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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.


Ten Documentaries to See at Dubai International Film Festival 2017


There are approximately 20 documentaries in this year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival, categorised as "non-fiction" or "creative documentary".    

These are my top 10 picks and I've included a couple of lines for each one explaining why. Click on each title for more information, synopsis, schedule and ticket details.  


69 Minutes of 86 Days
Director: Egil Håskjold Larsen | PG | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 70 min

A story about the global refugee crisis, from the point of view of a small child, with the camera filming one metre above ground level, capturing the story from the point of view of a three year old child named Lean. 


Faces Places / Visages Villages
Director: Agnès Varda, JR | PG | French dialogue with English subtitles | 93 min

Agnès Varda. That is all. 

Last Men in Aleppo
Director: Feras Fayyad | 18+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 104 min   

I've been hearing great things about this film from Janrary after it won the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema – Documentary) at Sundance.  I don't suspect this will be an easy film to watch, but it is an important film to see. 


The Man Behind the Microphone
Director: Claire Belhassine | PG | Arabic, English and French dialogue with English subtitles | 98 min  

I am curious about this documentary about Hedi Jouini, dubbed the "Frank Sinatra of Tunisian music". 

Naila and the Uprising
Director: Julia Bacha | PG | Arabic, English, French and Hebrew dialogue with English subtitles | 76 min

About Naila Ayesh and her non-violent mobilization in Palestinian history - the First Intifada in the late 1980s.


Director: Rana Eid | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 69 min 

An ode to a city (Beirut), memories and loss. 

The Prince of Nothingwood
Director: Sonia Kronlund | 15+ | Dari and French dialogue with English subtitles | 85 min   

About Salim Shaheen, who has made over 100 films in Afghanistan. One for cinephiles. 

Sharp Tools / Alaat Haddah
Director: Nujoom Alghanem | PG |  Arabic and English dialogue with English subtitles | 84 min  

A personal portrait of renowned UAE contemporary artist Hassan Sharif who passed away last year (and there's currently a retrosptective exhibition of his work at Sharjah Art Foundation). He wasn't just an artist, but a writer and critic, he created provocative and conceptual work since the 1970s that was ahead of its time here in the UAE.  

Stories of Passers By
Director: Koutaiba Al-Janabi  | PG | Arabic and Hungarian dialogue with English subtitles | 67 min 

Memories, stories and experiences of thousands of Iraqis who have filled the corners of the earth over the past 40 years.

Taste of Cement
Director: Ziad Khalthoum | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 85 mins   

Another documentary set in Beirut, but this one is about Syrian construction workers are building skyscrapers, while their own homes in their homeland are being shelled. A look at their restricted and deprived lives as refugees.


Three Classic Films at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

The Dubai International Film Festival does not have a dedicated classic section, but it is screening three classic films, two of which have been recently restored films. 

Over the past few years, the classic films have been screened at outdoor, part of the family friendly screenings at The Beach. But I am glad one of the three films this year will be screened at a cinema. Let's just hope enough people turn up for it so that DIFF can look at getting more classics screened in cinemas. 

Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack | 1933 | 100min
Screening on Tuesday, 12th December at 7.30pm at The Beach (free screening)
The restored version will be screened in Dubai. I am sure this will be lots of fun to watch on the big screen. 

Director: Georges Nasser | 1957 | 81min
Screening on Sunday, 10th December at 7.30pm at The Beach (free screening)  
Described as a "directorial masterpiece", this film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time in 1957 and the restored version was screened at Cannes this year marking its 60th anniversary. 

The Message / Al Risalah

Director: Moustapha Akkad | 1977 | 177min 
Screening on Wednesday, 13th December at 8pm at VOX Cinemas (Mall of the Emirates)

This was an incredibly difficult film to see when it came out and I recall watching a pirated VHS version when I was a kid. A controversial film which I don't think ever got screened in cinemas in this region, I am quite thrilled to know it is coming to DIFF. If you are not familiar with this film, read 40 Years On, A Controversial Film On Islam's Origins Is Now A Classic.  


Dubai International Film Festival 2017 - Notes from the Press Conference

The tag line for this year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival is "Film Will Find You" with a total of 140 films from 51 countries spanning feature, non-fiction and short films schedule to screen between 6th and 13th December 2017.

Despite the diverse line up, the press conference I attended just focused on the opening and closing films, gala screenings, the screenings at The Beach and "Oscar contenders". Over the past few years DIFF feels like it is mostly pandering to an audience that is only interested in "Hollywood' films, and I'm seeing less PR for the smaller films, including the Arab films. There was no mention of the films in competition in the Muhr awards which I found quite suprising. 

