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.


My Top 50 Films 2017

The best thing that happened to me this summer was watching 
Twin Peaks: The Return. I knew then it would be number one in my end of year list, I was certain I won't see anything better, and I was right. Nothing moved me, challenged my thinking and occupied my mind this year as Twin Peaks: The Return.
The debates "is it a movie or is it TV" started a few weeks ago (after appearing on Sight & Sound and Cahier du Cinema's end of year film polls (no. 2 and no. 1), but has recently calmed down and many pieces have been written arguing both sides, but I will hold on to this one by Vadim Rizov arguing that it's both.  
Unlike the past three years, I will start with my number 1 and end at 50, sharing a few thoughts along the way. The list includes theatrical releases in the UAE and elsewhere, plus fims I watched at festivals and a few on VOD. 

(Films I missed out on and hope to see them in 2018:  Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, Western, Song of Granite, Claire's Camera, The Day After, Song to Song, 24 Frames)  

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (Mark Frost and David Lynch, 2017)  

Monday mornings between 22nd May and 4th September were dedicated to Twin Peaks: The Return (in Dubai the new parts were available the morning after it aired in the US). There was humour and sadness in almost in every new hourly revelation, and there was also mystery, questions and a few other things that I am still trying to articulate.

Both Frost and Lynch offered us a narrative that many of us are still trying to comprehend. I knew from the start we will not be getting easy answers and I recall telling myself I'm happy if we don't get the answers, I am just enjoying the journey.

The deep chills, the utter sadness and the sinking feeling I felt at the very last scene is something I will never, ever forget. 

I enjoyed connecting and bonding with others who were dedicated to this show. We will no doubt be thinking about and discussing Twin Peaks: The Return over many years and I for one feel lucky to have been able to experience and savour each new hour between May and September. A feeling I truly miss. I have not really watched anything that has made me feel the same way again. Not sure if I ever will.

I look forward to revisiting all 18 hours again, and I hope that one day I can watch them on the big screen. MoMA already announced it will screen all 18 hours over three days early January 2018 (herehere and here) and I am devastated I can't go. I hope more cinemas will try to schedule something similar in the coming year and hopefully I will be able to attend too. 


2. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, 2017)  

Lucrecia Martel's Zama is a masterpiece. It's hypnotic, visually stunning and intellectually complex. About existentialism, the 
subconscious, masculinity and colonialism. There's a lot to unpack in this film which requires more than one viewing for me to be able to articulate myself better about this film. 


3. Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Silence is the Martin Scorsese film we don't deserve. It shamefully didn't do well at the box office. I just hope it will be considered one of his best in the future. An incredibly moving film about the complexities of morality and faith. Regardless what your personal beliefs are about religion, Scorsese has made a masterpiece that has yet to be appreciated by many.    


4. Columbus (Kogonada, 2017) 

This first feature film by Kogonada is about family and melancholia and Modernist architecture. An elegant, soothing and touching film. So much in it is conveyed in its many quiet moments.  


5. Lucky (John Carroll Lynch, 2017) 

Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, life and a turtle.   


6. Angels Wear White (Vivian Qu, 2017) 

Vivian Qu's Angels Wear White is an urgent and devastating film about the patriarchy and society's implicitness in sexism and covering up sexual violence.  


7. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone, 2017) 

Princess Cyd is a joyous, graceful and loving film. It celebrates women, intellectuals, solitude, the city of Chicago, food, reading, friendship and the joy of discovering. Miranda Ruth (Rebecca Spence) is one of my favourite characters in film this year. One particular scene I love where Miranda responds to Cyd's sarcastic "Maybe if you had a little more sex in your life you wouldn't eat so much."   

I understand you’re finding your own joy, you’re engaging with your own stuff. That’s great. That’s how it should be. It’s a beautiful thing. But hear me, it is not a handicap to have one thing but not another. To be one way and not another. We are different shapes and ways and our happiness is unique and there are no rules of balance. 

8. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)


"Now you are in the sunken place" still gives me the chills. 


 9. You Were Never Really Here (Lynn Ramsay, 2017) 

Brutal, haunting and absorbing.  "Wake up, let's go, it's a beautiful day."    


10. Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler, 2017) 

A stand out role for Vince Vaughn in this film that is very violent - bone crunching violent. The car bashing (the least violent scene) at the beginning is one of my favourite scenes this year. Also, we get Udo Kier and Don Johnson in this.    


