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Tea with Culture

Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


The Best of Cinema 2016 by The Moviejerk


Looks like it's turning into a tradition where I share with you The Moviejerk's annual Best of Cinema video. This is the third time (click here for 2014 and 2015 ).  

It's the final week of the year and the time of the year where favourite lists and highlights will be shared. I will be sharing my arts, culture and film lists soon. 

For now, enjoy this supercut and in the words of The Moviejerk, "let’s celebrate the cinematic moments of 2016 that remind us what it means to be human". 

Thank goodness for films.

I don’t know about you but cinema got me through the worst of times, and this year proved no exception. When everything felt dim and barren, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann single-handedly lifted me out of a hellhole and reminded me the very importance of humour in our lives.It made me want to fight the robotic mode of capitalism with laughter and silliness and levity.

Then there’s Paul Verhoeven’s bolshy Elle, which is a bold reminder that we can all find empowerment in nonconformism. Additionally, there’s also Almodovar’s majestic Julieta, a film that believes healing and repair through facing our memories and embracing our past, and also Hansen-Løve’s wise Things To Come, which teaches us how to find happiness in the little things, even if life around slowly crumbles apart.   (via The Moviejerk)


RIP George Michael

Before going to bed last night, the world found out the devastating news that George Michael passed away. He was 53. I was expecting we will be reading news about a few more celebrity deaths before the year ends, but I wasn't expecting to George Michael would be one of them. 

I have been listening to George Michael since 1983 when he started with Wham!. Many school days were spent with my friend Andrea who is the BIGGEST Wham!/George Michael fan I know. We ogled over Wham! in teen magazines, watched them on bootleg recordings of Top of the Pops, exchanged Wham! goodies and ALWAYS enjoying their music.

His music and videos after Wham! evovled reflecting the man who followed his music path and wasn't apologetic about it. Been listening to his music all day today and I've made this playlist to share it here with you. It includes old and new, young and old, long and short hair, straight, bi and gay George Michael. Join me and sing your heart out to the ballads and dance like nobody is watching to his dancier songs. 



RIP George Michael 25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016.  Gone too soon.


Links since his death, will keep adding if I find more: 


Exhibitions - Sharjah Art Foundation - Winter 2016/2017

Sun Lady, circa 1975. Studio Mwahib, El Obeid. © Fouad Hamza Tibin / Elnour

Last week I paid a visit to Sharjah to catch up on a series of exhibitions organised by Sharjah Art Foundation that opened in October/November. It's an impressive season of exhibitions and if you've not been, I urge you to dedicate an afternoon/evening to see some very good, thoughtful and even rare works. 

I recorded an episode for the Tea with Culture podcast where Wael Hattar and I discuss the exhibitions we visited. You can listen to it by pressing play below (you can also download the episode and listen to it later). I've listed the exhibitions we discuss below, including location and dates, and added some additional thoughts for March Projects, Khartoum School and Yayoui Kusama.  




Robert Breer: Time Flies 
Venue: Flying Saucer 
Date: Until 9th January 2017  

Robert Breer, 1970, Four motorized sculptures, plastic, metal, paint and motors dimensions variable. 

Robert Breer, 1970, Motorised sculptures Resin, wood and motor 183 x180 cm

Best known for his films and experimental animations, Robert Breer began his career as a painter and was one of the early members of the postwar Parisian school of abstraction, using Piet Mondrian’s vision of an ideal pure form of abstract art with strict rules of composition as well as Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism, an austere and geometric concrete art.

In the early 1950s Breer shifted this interest in geometric abstraction into film and created his first group of films Form Phases (1954-1956), which explore movement, composition and space, almost animating his paintings and creating complex forms. These experimental films used a range of techniques from animating geometric shapes and drawings, to using collage and film clippings.  

This exhibition reveals Breer’s playfulness through a wide range of media, humour also translates into his kinetic sculptures and studies, for example a sketch for a moving conference building or a town where everything moves around you. The various objects move very slowly and subtly so that when you look back nothing is where it started. Using satire and metamechanics as did Jean Tinguley with his Dada kinetic sculptures, Breer created different amusing objects that move around you, like a wall, a 'porcupine' or a 'rug'. 