Whilst I understand this is mostly done for PR reasons and to attract crowds, but I do believe there is room to also give attention to the smaller films, especially films that will never get a theatrical release here.  It was truly ironic to hear Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the festival's Artistic Director describe DIFF as "international in spirit but Arab at heart".  

A few of the highlights announced at the festival:
- It's yet another year where thf festival chooses to open with a non-Arab film. This year will see Hostiles (dir. Scott Cooper, Black Mass, Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart), described as a "Western masterpiece" starring Christian Bale, and Rosamund Pike opening the festival on Wednesday, 6th December.

Set in 1892, it's about legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands.

Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains.

Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.   

- The film will close with Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Wednesday, 13th December (last year the festival closed with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - see the pattern here?). 

- The red carpet Gala screenings includes the following films: 


  • 7th December: On Chesil Beach, Orchestra Class 
  • 8th December: Ferdinand, The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country 
  • 9th December: Shock and AweJumanji: Welcome to the JungleThe Disaster Artist
  • 10th December: The Shape of Water
  • 11th December: Induced LabourThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 12th December: You Were Never Really Here, Downsizing

Out of these I am looking forward to The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country and the Disaster Artist. I strongly recommend you do not miss You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay, one of my favourite films from the London Film Festival last month. 

- The open air screenings at The Beach which are free to attend includes the following a mix of documentaries and feature films, including two classics:

  • 6th December: Beyond the Clouds
  • 7th December: Mountain 
  • 8th December: Grain of Sand (plus live music after the screening) 
  • 9th December:  The Man Behind the Microphone (plus live music after the screening)
  • 10th December: Where to? 
  • 11th December: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards 
  • 12th December:  King Kong
  • 13th December: The Bachelors 
At the conference they paused to mention they will screen the restored version of King Kong from 1933, but no acknowledgement to Where to? by Georges Nasser, a 60 year old film that screened for the first time in 1957 at the Cannes Film Festival. Another classic and epic film, The Message by Moustapha Akkad from 1976 will also be screening during the week of the festival at VOX Cinemas was also not acknowledged at the press conference.

A series of talks will be part of the schedule, inlcuding The Academy: Women at the Helm which includes Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, 1999), Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, 2012 and her latest, Mary Shelley, which is screening at DIFF), Niko Caro (Whale Rider, 2002), Dee Rees (Mudbound, 2017).

- There's a UK Spotlight at the DIFF, part of the UK/UAE 2017 Year of Culture . This will include a costume design masterclass presented by BAFTA and Swarovski with BAFTA and Academy Award-winning designer Alexandra Byrne, her filmography includes, Elizabeth (1998), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and most recently Murder on the Orient Express (2017). There will also be a special costume design exhibition between 6-13 December at the DIFF Headquarters in Madinat Jumeirah.

- The three DIFF Honorary Awards which will be presented on the opening night ceremony will go to the one and only Patrick Stewart, Egyptian writer Wahid Hamed and acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan


The complete line up can be found on DIFF's website. Tickets go on sale on Friday, 24th November. Here's a trailer showing all 140 films. Look out for my annual top picks of films to see at the festival, expect more than one list this year.


Film screenings: Hedi and Foreign Body at The Roxy Cinemas


The Roxy Cinemas will be screen two Tunisian films over the next couple of weeks. 

Hedi by Mohamed Ben Attia will be released on 23rd November and Foreign Body by Raja Amari will be released on 4th December.

Hedi has been to many international festivals winning several awards, most notably the Best First Feature Award, and its lead actor Majd Mastoura won the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlinale last year. It also won the Golden Athena Award for Best Picture at the Athens International Film Festival and Majd Mastoura also won the Best Actor Award at the Arab Cinema Center's Critics Awards this year.

Foreign Body made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and  has been selected at many international film festivals including the Berlinale.  

Both films were also screened at last year's Dubai International Film Festival and this is the first time we get Tunisian films released in UAE cinemas. The screenings will be at The Roxy Cinemas at City Walk and Box Park, in cooperation with MAD Solutions, the company that distributes both films in the Arab world. For Arabic speakers who don't understand the Tunisian dialect, you will be happy to knoe the film will be subtitled in Standard Arabic along with English subtitles.

I've only seen Hedi and recommend you go see it. I missed Foreign Body at DIFF, so I am looking forward to seeing it next week.