11. A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017) 

It is understandable that a film with someone covered in a sheet acting as a ghost can't be taken seriously, but trsut me, this film is extraordinary. About grief, the passage of time, about the ones that are left behind. 


12. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda, 2017) 

This film could be paired with A Ghost Story as it also about loss and grief. The role and meaning of memories is the main theme of this film, about the use of holograms to reincarnate dead family members to remain with them. The film is subtle and thought provoking. I've been thinking about it frequently ever since I watched it. 


13. Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, 2017)

The knowledge and generosity shown by the many people appearing in this documentary moved me to tears. There's a scene in it where Khalil Gibran Muhammad describes the New York Public Library as "mind building" and "soul affirming". Many institutions could learn from this film.     


14. John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017) 

Pure action film pleasure. The Reflections of the Soul fight sequence is the cherry on top.      


15. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

A film for the big screen. The bigger, the better. A well crafted film with memorable images, colour and sound. I watched this on IMAX Digital in Dubai and on 70mm in Amsterdam. The IMAX version was MUCH louder. 


16. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017)

Sensual, melancholic and touching. Sexual awakening and self discovery. Scenes of summer in Italy, Armie Hammer's voice, Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way, the peach scene, Michael Stuhlbarg's monologue and the tear inducing closing scene. 


17. 120 Beats per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017) 

Solidarity, activism and love in the face of state and health system prejudices. Energetic and tender.        


18. The Disaster Artist (James Franco, 2017)

Hilarious, meticulous and empathetic. I loved watching it in the packed 1000 seater Madinat Arena during the Dubai Internayional Film Festival. There was such a great energy and by far my favourite cinema experience in Dubai. 


19. Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude, 2016) 

Set in Romania, 1937, the film is about Emanuel, a 20-year-old young man who spends his days bedridden at a sanatorium on the Black Sea coast, suffering from bone tuberculosis. We follow the lives of Emanuel and the other patients, there is no room for pity here, as they are all still trying to live a full life. It's smart, funny and beautifully shot. The film is inspired by Romanian author Max Blecher’s autobiographical novel Scarred Hearts, who died after ten years of suffering, at the age of 29.    


20. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis, 2017)

Juliette Binoche is superb in this film about love and desire expressed through words and face expressions. 


21. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hang Sang-soo, 2017) 

About love, broken hearts and cinema. Personal and confessional.   


22. 3/4 (Ilian Metev, 2017)   

A subtle and intimate film about a father and his son and daughter and the relationship with each other. It is their last summer together. There is great composition in this film, creating spaces between the family members. Emphasising a gap in their lives. I hope this small film gets seen by more people in 2018. 


23. Wajib (Annemarie Jacir, 2017)  

The strongest Arab film I saw this year. A tender and moving film about a father and son set in one day in Nazareth. About disappointments, regret and missed opportunities.  A film about family struggles told without resorting to the political melodrama. 


24. Arabia (Affonso Uchoa, João Dumans, 2017)   

A universal tale about the exploitation of the working class. Poetic, political and devastating.        


25. The Seen and Unseen (Kamila Andini, 2017)   

The Seen and Unseen is mythical and spiritual, about sibling connections, child ghosts, and the lunar rhythm of life.       


26.  Wonder  (Stephen Chbosky, 2017)       

This is a about kindness that we all need to see, especially in a year that has left us feeling so exasperated for so many reasons.      


27. Coco (Lee Unkrich, 2017)        

I wasn't expecting to be so moved by this film. An extremely touching film about family, memories and legacy. It is visually spectacular too and must be seen on the big screen. The Land of the Dead is absoutely dazzling. 


28. Human Flow (Ai Weiwei, 2017)    

A harrowing and powerful documentary about the current refugee crisis around the world. The images in it are powerful, empathetic and urgent. The drone footage in it is one of the most effective I've seen, compared to lots of gimmicky drone footage we see in elsewhere. 


29. My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß, 2017)  

About the suffocating level of entrapment women face due to cultural and family reasons. About wanting to be be alone, just to be alone. The film is filled with details and gestures that add layers to it. One of my favourite scenes is when Mañana is eating cake alone, listening to music and enjoying the breeze coming through her window.


30. Heal the Living (Katell Quillévéré, 2016)

A deeply human film about loss, grief and connections, without the melodrama. 


31. Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari, 2016)      

We don't often get to see a film about fathers and daughters from Bollywood. Dangal is uplifting, inspiring and touching. The main song from it stayed in head for days, "Dangal, dangal." 


32. Secret Superstar (Advait Chandan, 2017)            

This film me laugh and cry, a lot. It's an ode to mothers and daughters, the struggles against the patriarchy, and the right to dream. The second half of Secret Superstar lights up with Aamir Khan as the obnoxious, crass music producer. Both Meher Vij and Zaira Wasim as mother and daughter give moving performances. 


33. Good Time (Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie, 2017)

I found this film intense and troubling, but it has grown on me more and more. Robert Pattinson is terrific in it. 


34. A Fantastic Woman (Sebastian Lelio, 2017) 

Sad, defiant, assertive. Daniela Vega is the force that keeps this film going.


35. The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Another film that has grown on me over the past couple of months. It is sadder than I expected, but there are moments of joy and hope.  


36. Faces Places (Agnes Varda, JR, 2017)

A film about personal histories, memories and legacies of different people across France. But it also has incredible moments with Agnes Varda reflecting on her life and work.  


37. My Life as a Zucchini (Claude Barras, 2017)

Melancholic, heartwarming and wonderful.      


38. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017)

A harsh fulm about egotism and family in crisis. Andrey Zvyagintsev is a thought provoking director holding a mirror to Russian society.     


39. In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles, 2017)  

A skillfully edited and narrated film that weaves its way from the personal to the social to the political.     


40. I am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, 2017)

A funny and poignant tale about Zambian witchcraft satire, addressing misogyny and control 


41. Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

Who would've thought a film about cheating at school exams could keep you on the edge of your seat? 


42. The Outlaws (Yoon-Seong Kang, 2017)  

An action-comedy-thriller about Ciniese/Korean gang war by Yoon-Seong Kang, his first feature. It's hilarious and gripping. Ma Dong- seok is brilliant in it.

My two favourite translated swear words from it:
Bitch dick


43. Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, 2017)

A great ensemble and a fun film. 


44. The Nile Hilton Incident (Tarik Saleh, 2017)

A crime thriller set in Egypt and a scathing commentary on police corruption, violence and dirty politics. It's well written, acted and directed. It's a shame it has not gotten a release in the Middle East. 


45. God's Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017)

A touching and intimate film about love - to love and be loved. It's an accomplished debut feature film by Francis Lee and can't wait to see what he works on next.       


46. The Square (Ruben Östlund, 2017)     

Besides the art world satire which is brilliant on its own, the film also addresses civic responsibility, the marketing machine, politeness and respect versus political correctness.        


47. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo, 2016)  

A film that's really about resentment, jealousy, abuse, self worth and female empowerment. 


48. The Human Surge ( Eduardo Williams, 2016)

This left me thinking a lot about time, boredom, the internet and creating human connections in today's hyperconnected world.         


49. The Work (Jairus McLeary,  Gethin Aldous, 2017)  

Set inside a single room in Folsom Prison, we witness a four-day group-therapy retreat with a group of incarcerated men and the challenges they face when it experience of rehabilitation. The results are intense, harrowing and powerful. 


50. Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh, 2017)

I was very moved by Charlie Plummer's performance. Steve Buscemei and Chloe Sevigny were the highlights in this film and my wish is for Andrew Haigh to direct a spinoff focusing on their backstory in the film.      




Favourite film discoveries of 2017 


It has been another good year of film discoveries for me. I am more and more interested in seeking out repertory screenings and feel lucky that I can travel to watch these films. 

Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna was a major highlight when it came to film discoveries and I hope to go back next year for more. The Berlinale Retrospective section offered a riches of science fiction films I had never seen before. BFI Southbank in London is my guaranteed cinema where I know I will discover memorable old films and EYE in Amsterdam has upped its game in its film prgramming. When I am not travelling, I try to watch old films on VOD, mostly on MUBI which continous to be a great source for films I don't have access to otherwise.  

This year I watched two films that have been on my wish list for years and waited till I got a chance to watch them on the big screen. I watched Barry Lyndon at Berlinale, an exquisite film that I hope I get to see again on the big screen and Lawrence of Arabia was screening on 70mm at BFI in London in September, and that was a fanstastic experience too. Both were worth the wait as I can't imagine I would've cherished them the same if watched on the small screen (I remember switching channels after watching 20 mins of Lawrence of Arabia on TV many years ago because I thought this is not how I should be watching this film).

