: Terence Davies
Last seen closing the LFF in 2011 with The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies returns to the Festival with this exquisite treatment of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel, which gives him a broad canvas of rain-lashed farmland on which to apply his knack for literary adaptation. It’s the early 20th-century in rural Scotland and Chris Guthrie is a young woman with plans. Excelling at her schooling and in possession of a burgeoning independent streak, she seems destined for a job in teaching. But family life has its own pull and her religious father exerts a formidable force on his brood, as well as on her mother whose body he treats as both refuge and battleground. As the constellation of her family shifts around her and romance comes calling, Chris grows into womanhood just as the First World War begins to devastate a generation. Agyness Deyn builds upon her starring role in last year’s Electricity with a spirited performance that expresses Chris’ joys as a light from within, while Peter Mullan brings gnarly authenticity to the zealous patriarch. A true Scottish epic, Sunset Song laments the devastation of war and pays fine tribute to the endurance of the land.

Sworn Virgin

Director: Laura Bispuri
This is a delicately observed, beautifully realised and uniquely distinctive first feature by Laura Bispuri. In a remote Albanian mountain community, women’s lives are rigidly defined by arranged marriages. The only possibility of escape from this tradition is to become a sworn virgin and live as man. This is the fate chosen by Hana, or Mark as she becomes known. However, after ten years in this role a trip to Italy offers a new chance, opening up the tantalising, hopeful, but also terrifying possibility of a new life. Alba Rohrwacher (The Wonders, Hungry Hearts, both LFF2014) is remarkable as Hana/Mark, her performance subtly and sensitively conveying the troubled nature of her existence and the sense of excitement brimming with the thought of a new lease of life. Bispuri’s film captures the pastoral beauty of the land whilst conveying the angst of its protagonist.
Director: Sean Baker
Fizzing and popping with the energy of as-it-happened classics like Before Sunset and Do the Right Thing, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a tale of two transgender working girls on Santa Monica Boulevard, could prove the sleeper hit of the year. On Christmas Eve, released from a brief stint in jail, Sin-Dee Rella meets her best friend Alexandra who reveals that her beau, Chester, has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’ (a Caucasian female-born woman). The news propels the mercurial Sin-Dee to find Chester’s new girl and teach her a lesson. Remarkably, considering the richness of the bold, saturated colour and widescreen photography, Baker and his co-cinematographer, Radium Cheung filmed this on iPhone 5s, grabbing most scenes with just two cameras and dolly shots filmed from cycles. The result is a film of urgency and veracity, with charming performances from transgender non-actors Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. From donut shop to Hollywood dive bar, the comedy of hair pulling and bitch slapping gives way to something altogether more tender and unexpected: a film about female friendship and solidarity.

Taxi Tehran
Director: Jafar Panahi
Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale, Panahi’s latest is perhaps his most playful film yet. Riffing on the narrative structure pioneered in Kiarostami’s 10, it’s mostly set and entirely shot from inside a car: a taxi of sorts, with Panahi playing himself as an affable amateur cabbie. After giving rides around Tehran to a motley array of passengers – from a rabid reactionary and a liberal teacher to a man selling pirate DVDs and women heading to a shrine – he finally collects his niece, a sassy youngster making a little movie herself for school. Cue a discussion of how film should represent reality (or not!): a subject clearly close to Panahi’s heart, given his standing with the Iranian authorities. Despite its concern with ethics, aesthetics and politics, the film oozes disarming charm and mischievous wit, slyly reminding us that cinema, for better or worse, always trades in illusion.


Director: Sebastian Schipper
There are few films quite like Victoria, an exhilarating one-shot sensation whose Birdman-beating logistical virtuosity is a mere fraction of its appeal. It’s akin to being dragged by your lapels through after-hours Berlin, getting high, watching two people tumble helplessly in love, and then being effectively kidnapped and forced to collaborate in a bank robbery. Sebastian Schipper and his crew find a breathtaking way to keep this all of a piece: they don’t cut, not even once, for the film’s duration. From drug-fuelled raves to rooftop reveries, bullet-strewn set pieces, and clammy getaways as dawn looms, Victoria is an urban fairground ride full of visceral kickback. It leaves you clinging on for dear life as surely as the cast are, trying to guess from these heroic performances just how much of the exhaustion, euphoria, sweat and tears is entirely for real.