This is a great initiative, so please go watch these films so that we get more diverse films in our cinemas. 


Hedi / Inhebek Hedi   
Director:  Mohamed Ben Attia | 2016 | 18+ | Arabic dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 88min 

Hedi follows Hedi (Majd Mastoura), a young man of few words who doesn’t expect much from the future and lets others make his big decisions for him.

His mother is preparing his marriage to Khadija, but two days before that; Hedi meets Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud) in the city of Mahdia, who captivates him by her free-spirit, and he finds himself obsessed with this new-born passion. 

Screening dates: 23 - 29 November 2017

Booking information and schedule can be found here.  



Foreign Body / Corps étranger 
Director: Raja Amari | 2016 | 18+ | Arabic and French dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 92 min


The film follows the first months in France of Samia, a young illegal immigrant who ran away from her brother.

Haunted by the fear of being followed by her extremist brother whom she had denounced to the authorities, Samia first finds refuge at Imed’s home, a former acquaintance from her village, before ending up working for the rich widow Leila. These new meetings mingle with her headlong flight, where desire enhances tensions. 

Screening will start on 4th December. The schedule is not added on the website, but do check it next week for details. 



Highlights from Dubai Design Week 2017

Spent a few hours at Dubai Design Week. Here are my highlights that I shared on Twitter.





Micro MUTEK.AE 2017 


The international festival of digital creativity and electronic music MUTEK is coming to Dubai for the first edition of Micro MUTEK.AE, between 16-18 November 2017 in various venues across the city.

The festival was first launched in 2000 in Montréal, Canada and is now now established in Mexico City, Tokyo, Barcelona and Buenos Aires.  

The Dubai edition will focus on live performances which will take place at W Dubai Al Habtoor City, A/Vision shows at Dubai Knowledge Park Auditorium, and panel talks, workshops and Digi_Labs at SAE Institute. The headline acts include Jeff Mills and Dasha Rush, along 15 with local and regional artists. 

“We’re bringing MUTEK to Dubai because we see the deep potential and interest from people in enriching the city’s music, art and digital culture, which is still in its early stages. We’d also like to shift the emphasis away from clubbing and partying in Dubai and offer a new perspective on the way electronic music and audiovisual practices can be profound, inspiring and revelatory.

MUTEK’s format and curatorial philosophy, with its commitments to local artistic communities in every city it exists, intersects perfectly with this mission. It is going to challenge and inspire them to join this global community with a statement.” Mehdi Ansari, MUTEK.AE Director and co-founder of Analog Room  


Below is the three day line up of MUTEK.AE.

The workshops, panel talks, Digi_Lab and the closing party on 18 November at Dubai Design District (on the last day of Dubai Design Week) are free to attend.    

The rest of the events on 16-17 November are ticketed and you can pay online here

  • PASSPORT - AED 360
    Access to the festival including all programs on 16-17 November

    Access to the festival on 16-17 November excluding the 2 A/Visions shows on 17 November
  • Nocturne 1 - AED 180 (16 November) 
  • Nocturne 2 - AED 220 (17 November) 
  • A/Visions PASS - AED 100 (17 November) 



This video is a taste of MUTEK Montréal and I am looking forward to see how this festival will take shape in Dubai. 


Dubai Design Week 2017 

The third edition of Dubai Design Week
is on from 14-18 November 2017 (13 November is preview day). The line up of exhibitions and events at Dubai Design District (and across the city) week is quite extensive, if not overwhelming. The complete line up and schedule can be found here.

Here are my top five picks which I plan to focus on this week. 


14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Between buildings 4 & 6, Dubai Design District (d3)  

The third edition of Abwab will showcase design from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, featuring techniques, materials and craft from a series of studios across from over 10 countries: Previous editions of Abwab have featured designs from Algeria, Bahrain, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE. 

This year's pavilion is designed by Dubai-based Fahed & Architects using recovered bedsprings borrowed from waste management company Be’aah. 

More info: 


Akbar Dubai
13 - 18 November: 10am - 9pm
Atrium, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)   

Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center will exhibit copies of the Dubai news magazine Akbar Dubai from its library collection, showcasing typography, graphics, photography, content and page layouts from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.

More info:


GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years and Beyond
14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Ground Floor, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)

GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years and Beyond celebrates the milestone anniversary of a graphic design course at the RCA that marked the beginning of a break with commercial art, and heralded an era that saw graphic design emerge as a major force in business and culture. 