Additionally, this was the year I finally got to see not one, but two Douglas Sirk films, on glorious 35mm technicolor. I've been waiting to watch his films for years and was thrilled to see he was included in the schedule at Il Cinema Ritrovato. 

I was also able to watch a few David Lynch films in cinemas that I had not seen before and was perfect timing to compare and link them to Twin Peaks: The Return. 


Here's my top 50 film discoveries of the year: 



Film Festivals / Special Screenings

  1. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975, DCP, Berlinale) 
  2. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962, 70mm, BFI, London)
  3. Home from the Hill (Vincente Minelli, 1960, 35mm, Il Cinema Ritrovato)   
  4. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 35mm, BFI London)
  5. Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956, 35mm, Il Cinema Ritrovato)
  6. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955, 35mm, Il Cinema Ritrovato)
  7. Ladies Must Love (E. A. Dupont, 1933, 35mm, Il Cinema Ritrovato)
  8. Wise Blood (John Huston, 1979, DCP, Il Cinema Ritrovato)
  9. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967, DCP, Il Cinema Ritrovato) 
  10. Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1976, 35mm, Il Cinema Ritrovato) 
  11. World on a Wire / Welt am Draht (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973, Berlinale)  
  12. Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995, 35mm, Berlinale) 
  13. THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971, 35mm, Berlinale) 
  14. An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujirō Ozu, 1967, DCP, BFI, London) 
  15. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977, DCP Restored, BFI London Film Festival) 
  16. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991, DCP Restored, Novo Cinema, Dubai) 
  17. Letters from a Dead Man (Konstantin Lopuschanski, 1986, 35mm, Berlinale) 
  18. Nuovomondo / Golden Door (Emanuele Crialese, 2006, DCP, Piazza Maggiore, Bologna)
  19. The Cotton Club (Francis Ford Coppola, 1984, 35mm, Berlinale ) 


David Lynch films at various cinemas in the summer: 
  1. Lost Highway (1997, 35mm, Prince Charles Cinema, London)
  2. The Straight Story (1999, 35mm, Prince Charles Cinema, London)
  3. Eraserhead (1977, DCP, Il Cinema Ritrovato) 
  4. Wild at Heart (1990, 35mm, EYE, Amsterdam)
  1. Taxi Driver (1976, 4K DCP)
  2. Raging Bull (1980, DCP)
  3. Good Fellas (1990, 35m) (I first watched this on VHS when it came out in 1990 in Dubai) 
  4. Kundun (1997, 35mm)
The Grime and the Glamour: NYC 1976–90 at Barbican, London, Sep/Oct 2017
  1. Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982, 35mm)  
  2. Ms 45  (aka Angel of Vengeance) (Abel Ferrara, 1981, DCP)
  3. Tally Brown (Rosa von Praunheim, 1979, 16mm) 


VOD (in order or release date)
  1. Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946)
  2. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
  3. Summer with Monika (Ingmar Bergman, 1953)
  4. From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
  5. Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1957)
  6. Le Trou (Jacques Becker, 1960)
  7. Bunny Lake is Missing (Otto Preminger, 1965)
  8. Closely Watched Trains ( Jirí Menzel, 1966)
  9. Branded to Kill (Seijun Suzuki, 1967)
  10. The Young Girls of Rochefort ( Jacques Demy, 1967)
  11. Wicker Man ( Robin Hardy, 1973)
  12. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975)
  13. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1975) 
  14. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974) 
  15. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1979)
  16. Modern Romance (Albert Brooks, 1981)
  17. Paris Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
  18. Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987)
  19. King of New York (Abel Ferrara, 1990)
  20. Mullholland Drive (2001, VOD)

Top 10 Exhibitions of 2017

TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai
, Prada Foundation, Milan. Exhibition view. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani amd Marco Cappelletti.
Compared to the past few years, I didn't visit many exhibitions in the UAE this year. Reasons include not havingthe time and also not usually interested in what's out there. In the Dubai, the art galleries show a rotation ofexhibitions of artists they represent which soon becomes predictable and uninteresting to me. EastWing, one of my favourite galleries in Dubai was closed most of the year due to its relocation to DubaiDesign District (it opened earlier this month). 

Sharjah Art Foundation continues to host an ongoing series of exhibitions and events all year introducing us tonew works by established and young artists, and it being a biennale year, it was an added bonus. I listed afew of my favourite works from Sharjah Biennale 13: Tamawuj in my previous post.