Wednesday 4.45
Director: Alexis Alexiou
The ‘weird wave’ of Greek cinema may have made more of a splash, but the country’s financial crisis has resulted in a thriller subgenre all of its own. Alexis Alexiou’s second feature stars Stelios Mainas as Stelios, owner of a jazz club in Athens. One night, his failing business is visited by Vassos, an old friend. Stelios is taken to meet Vassos’ boss, a Romanian gangster who has been loaning Stelios money for the best part of a decade. He demands to be paid in full within the next two days or threatens to take over the bar. From there, Alexiou’s neon-hued drama fires into motion, generating suspense not just from brilliantly drawn characters and plot, but also its nerve-jangling sound design and a score that blends cool jazz with pulsing techno. As the action races towards a bloody showdown, Stelios struggles to ensure that he has the wits to survive it.

[Images and synopsis via BFI]

Happy 70th Birthday to Bryan Ferry

Celebrating Bryan Ferry's birthday by listening to my favourite Roxy Music song.



NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center - Performances in October 2015 

Last month's inaugural season of performing arts at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center started off with a bang with sold out tickets to the two performances. For October, the line up includes something for all ages.


Polyglot Theater
8th-11th October and 15th-17th October 2015 
Venue: East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi

A giant public construction site, We Built This City uses thousands and thousands of cardboard boxes and the energy of kids and families to build a magnificent imagined city. Buildings go up, are pulled down, redesigned, extended, walked through and reconstructed before the whole thing is knocked down into a gloriously chaotic heap of cardboard rubble. It simultaneously places children in the role of performer, creator, audience and architect. It is not a play… it is play. 

Underscored by a rocking soundtrack from an on-site DJ, the participants are guided by performers who play construction workers, facilitating free play, performing as hilarious characters and setting tasks which bring people together in unity. With a building-stomping finale, kids of all ages are in for a memorable day.


Note: These are not “performances” with a beginning, middle, and end. Each session lasts up to 2 hours, and audiences can come for as long or short as they wish, within that period (think of it like going to the playground). Detailed timings for each date can be found here.


Ragmala Dance - They Rose at Dawn
When: 14th and 15th October 2015 at 8pm 
Venue: Black Box, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi

In They Rose at Dawn, Ramaswamy, the co-artistic director of Ragamala Dance, examines and celebrates how we as humans endure and thrive through our transmission of wisdom from one generation to the next. As a lone dancer on stage accompanied only by a stellar Carnatic musical ensemble, Ramaswamy, whose work has been described as “thrillingly three-dimensional” by The New York Times, creates a beautiful and powerful meditation on the feminine through the dynamic interplay between movement and music.

Navigating inner and outer worlds, women are the primordial source of all creation: the compassionate mother; the lover; and the embodiment of power and strength. For Ramaswamy, these intergenerational conversations provide a forum to create intricate and complex worlds that convey a sense of reverence, of unfolding mystery, and of imagination. Bridging ancestry and the personal, lineage and a new breath,They Rose at Dawn reflects the intertwined truths of history and the present moment that exist within all of us.


The Nile Project 
When: Thursday, 29th October 2015 at 8pm
Venue: East Plaza, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi 

Resonant harps and lyres from up and down the river have learned new musical modes, while buzzing timbres and ingenious polyrhythms support vocals in more than ten languages. Instruments that parted ways millennia before are reunited and pushed into new places. Love songs have crossed geographic and linguistic barriers to forge new, close friendships. 

A powerful pan-Nile percussion section drives this orchestra of Ethiopian masenko (single-stringed bowed lute) and saxophone; Egyptian ney (end-blown flute), oud (pear-shaped, lute-like stringed instrument), violin, simsimiyya (plucked lyre), and tanbura (long-necked stringed instrument); and Ugandan adungu (arched harp), bass guitar; and vocalists singing in almost a dozen languages. NPR named Aswan, the project’s debut album, one of the “Five Must-Hear International Albums” of the year. The project inspires, educates, and empowers Nile citizens to work together to boost the sustainability of their ecosystem, and it unites musicians to learn from one another and translate their common experience into music composed collectively.