The exhibition features rarely seen works from the RCA archive, including designs by alumni who have gone on to become leading practitioners; Film Society Posters; stamps commissioned by the Royal Mail; the infamous student magazine Ark; typographic experiments; and early examples from pioneers of digital design.

More info:


Iconic City: Loading...Casa 
14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Ground Floor, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)  

Loading… Casa is an exhibition described as a "simultaneous, non-linear experience" which will include archival images, sound recordings, a short film, a monumental drawing and contemporary photography will collide. The exhibition includes five parts and will include work by artists, filmmakers, designers. 

Transhumance: Progressively polycentric, Casablanca saw its population migrate within the urban space in pace with socio-economic ascension. In order to adapt, the city invented its own model of planning and auto-regulation.

Mutation: Moroccans have traditionally defined themselves by their tribes, but in Casablanca the phenomenon of diversity first appeared, forging a new Casablancan identity. In three months, one can claim the city as one’s own, without objection.

Counter-culture: Artists render profane that which has been considered sacred, assuming the right to appropriate it, reinterpret it, and take every liberty with regard to legacy. As writer/curator Omar Berrada rightly says, "the popular heritage is like a living body, an agent of permanent cultural renewal".

Amnesiac memory: Not a single commemorative plaque, no inscriptions nor steles exist to inform visitors about the people who created this city. Casablanca cultivates the obligation of oblivion: a tomb without an epitaph.

Hedonism: Hedonism has become a characteristic of the city with the largest tower, swimming pool and cinema (the Vox) in Africa. 

More info: 

Weltformat DXB

13 - 18 November: 10am - 8pm

Ground Floor, Building 5, Dubai Design District (d3) and Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba 1

Weltformat DXB is a collaboration between Tashkeel, Welformat (a collective of graphic designers from Lucerne), Cairo-based designer Engy Aly and Mobius Design Studio’s Design House, with the support of Pro-Helvetia

It will be the first exhibition of the Weltformat Swiss Poster Festival in Dubai, showcasing the work of generations of Swiss designers. 

In parallel to the wide selection of Swiss-made Plakate, there will be an exhibition of posters created in response to the theme of Delusions and Errors by a diverse group of designers from the MENA region. It attempts to explore notions of embracing seemingly imperfect processes, malfunctions, or the unpredictability of different methodologies of working.

Weltformat DXB is being supported by four poster design workshops, three public talks and a publication.  

More info:   


Previous blogposts about Dubai Design Week:
Dubai Design Week 2016 
Dubai Design Week 2015   


Film Screening: Boy by Taika Waititi


The Scene Club in Dubai is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month by launching The Scene Classics, a new series of monthly screenings of films they've programmed over the past 10 years.

I am helping out with the selection and for the first film we will screen BOY by Taika Waititi, a film from 2010. The film was first screened here in January 2013 and we're happy to bring it back again for another rare opportunity to watch it on the big screen.  

You may know Taika Waitit's other not so little film, Thor: Ragnorak which is currently in UAE cinemas. Come see this small indie film and one of the top grossing films in New Zealand. I will present it by discussing his other films and his trajectory as actor/director. 

The screening will take place on Wednesday, 8th November at 8pm at The Roxy Cinemas (City Walk). The film is free to attend, but please register online if you'd like to see the film.  


The year is 1984, and on the rural East Coast of New Zealand “Thriller” is changing kids’ lives. Inspired by the Oscar nominated Two Cars, One Night, BOY is the hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age tale about heroes, magic and Michael Jackson.

BOY is a dreamer who loves Michael Jackson.  He lives with his brother ROCKY, a tribe of deserted cousins and his Nan.

Boy’s other hero, his father, ALAMEIN, is the subject of Boy’s fantasies, and he imagines him as a deep sea diver, war hero and a close relation of Michael Jackson (he can even dance like him). In reality he’s “in the can for robbery”.

When Alamein returns home after 7 years away, Boy is forced to confront the man he thought he remembered, find his own potential and learn to get along without the hero he had been hoping for. 




Please join us and spread the word.



Home | Sports - Talk and Film screening on 4 and 25 November 2017

Home: Food | Music | Sports is a series of events I developed and curated for the National Pavilion UAE, where I've been commissioned to come up with a programme in the UAE that can be in dialog with the curatorial theme of its exhibition and publication Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play that is currently showing at the Venice Biennale. 

The programme I developed is mostly in dialogue with the publication Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play, which includes a series of written and visual essays by writers, curators, academics and artists. 

The events inlcude a series of talks and film screenings acorss Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, addressing how food, music and sports contribute to building a sense of home and community.