NYUAD Art Gallery in Abu Dhabi aims to focus on quality instead of quantity in terms of the number ofexhibitions it hosts, and now with the Louvre Abu Dhabi as a new addition and a new institution, I will be onthe look out for what's in store in the coming year. 

For now, here are my top 10 exhibitions of the year, it includes exhibitions I visited in the UAE and abroad. Each title is linked to the dedicated exhibition page with more details. 


1. TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli guarda la Rai / TV 70: Francesco Vezzoli Watches Rai
Fondazione Prada, Milan
9 May - 24 September 2017  

This exhibition was developed by Francesco Vezzoli in collaboration with Rai, Italy’s national broadcastingcompany and looked at the relationships between Italian public television with visual art, politics andentertainment, and also addressed collective narratives and memories. 

Very different to what I was exposed to TV growing up in Dubai in the 1970s, I found this exhibition both entertaining and thought provoking in terms of looking at the role of TV at a certain time in history that was informative and entertaining, there was hi-brow, lo-brow and everything in between, including experimental and avant grade shows that was accessible to a mainstream audience.

The representation of women in shows about them fighting for their rights contrasted with the objectification of women in entertainment and variety shows illustrates that not much has changed over the past few decades. TV as a playground for political agendas, societal issues and entertainment. An exhibition that feels personal, critical and an homage.   

This video features Francesco Vezzoli  talking more about this exhibition showing works from it.



2. Thomas Ruff: Photographs 1979 – 2017
Whitechapel Gallery, London
27 September 2017 – 21 January 2018     

L’Empereur 06 (The Emperor 06), 1982, C-print, 30.2 × 40 cm, © Thomas RuffThomas Ruff. Installation view. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery

Thomas Ruff's work looks at themes such as suburbia, advertising culture, utopianism, pornography andsurveillance. His photo series are results of many different image-making technologies. I see a lot of appropriated work, but Thomas Ruff's work is of a superior category. 

Cosmology, suburbia, nudity, utopianism, catastrophe – these are some of the subjectsthat Thomas Ruff (b. 1958, Germany) addresses in his photographic series, which foralmost four decades have investigated the status of the image in contemporary culture.

This exhibition draws from the full range of Ruff’s output: from his acclaimed Portraits – passport-style portraits, reproduced on a huge scale and revealing every surface detail of their subjects, tohis most recent press++ photographs, drawing on newspaper archives from the era of the spacerace and Hollywood starlets.  

I particularly love his Interior series, Newspaper Photographs series and press++ series. Here's Thomas Ruff in conversation with curator Iwona Blazwick.          



3. Adam Jeppesen - Out of Camp
Foam Museum, Amsterdam 
16 June - 27 August 2017  

Adam Jeppesen's work feels delicate and monumental and must be seen in person to be appreciated. No photosof them would them any justice. 

Adam Jeppesen searches for the silence in desolate landscapes and the physical elements theartist surrenders to.   

An important aspect of Jeppesen’s work is his analogue and labour-intensive approach. Hisphotographs are the product of physical challenge and experimental printing techniques. Heabandoned his search for the perfect print in favour of cheap reproductive techniques and massproduction.

Coincidence, damage and imperfection are essential elements in his work. At a time when theimage has become infinitely perfectible and reproducible, Jeppesen experiments with thephotograph as a unique object that is subject to the forces of change and decay.     


4. Gordon Parks - I am You. Selected Works 1942-1978
Foam Museum
16 June - 6 September 2017  

The Invisible Man, Harlem, New York, 1952 © Gordon Parks

The Gordon Parks retrospective is powerful and terrifc. If it ever comes to your city, don't miss it.  

The camera can be a powerful weapon against repression, racism, violence, and inequality. TheAmerican photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) used photography to expose the deep divisionsin American society. Parks was an important champion of equal rights for African Americans and inhis work addressed themes such as poverty, marginalisation and injustice.

Aside from his iconic portraits of legends like Martin Luther King, he especially achieved famethrough his photographic essays for the prestigious Life Magazine and films he directed, suchas The Learning Tree and Shaft.   

 This video tells you a little bit about Gordon Parks and includes photos from the exhibition. 