March Project 2016
Venue: Various SAF spaces
Date: Until 
19th January 2017 

Ammar Al Attar - Khorfakan Cinema | © Hind Mezaina Reem Falaknaz | © Hind Mezaina

Bassem Yousri | © Hind Mezaina

March Project 2016 exhibition features site specific works developed by five artists during this annual education residency programme. The works realised draw upon the history and social fabric of Sharjah, as well as the daily lives of its residents and their relationship to art, institutions, space and architecture. Participants in this programme include Noor AbedAmmar Al AttarVikram DivechaReem Falaknaz and Bassem Yousri who were selected from various countries including Egypt, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates.  

This is the third edition of March Projects and it includes video works, photography, sculpture and installations. The works are exhibited in various spaces, which for me were hard to find as there was no printed guide/map about March Projects when I visited. Eventually I found out the works are spread across SAF Art Spaces, Dar Al Nadwa and Ceramics House in Calligraphy Square, and the Arts Area.

I was only able to see works by Bassem Yousri, Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz. Both Ammar Al Attar and Reem Falaknaz are artists I've known for a few years and have been following their development for a while. Al Attar's exhibition space included objects he found from the now defunct Khorfakkan Cinema. Unfotunately, it didn't go beyond showcasing what he collected, of which most looked like they were dumped in boxes. I was hoping to see a deeper engagement with what was found, of the cinema space and the community that was engaged with this cinema. I recalled the exhibition Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada at Walker Art Center which I unfortunately never visited, but have read about. An exhibition that also included objects from the cinema, but also addressed social and political elements that impacted the community and city. 

Reem Falaknaz's work, a video installation of interviews with Syrians living in Sharjah who work/run their own businesses, contemplating on being away from Syria and creating a new life in Sharjah. I was curious to know what makes this an art piece versus short documentaries in the artists's mind. Something I hope I get a chance to discuss with Reem soon.


A Retrospective (1965–Present): Brevity is the Soul of Wit
Venue: Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area, Al Shuweiheen   
Until: 12th January 2017   

Amir Nour - Grazing at Shendi, 1969 - Steel (202pieces) 305 x 406 cmAmir Nour - Balance, 2016 - Fibre glass and wood 436 x 244 x 231 cm

This retrospective exhibition, which covers the fifty-year career span of the American-based Sudanese artist Amir Nour, presents drawings, photographs, sculptures and new commissions drawn from images of the domes, arches, calabashes and sand hills of his native Sudan.

Nour’s works combine traditional African imagery with the visual vocabulary and materials of Western minimalism.  



Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq: Women in Crystal Cubes
Venue: Building J, SAF Art Spaces   
Date: Until 12th January 2017  

Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq - Installation view

This solo exhibition presents works by Sudanese artist Kamala Ibrahim Ishaq. Kamala is one of the leading influential artists and pioneering modernist painters in Sudan. Her work challenges the traditional male perspective of art in Sudan, depicting scenes of women’s lives in colours of sun, sand and sky. The exhibition includes variety of paintings including early works and new works commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation.   


The Khartoum School: The Making of the Modern Art Movement in Sudan (1945 – present)  
Venue: Building G, H and P, SAF Art Spaces   
Date: Until 12th January 2017 


Coined in the early 1960s, the ‘Khartoum School’ is a much contested term; many founders disavowed it, and others rebelled against it, even though they were stylistically and aesthetically connected with it as a movement. This exhibition uses the all- encompassing term to signify the dynamic, multi-faceted and fluid movement that influenced the development of modernism, not just in Sudan, but also more broadly in Africa and the entire Arab world.


This fascinating exhibition covers an important artist and historical movement in Sudan. Sadly there is no catalogue for this exhibition, but I found the list of artists from the press release (included below) . If you are in the UAE, I strongly suggest you don't miss this. One of the strongest and important exhibitions this year.  The exhibition features works by a long list of artists, includes paintings, drawings, with pottery, ceramics, sculpture, photography, film, video and performances,  plus never-before-shown archival material. It highlights the breadth of modernism in Sudan, the diverse styles, genres, sub-movements and groups. 