The first set of events about food took place in September in Abu Dhabithe second set of events about music was last month in Dubai and for the last set of events, we will be Sharjah talking about sports. 



Home | Sports - Creating a sense of community through sports 
Date: Saturday, 4th November, 4.30pm-5.30pm
Venue: Mini Golf Park at Al Majaz Waterfront, Sharjah 
(location map

Daily play-offs in the neigborhood of Karama in Dubai. Image by WTD magazine, as appeared in the publication of "Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play".I will be in conversation with journalist John Dennehy anout how people create a sense of community through sports and playing in public spaces. Dennehy recently wrote an article about sand golf in the UAE and I am looking forward getting some insights and thoughts about sports and building communities.

After the talk, you can stay back and play a round of mini golf if you like.

John Dennehy is a journalist with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. He previously worked at newspapers in Ireland and the UK. His book: In a Time of War: Tipperary 1914-1918 was published in 2013. 

The talk is free to attend and you can RSVP here.  

Mini Golf Park at Al Majaz Waterfront, Sharjah



Film Screening 

Home | Sports - Anwar Roma / The Lights of Rome 
Date: Saturday, 25th November, 7.30 pm
Venue: Masrah Al Qasba / Al Qasba Theatre, Al Qasba, Sharjah 
(location map)  


Held in collaboration with Image Nation Abu Dhabi, MAD Solutions and Maraya Art Centre, we will screening the documentary Anwar Roma / The Lights of Rome. After the film, I will be in coversation with the director of the film, Ali Khaled.  

It is an incredibly endearing documentary and I hope you can join us that evening at Qasba Theatre to watch this film and listen to our conversation. It is free to attend, but please RSVP here.  

Anwar Roma / The Lights of Rome
Director: Ali Khalid
UAE | 2016 | 72 min
Documentary | PG | Arabic with English subtitles 


In Singapore, October 28th, 1989, a group of young footballers defied all odds and made history by qualifying for the World Cup in Italy, 1990. Their average age was 19, their country, The United Arab Emirates, was also just 19 years old.

This documentary explores the historical and emotive journey of the 'golden generation' whom to this date are the only United Arab Emirates football team to make it to the World Cup.  




Home | Music - Talk and Film screening on 28 and 30 October 2017

Home: Food | Music | Sports is a series of events I developed and curated for the National Pavilion UAE, where I've been commissioned to come up with a programme in the UAE that can be in dialog with the curatorial theme of its exhibition and publication Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play that is currently showing at the Venice Biennale. 


The programme I developed is mostly in dialogue with the publication Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play, which includes a series of written and visual essays by writers, curators, academics and artists. 

The events inlcude a series of talks and film screenings across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, addressing how food, music and sports contribute to building a sense of home and community.

The first event about food took place last month in Abu Dhabi, and for this and this month you are invited to join me to at two events about music. 



Home | Music - Cassette Culture in the UAE 
Date: Saturday, 28th September, 6.00-7.00pm
Venue: The Flip Side, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai 
(location map

I will be in conversation with Shadi Megalla, DJ and founder of independent vinyl store The Flip Side. We will talk about why cassettes are still relevant in this part of the world, talk about his cassette collection, listen to some music and look at some cassette artwork. 

The talk is free to attend and if you are on Facebook, you can RSVP here.  


Film Screening 

Home | Food - Les Petits Chats 
Date: Monday, 30th October, pm
Venue: The Roxy Cinemas, The Beach, Dubai,  
(location map

In collaboraion with The Scene, the screening of the documentary Les Petits Chats will take place on Monday, 30th October at The Roxy Cinemas (The Beach). The screening is free to attend, but pre-registration is essential and you can sign up to attend here.  


Les Petits Chats
Directed by Sherif Nakhla 
Egypt | 2014 | 1h 20min 
Documentary | Arabic with English Subtitles
Rating: [ G ] - General Audiences (All ages admitted)


The film is named after the legendary band Les Petits Chats of the cherished era of the 1960s and 1970s. The six members, who are now major celebrities and musicians, are reunited to perform one last time in a night to remember in spring 2010.

Les Petits Chats film provides an insight into the lives of the former bandmates during their glory days and answers the questions evoked within each one of them by tracing their present lives and life choices since their breakup in the 80’s. The film showcases interviews with major celebrities and cinema stars at that time and nowadays including: Ezzat Abu Ouf, Omar Khairat, Sobhi Bedair, Samir Sabri and Mohamed Salmawy.


Please join me at thes two events, it will be fun.