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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.


Summer Series 2017: Every Summer by Todos los veranos


This is a lovely video, I can't stop watching it.

Every summer, Stella and the Water fuse in color, movements and rhythms. They meet once again, to continue dancing in new waters.

This short is an anima-dance that proposes an awakening of the ancestral in the body; A game that reappears, cyclical and reborn, full of swims, strokes, turns and contacts that lead to a transformation of the characters.  


Summer Series 2017: Slices of Summer by Yoss Sánchez

This is the start of a new season of Summer Series on the blog for the rest of the month of August.

I am starting with Slices of Summer by Yoss Sánchez, a delighful animated short film about "things that happen in summer". 




Coming Soon - Summer Series 2017

I am working on a new edition of Summer Series posts that will be published on this blog during the rest of this month. It will be a series of short films about summer, including new and old videos.

In the meantime, you can visit (re)visit last year's Summer Series here, a collection of posts about summer travel, summer past times and summer songs. 

Summer Series 2016 



Remembering Robert Mitchum

There's been an outpour of Robert Mitchum tweets today, to commemorate his birth 100 years ago, 6th August 1917. 

My love for Robert Mitchum was entranched at Il Cinema Ritrovato in June and I am working towards seeing all his films.

My contribution to this day of celebrating Robert Mitchum is this collection of interviews with him. Lots of entertaining moments to be found here. 


[image via


Review of Il Cinema Ritrovato on Tea with Culture

Last month, I wrote about my trip to Bolgna to attend Il Cinema Ritrovato. I reently sat with fellow cinephile Faisal Al Zaabi, who was also at the film festival, to discuss our experiences and highlights. We also discussed also discuss the lack of institutions in the Arab world to archive and restore films and the lack of seeing old Arab films on the big screen. 

We sat with Wael Hattar and recorded this discussion for our Tea with Culture podcast. I really enjoyed our discussion and hope you enjoy it too.

Listen to it here: 



Interview with Abdulla Al Kaabi, director of Only Men Go to the Grave

Abdulla Al Kaabi’s first feature film, Only Men Go to the Grave premiered at the 2016 edition of Dubai International Film Festival and won Best Muhr Emirati Feature. Al Kaabi’s previous films include two short films, The Philosopher, starring Jean Reno which screened at DIFF in 2010 and Koshk which screened at Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014 where it won two prizes there

In March the film got acquired by MAD Solutions for distribution rights in the Arab region (the same distributor of the Jordanian film Theeb which earned a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at the Oscars in 2016). Only Men Go to the Grave has been travelling the international film festival circuit, most recently at 10th edition of Oran International Arabic Film Festival in July. 

The film will a get a theatrical release in Dubai on 10 August at VOX Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates and is scheduled to screen until 23 August, but no word yet about the rest of the UAE.

Only Men Go to the Grave is about a family and its secrets, set in mostly one location. The underlying theme is gender and sexual identity, a topic that is highly sensitive and controversial in the Arab region. I watched the film at its premiere and although it is rough around the edges, for a first feature film by Al Kaabi, it is a brave and commendable attempt, especially since the film was self funded. The film itself tackles its themes very delicately and there is nothing overtly suggestive or inappropriate to show in a culturally sensitive society. 

In an interview with Gulf News, Al Kaabi said "It’s not the story that’s the issue, it’s the way you tackle it. I tackled it, bearing in mind that I’m going to show it in our community, in this part of the world. In the end it’s a story. There’s no nudity, there’s no pornography, there’s no violence. There’s just is a lot of silence. And that’s the power of cinema. You can open a dialogue without making anyone feel uncomfortable."

A film like Only Men Go to the Grave can help create a public discourse, to get people to think about gender and sexual identity and respond to it, positively or negatively. Films made in the region that tries to tackle taboo issues are hard to see outside the film festival circuit, so I’m glad this film is getting released in Dubai, albeit a limited one, and hope it gets a wider release across the region.

This is the synopsis of the film: 

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 arrival of an unfamiliar guest rocks the entire foundation of their family. How do they deal with the aftermath?


I spoke to Abdulla Al Kaabi in May to discuss his film. The following is our conversation: 

Let’s start from the beginning, because I recall reading you were working on a film titled "Girls in the Know" which I guess was its original title. I also read it took you 5 years to work on Only Men Go to the Grave film, so could you tell me about the journey of your first feature film and its transformation over the years.

Initially, I wrote it as an Egyptian movie, and because of the premise of my story, I thought it would only work in Egypt. I then decided to make it Khaleeji film and make it in the United Arab Emirates, but that didn’t work out due to a lot of budget constraints. I then ended up doing it in Iran with Arab-Iranians. 

Was the budget constraints because of the difficulties of getting UAE films financed or was it to do with the story?