It traces the early generation of artists of the modernist movement in Sudan, such as Osman Waqialla, Ibrahim El Salahi, Bastawi Baghdadi, Ahmed Shibrain, Abdelrazig Abdelghaffar, Mohammad Omer Khalil, Taglesir Ahmed, Shaigi Rahim, Siddig El Nigoumi, Magdoub Rabbah, Hussein Shariffe, Ahmed Hamid Al Arabi and Griselda Eltayeb. The works of these pioneers merged Western modernist conventions of form and style with their own visual vocabulary, subject matter and Sudanese aesthetics. Works by relatively younger artists whose careers overlapped with the early pioneers, such as Salih Mashamoun, are also presented. These revolutionaries fashioned an aesthetic and identity that was distinctly ‘Sudanese’, but also transcended its national boundaries to include continental African and Islamic motifs and elements.

This exhibition also presents the work of the Crystalist Group, Madrasat Al Wahid [School of the One] and artist-critics such as Hassan Musa and Abdalla Bola, who have enriched the art scene through their art practice as well as their critical interventions and writings since the early 1970s. These three major artist groups sought to distance themselves from the ideology and visual vocabulary of the earlier generation of the Khartoum School. In highlighting these groups and artists, the exhibition demonstrates that the intellectual and conceptual practices of Sudanese artists are inseparable from global conceptualism as a movement.

The solidification of British colonial rule in Sudan was supported by amateur photographs taken by British soldiers, merchants and travellers as early as 1899. This exhibition demonstrates how film, the press and other mass media have all been crucial to modernity since the advent of British colonial rule and through the postcolonial era. The exhibition highlights the work of two pioneer master-photographers, Rashid Mahdi and Gadalla Gubara, as well as other studio photographers, for example, Abbas Habib Alla, Mohamed Yahya Issa, Fouad Hamza Tibin, Osman Hamid Khalifa, Omar Addow, Richard Lokiden Wani and Joua, in the context of the historical linkages between photography, decolonisation and self-representation.

The exhibition features political cartoons by not only seasoned pioneers such as the late Izz El Din Osman and Hashim Carori but also the work of contemporary cartoonist Khalid Albaih, who has become well known for his biting humour and sharp commentary on issues ranging from human rights to migration and regional conflicts.

The exhibition also includes a selected number of works by individual Sudanese and Sudanese diaspora artists, such as the Sudan Film Factory, Sudanese Film Club and Black and White Group, who are all active in the contemporary art scene locally and internationally. 


Yayoi Kusama: Dot Obsessions 
Venue: Building I, SAF Art Spaces  
Date: Until 9th January 2017

Yayoi Kusama Dots Obsession, 2013/2016 Mixed media, dimensions variable




Since the age of ten, Yayoi Kusama obsessively experimented with dots and the repetition of forms—covering photographs and drawings to ‘obliterate’ the image. Referred to as Self-Obliterations, Kusama would continue to develop this body of work that now extends from her early drawings and collages to include performance and film.   

This exhibition includes small and large scale works. There's a selection of works on paper dating from 1950s and collage works from 1970s-80s that I was very drawn to.

Her collages were inspired by her close relationship with the artist Joseph Cornell who gave her a selection of collage materials before his death in 1972. "Cornell’s fascination with birds led to a series of aviary boxes that Kusama later references in her own works. Bird and other creatures are confined here in complexly patterned circles that appear almost like nuclei surrounded by auras and biomorphic fringes."   

There are also 12 paintings from an ongoing series titled My Eternal Soul that combine Kusama's obsessive patterns with bright colours. 

The Dots Obsession, a series of oversized inflatable polka-dotted balls surrounding a domed infinity room which you can walk into. By looking into one of the other oversized balls you are surrounded by an illusion of an infinity like mirror space with endless lines of dots, making you "a participant and ultimately a performer of Kusama's 'Dot Obsession'".  


Review - Dubai International Film Festival 2016 

© Hind Mezaina 

The 13th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival wrapped up on 14th December. The festival screened 156 films from 55 countries, of which I watched 20 features and 11 shorts (listed below). I shared daily reports which were mostly in the form of quick reviews recorded for the Tea with Culture podcast (all the episodes are added below), but here's an overall impression of this year's edition.   


Prepare Yourself
The theme this year was "Prepare Yourself" which just begged the question, prepare yourself for what? To watch films? I kept thinking of the early years of the festival which used "Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds." as its tagline and made me miss it. 

Opening and closing films
DIFF takes pride in supporting Arab films, but I noticed this year's edition was heavy with "Oscar contenders" (including La La Land, Loving, Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, plus opening and closing films, Miss Sloane and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) which appeared to get more promoted and attention (on social media, English language radio and press) compared to the lesser known titles, including Arab films. 

The festival hasn't opened with an Arab film since 2013 (Omar, Dir.  Hany Abu- Assad), and was hoping this would be the year. The decision to open with Miss Sloane left me wondering why. I found the answer in an interview in Variety with DIFF's Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali

Why did you pick “Miss Sloane” as the opening movie? 
It’s topical, it’s recent. It talks about what’s happening in the U.S. and how this can affect the world. Also the female character is very strong. All of these elements played into it. We have lots of female directors in the Arab world, maybe more than in the West. This year for the first time we have three films from Qatar by female filmmakers. We also have three from Saudi Arabia. I just came from a press conference [for Lebanese film “Solitaire”] where the only male on the panel was the moderator. So “Miss Sloane” connects with everything we are doing.

An opening film normally serves as a statement for the festival. Personally, I am not sure how a film about political lobbying about US gun laws is topical in our region. I would have thought the Egyptian film Mawlana / Preacher (Dir. Magdy Ahmed Ali) about religion, fundamentalist views, politics and hypocrisy would have been more topical for a film festival in the Arab region. Or Tramontane (Dir. Vatche Boulghourjian), a Lebanese film about war amnesia would have been more relevent to this region compared to Miss Sloane. Or Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim (Dir. Sherif El Bendary), an Egyptian a film about two male protaginists that feel like outsiders within their community, alienated, lost and vulnerable. And if DIFF wants to champion female directors, then why not open with a film directed by a female director? Some of the films directed by Arab and non-Arab female directors at DIFF included Solitaire (Sophie Boutros), Foreign Body (Raja Amari), Those Who Remain (Elaine Raheb), Honey, Dust and Rain (Nujoom Alghanim), Zaineb Hates the Snow (Kauther Ben Hania), Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt), Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell). 

As for the closing film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it was released in UAE cinemas a few hours afer the screening at DIFF which made me wonder, what was the point. To claim the Middle East premiere? 


UAE films
There were six full features and seven short films from the United Arab Emirates this year. The ones that stood out for me were Honey, Rain and Dust (Nujoom Alghanem) a documentary about beekepers in the Northern Emirates and Only Men go to the Grave (Abdulla Al Kaabi) which I talked about here and want to write about in the near future. The short film Shrimp (Yaser Alneyadi, Ali Bin Matar) was a film that felt absurd and surreal, a move away from the typical genres we see in UAE short films. 

I skipped The Worthy (Ali Mostafa) because it will be released in UAE cinemas in February, but the film was the only UAE film that was promoted heavily during the festival. It was even the cover story for December's issue of Empire Arabia (guest edited by the director himself). 


I attended a talk by Jeff Clarke, CEO of Kodak about the importance of film and how directors like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino are championing this medium. He also talked about Kodak's role in film education and supporting filmmakers. I asked how is Kodak working with cinemas to bring back film projections. In addition to supporting indie cinemas in NYC & London, Clarke said he would ike to see multiplexes to have at least one screen projecting on film - even in the UAE. Here's hoping this happens in the near future.   

I also attended the Arab Cinema Lab, a symposium that invited filmmakers, creative producers, funders, distributors and broadcasters, to showcase and discuss the production of Arab films, film funding, the role of film distributors and cinemas. It was an information gathering session for me, but sadly there were no Q&As which I felt was a missed opportunity to ask why Arab films released in the UAE hardly get promoted, something that I think distibutors, cinemas, media are all guilty of, and an issue I've noticed happening a lot tihs year. 