I was fed up because the financiers I approached wanted to change the script and I reached a point where it was no longer the story I wanted to tell. I can tolerate input during the creative process because the producer is part of that process. But for me, to change the script and the story is not what I really wanted to do. So I decided to shoot it independently. I raised the funds myself privately and shot it in Iran.

That’s the frustration I guess, the creative interference that filmmakers face here. They get told things like "yes we will fund your film, but we want to control the story".

My story wasn’t as controversial back then when I started to get it up and running. It wasn’t until I got the private funds raised that I realised I don’t have a producer to report to and I have complete creative control, which meant I could shoot whatever I want. That’s when I decided to bring out the script, and told myself let’s flesh it out and let me go all the way. Did you see the movie?

Yes, I watched it at DIFF last December. Whilst researching the films on DIFF’s website, to make my list of what to watch, I saw this line “Contains: Adult References and Gay Theme” included in the description of your film. To me that was a complete spoiler, but I guess DIFF needs to include content advisory for each film they screen. I was intrigued by the title alone and wanted to go in not knowing much details about the film. I watched it at the premiere screening in Madinat Theatre. I remember the response after the film ended and during the Q & A was very supportive. It appeared you had lots of family and friends attending which was great. But I was wondering what was the response like at the second screening which took place at VOX Cinemas which probably consisted of the regular cinema going crowd.

The people at the premiere knew exactly what kind of film they were coming to see. For the second screening, the response after the screening and during the Q & A felt more critical of the subject matter, but it was also quite supportive. It was an opportunity for me to explain the film. There was actually no mention of the gay love story. I think the screenings were successful because it raises the issue of a taboo subject, but at the same time it doesn’t offend. It speaks to the audience in a language it understands and that’s why I think the movie resonates with the Arab viewers, because everyone knows that this kind of love exists. In the end, the audience members were extremely supportive. 

When I made this movie, my intention was only one thing - if I raise a taboo subject or something that’s a bit controversial, it’s to open up a dialogue. That’s it. That’s my job as a filmmaker. I’m not a propagandist. I’m not trying to enforce a way of thinking or ideology. The movie is about a human condition, about opening up a dialogue, about being transparent. When you are transparent, you encourage peaceful understanding, you encourage cultural understanding. But if you keep something taboo and cover it up, it creates problems. 

Aesthetically, the film has a minimal look and most of it takes place in one location. But when it comes to the secrets, there are multiple plots and layers, we also see cross-dressing from both a male and female perspective. I was wondering if that was too much in terms of trying to get your message across about what this film is trying to say, instead of focusing on the mother and her secret. I was intrigued, for instance, by the son-in-law, Jaber and wondered what his backstory is. There could be a separate film just about him. Could you tell me about these choices you made for the film.

It’s interesting to hear this point of view. Thanks for sharing it. For me, I wanted to question gender identity and gender roles. That’s why I was playing around with Jaber’s character because he was also exploring his gender identity and role in society and we were experiencing that with him in the movie, and you could see his wife Ghanima was frustrated, and I tried to show where her frustration comes from. 

What are your thoughts on labelling this film as queer cinema because this is the first UAE film that could be categroised as that?

You saw the movie, if you categorise it in that way, then whatever way you categorise it is the right answer. Your perspective is much more important than mine because in the end, the movie is made for you to watch. I am happy if it is labelled as queer cinema or as conventional cinema, it doesn’t matter to me. 



Please go to the cinema and support this film. You can watch Only Men Go to the Grave at VOX Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates between 10 - 23 August, part of DIFF365 screenings. Tickets cost AED 45.
It will also be screening between 18 - 22 and 24 August at Cinema Akil's latest pop up. Tickets cost AED 35.  



Art and Culture Top Picks for the Summer 


It's another scorching summer here in the UAE and art and culture activities has slowed down, but there are still things to do and see. I discuss this with Wael Hattar on our Tea with Culture podcast.

Listen to it here. 


We discuss the following:

- Art Print III at Meem Gallery in Dubai, But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008 at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, and in Sharjah - Collectivity: Objects and Associations in the UAE Art World at Maraya Art a Centre and Vantage Point 5: Architecture and Urban Landscape at Sharjah Art Foundation. 

- New film releases across the cineplexes in the UAE this summer, as well film screenings at DIFF365 at VOX Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates, The Scene and Cinema Akil in Dubai, plus Cinema at the Space and Warehouse 421's Summer Camp in Abu Dhabi. 

- Live screening of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Improv Theatre at Rove Hotels, both organised by Courtyard Playhouse.  

- Music with Katie Thiroux at Q’s Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace Dubai (Tuesday-Saturday) and Flip Side, a new vinyl and cassette shop in Dubai. 