Phones in cinemas
I want to commend DIFF for having a warning appear on the screen before each film against photographing and filming during the screenings and to switch off your phone till the end of the movie. One of my issues from last year's edition was the amount of people who would just turn on their phones to read, type messages with a complete disregard to anyone sitting near of behind them. Even if the phone is silent, the damn light from the phone is the problem. There were of course people who still turned on their phones and I do wish the cinema has staff to police this a bit more. This year I decided to sit in the first row at many of the screenings I attended which helped filter out this issue. 


Films I watched 
I had already watched 14 of the films included in this year's DIFF line up other festivals/screenings (Certain WomenA Day for WomenThe Eagle HuntressHediHissein Habre-A Chadian TragedyHotel SalvationI, Daniel BlakeLayla M.Nocturnal AnimalsOne More Time with FeelingThe Red TurtleTramontaneVoyage of Tim,  Withered GreenYour Name).

The Cinema of the World section had the most films and was the most popular section at the festival. I do wish DIFF would consider in future editions a section dedicated to a film director, or a focus on films from a specific country. Maybe even screen them a few day leading up to the festival, something to feed the hunger of cinephiles in this city that don't get a chance to watch old films on the big screen. 

★★★★★ (Loved)
Sieranevada, Dir. Cristi Puiu) 
20th Century Women,  Dir. Mike Mills
Lady Macbeth, Dir. William Oldroyd 

★★★★ (Really Liked)
76 Minutes and 15 seconds with Abbas Kiarostami, Dir. Seifollah Samadian
The Challenge, Dir. Yuri Ancarani 
Off Frame aka Revolution Until Victory, Dir. Mohanad Yaqubi 

★★★ (Liked)
Ali, The Goat, And Ibrahim, Dir. Sherif El Bendary
After the Storm, Dir. Hirokazu Kore-Eda 
Afterimage, Dir. Andrzej Wajda 
The Cinema Travellers, Dir.  Shirley Abraham, Amit Madheshiya 
Gaza Surf Club, Dir. Philip Gnadt, Mickey Yamine 
Honey, Rain and Dust, Dir. Nujoom Alghanem 
The Man Who Saw Too Much, Dir. Trisha Ziff 
Manchester by the Sea, Dir. Kenneth Lonergan 
Only Men Go to the Grave, Dir. Abdulla Al Kaabi 
The Preacher, Dir. Magdy Ahmed Ali  
Zaineb Hates the Snow, Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania

★★ (Didn't Like)
La La Land, Dir. Damien Chazelle 
Like Crazy, Dir.  Paolo Virzì
I am Not Madame Bovary, Dir. Feng Xiaogang

Short Films
Animal, Dir. Nayla Al Khaja 
Arabian Swan, Dir. Fahad Aljoudi  
Areata, Dir. Ahmad Al Terkait 
The Choice, Dir. Eman Alsayed
Kashta, Dir. A.J. Al Thani
A Night in a Taxi, Dir. Aisha Alzaabi
The Republic of T.M., Dir. Masar Sohail 
Shrimp, Dir. Yaser Alneyadi
Waiting Room, Dir. Hend Fakhroo
Wake Me Up, Dir. Reem Al-Bayyat
Take Me Home, Dir. Abbas Kiarostami  

Here are all the podcast episodes recorded during DIFF: 



The Culturist turns 7

"Bathing beach, 1920." Seven lovelies at the Potomac bathing beach near the Tidal Basin. National Photo Company Collection glass negative.

I've been too sick because of my cold and too busy at the Dubai International Film Festival that I forgot my blog's birthday. 

The Culturist turned 7 years old on 9th December.

I don't have a speech prepared, but as always, thankful to everyone that keeps visiting and reading this blog. 



[image via Shorpy]


Days 4 - 7 at Dubai International Film Festival 2016

I've been suffering from a terrible cold for the past few days, hence the lack of updates here. I've been watching films whilst sniffling and sneezing with a box of tissues by my side. I apologies to anyone that sat close to me. 

Here's a recap from days the last four days of the festival. Will be sharing a wrap up post seperately soon.


Day 4  

In this episode, Wael Hattar and I discuss Manchester by the Sea, Withered Green, Zaineb Hates the Snow, King of the Belgians and The Cinema Travellers. We were also joined by Tom Cotty, a film blogger at who visited from London to attend the film festival. He shared his views on the Emirati films he's watched at DIFF.  



Day 5  

Wael Hattar and I discuss Wolf and Sheep, Nut$ and Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim; as well as the Virtual Reality segment of festival. 



Days 6 and 7  

Report from our last two days of the Dubai International Film Festival. We discuss Free Fire, Off Frame, Gaza Surf Club, White Sun, The Man Who Saw Too Much, Hedi, Zaineb Hates the Snow, Kiarostami double bill - Take Me Home and 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami, Hotel Salvation, Certain Women, The Distinguished Citizen, Your Name, plus a couple of short films - Submarine and Shrimp. We also highlight our stand out films from this festival. 




Day 3 at Dubai International Film Festival 2016

Only Men Go To The Grave

Here's our Tea with Culture podcast report from day 3 of the film festival. Wael Hattar and I discuss Foreign Body, Gaza Surf Club, Apprentice, The Preacher.

Additionally, Faisal Saleh from Where the Script At? podcast, aka @cinestrong on Twitter, joins me to to discuss La La Land and Only Men Go To The Grave. 

A special mention about Only Men Go To The Grave, a UAE/Iran production directed by Abdulla Al Kaabi (his first full feature film). The film synopsis from the DIFF website: 

 After the Iraq-Iran war ended in 1988, a blind mother welcomes her estranged daughters to tell them a secret. Unfortunately, she accidentally dies while sharing it. During the funeral, the daughters try to deal with their mother’s sudden death and also work together to unveil her secret by looking for clues from visitors. Throughout the funeral, their own lives continue to unravel, giving room for buried family tensions to gradually surface, while struggling to deal with their own secrets and deep-rooted guilt. The daughters start to question everything about their mother’s life after a peculiar encounter… 

It also came with this disclaimer on the website, "Contains: Adult References and Gay Theme". In a way, it felt like a spoiler, so I was already going in with some ideas about what this film is really about. I commend Al Kaabi for making a film addressing topics that are deemed taboo in this region. It is not a perfect film, but one that needs to be watched, and I do hope it gets a release in the UAE cinemas in 2017. I am still trying to formulate my thoughts about this film and hopefully will get a chance to interview the director and write about the film. For now, please do listen to thoughts about this film shared by Faisal and myself in this episode.  





Day 2 at Dubai International Film Festival 2016

Here's a report from my second day at the Dubai International Film Festival. This second episode recorded for the Tea with Culture podcast with Wael Hattar has us discussing After the Storm, I am Not Madame Bovary, Lady Macbeth, plus an interview with Abdallah Elchami from MAD Solutions

Like yesterday, I've also included highlights from Twitter too. 




Day 1 at Dubai International Film Festival 2016

Here's a report from my first day at the Dubai International Film Festival. I recorded an episode for the Tea with Culture podcast with Wael Hattar plus guest and film Twitter friend Barry Freed. We discussed the films we watched yesterday: Certain Women, Nerruda, Like Crazy, Sieranevada and Honey, Rain and Dust. 

I've also shared below Twitter moments with highlights from my first day. 



Preview: Dubai International Film Festival 2016

Here's the first of our daily reports for the Tea with Culture podcast. Wael Hattar and I will be sharing reviews and highlights of what we watched, and hopefully a few interviews too. 

We start off with a preview of the festival where we discuss the strong presence films about women in this year's edition, we also highlight some of our must fee films and take a look "DIFFerent Reality" a new section of the programme that will showcase an international selection of virtual reality films.  

Please follow, subscribe and listen to Tea with Culture on Soundcloud or on iTunes, and let us know what you think.   

Also, in case you missed it, here are my top picks for DIFF 2016 and gere are Wael's top picks