Architecture in Cinema by Jorge Luengo Ruiz

I stumbled across this video recently. I really enjoyed watching it, hope you enjoy it too. The list of films featured in this video can be found here



Exhibition: But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community 1988-2008 at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery

Detail from work by Abdullah Al Saadi

But We Cannot See Them: Tracing a UAE Art Community, 1988-2008 is the current exhibition at NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery. It opened on 2nd March and is on until 2nd September 26 August 2017. The exhibition focuses on an art movement that not many know of and showcases a chapter of the UAE's art scene that began more than 30 years ago, and refutes the perceived notion that the art scene in the UAE came into existence post 2000. 

This exhibition surveys one of the most important artistic communities in the UAE’s history. Community has played a key role in every modern art historical breakthrough, with artists banding together around manifestos, or turning to one another for support when art institutions rejected their innovations. Art communities grow out of critical and creative exchange among peers and mentors. 

But We Cannot See Them focuses on one community of artists, sometimes called “the five”, at an intersection of visual artists, writers, and filmmakers based in the UAE. Its members identified with a “new culture” of encouraging radical, formal and conceptual experimentation. Eventually, some of these artists founded the celebrated Flying House. 

The exhibition features works by Hassan SharifMohamed Ahmed IbrahimAbdullah Al SaadiMohammed KazemHussein SharifVivek VilasiniJos Clevere and Ebtisam Abdulaziz

In tandem with the exhibition is a publication of interviews with the artists. Together, the exhibition and the book traces the formation of this artistic community. 

I met Maya Allison, Bana Kattan and Alaa Edris who all worked on this exhibition and recorded our discussion for the Tea with Culture podcast.

This is quite an important and well researched exhibition. If you have not yet visited, please go before it closes on 2nd September. 



Exhibition: Collectivity: Objects and Associations in the UAE Art World at Maraya Art Centre (DRAFT

Collectivity: Objects and Associations in the UAE Art World at Maraya Art Center is an exhibition that brings together artworks and objects lent from personal collections across the United Arab Emirates.

Rather than being acquired only from collectors, institutions, or artists, the traditional faces of the art world, they are also from the people who carry out the everyday labor that make the production, circulation, and interpretation of art possible within the county.

It’s an inversion of the relationships we generally explore, a focus shift that allows for another way of understanding what ties us together as a community and industry.

Wael Hattar and I interviewed Laura Metzler, the curator of this exhibition for our Tea with Culture podcast. We discuss how this exhibition was put together and the response it has been receiving.



There are lot of works in this exhibition and images of each work, plus the description and information about each contributor can be viewed online here.  The exhibition is on until 17th August 2017. 

I contributed some of my personal objects for this exhibition. Here are some of the works from it, my contribution is added at the end. 


Lana Shamma
Programmes Manager – Art Jameel

When I lived in Qatar I worked in publishing, which meant that every winter for we participated in the Doha International Book Fair. Most years one Egyptian antique bookseller would attend and bring stacks of old magazines with him. I would sift through them when I was taking breaks and look through his dusty stacks.

Six years ago I found this issue of Alwan, which was published June 8, 1969. It caught my eye because of the colors, cover image of Sophia Loren, and retro typography. I treasured it so much that I got it framed and hung it in my home. 


Kevin Jones
Writer, critic, and UAE Desk Editor of ArtAsiaPacific⁠ 


Ann-Maree Reaney
Dean, College of Art and Creative Enterprises, Zayed University

I acquired this work Shaikha Fahad Al Ketibi titled Ghaya (2016) from a recent graduate from the College of Art and Creative Enterprises, Zayed University. I am in a privileged and unique position as Dean, of being in contact with these young, emerging  and talented Emirati women artists who have so much to say about their world at a local and global level.

Shaikha Fahad Al Ketbi is one such artist. Her work is outstanding as it is multi layered in meaning and therefore has the possibility of speaking to different and varied audiences. It is engaging and compelling, it pulls you into its story.  

Sandra Peters
Assistant Arts Professor of Arts Practice – New York University, Abu Dhabi

Untitled (Memories Once Removed Print Series) by Laura Schneider is a combination image featuring an old family photograph, a drawing made on wall paper, and a bitmapped image of endangered black-footed albatross. Schneider is interested in the construction of personal identity and the transfixion of old family photographs.

Pregnant with meaning and information, yet ultimately ambiguous, these snapshots often act as Rorschach inkblots, reflecting one’s own interpretation rather than an objective truth. Schneider has created many iterations of drawings from the photos, and pairs them with incorrectly rendered pre-photography scientific drawings and with images of endangered and extinct species.



This is my contribution, International Film Paraphernalia 



Gifts from friends, bought or found in various cities near and far. From flea markets, from a gallery and one from an abandoned cinema.

  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla film poster from Thailand
  • Rooznah Amid film poster from Iran
  • Frenzy film poster from Cuba
  • Azhager Samiyin Kuthirai on 35mm
  • Goldorak (Grendizer) on Super 8 


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