5. Lionel Wendt - Ceylon
Huis Marseille, Amsterdam
10 June - 3 September 2017 

This was a new discovery for me. The photos I saw are beautiful and sensual. I hope more people will be exposed to Lionel Wendt's photography.

There is something special going on with regard to the oeuvre of Ceylonese photographer LionelWendt (1900–1944). After a period of relative oblivion, Wendt was rediscovered – or discovered, infact – worldwide as a unique, individualistic photographer who availed himself of experimentaltechniques and modern compositions.

Wendt’s choice of subjects was eclectic: from sensual and homo-erotic portraits to tropical imagesof Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and from picturesque scenes to compositions for which he usedmodernist stylistic devices and experimental techniques. 

After Wendt’s premature death in 1944 his negatives were destroyed, but the work he left behindlives on. This consists of a collection of beautiful experimental prints, of which several are includedin the renowned collections of such museums as Tate Modern in London and Rijksmuseum inAmsterdam.


6. Emirates to the World: Postal History from 1909 to Unification   
Etihad Museum, Dubai
7 January - 30 April 2017     

Besides the exhibition of the permanent collection, this was the first exhibition hosted by the Etihad Museum which opened earlier this year. It is a nerdy and charming exhibition about the postal services in the Emirates from its earliest days through to the UAE unification in 1971. It included stamps, letters, artworks and archives found in the extraordinary private collection of Mr. Abdulla Khoory, President of Emirates Philatelic Association. 

I regret not taking photos at the exhibition and it is unfortunate the Etihad Museum website does not have an image gallery for this exhibition. Wish the exhibition was extended for the rest of the year especially since there have been no new exhibitions after this one. 

The exhibition begins at the birth of the Emirate's local postal services in 1909, when written letters first became a trusted and efficient mean of communication. Thanks to its breadth and completeness, Khoory's collection captures much of this fascinating period and offers visitors aglimpse back into an era that had not yet seen the dawn of digital communication, or even the unification of the Emirates.      

Here's an article about the exhibition in The National


7. Hassan Sharif: I am the Single Work Artist 
Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah
4 November 2017 - 3 February 2018 

Hassan Sharif 2016 - Cotton rope, acrylic paint, and copper wire. 240 x 535 x 10 cm, Installation view, Image Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

This retrospective of Hassan Sharif who passed away a year ago includes a diverse body of work from the early1970s to 2016. It requires multiple visits to gain some form of understanding of what the artist was making and saying. I am left with more questions than answers every time I visit, could also be because of the lack of detailed wall/printed text available at the exhibition. It's one of the best produced exhibitions I've seenhere in the UAE and strongly recommend you visit if you live here.

This retrospective is the culmination of Sharif’s long and storied history with the Emirate of Sharjah, where he first began staging interventions and exhibitions of contemporary art. Hepursued this interest in earnest when he returned to the UAE from London after graduating fromThe Byam Shaw School of Art in 1984.

Moving between roles as an artist, educator, critic and writer, Sharif not only sought to encourage Emirati audiences to engage with contemporary art in exhibitions but also on the page, through his Arabic translations of historical art texts and manifestos.    


8.  Lala Rukh - sagar    
Grey Noise, Dubai
9 March - 13 May 2017     

Lala Rukh is another artist who is no longer with us, she passed away this July. Her photos from the series titled "sagar" are quiet, poetic and contemplative.   

sagar comprises of a collection of enigmatic photographs of the sea that make Lala Rukh's meditations on the nature of time and transience palpable. As a parallel photographic practice, they locate Lala’s travels between years 1992-2005. 

The titles in the photographic sets mark sites across Sri Lanka, India, Nepal and Burma where as though a seafarer traversing with a lens, the artist has stopped to take stock. 


9. Sea Views       
17 June - 17 September 2017       

Chip Hooper, Surf, Tasman Sea, New Zealand, Gelatin print on paper, 2005Ray K. Metzker - Valencia, Spain (61 M-38), Gelatin print on paper, 1961

Another sea themed exhibition on the list. The Rijksmuseum received a donation of more than 35 photographic seascapes from a private collector and put together this exhibition. It includes worls by contemporary international photographers such as Viviane Sassen, Chip Hooper, Franco Fontana, Jo Ractliffe, Chris McCaw and Simon van Til. 

The collection of seascapes has been assembled with care, attention and love by a private collector over a period of 10 years. Each piece is an intensive exercise, with the playful use of air, light and tide. 

The photos reveal the influence of the photographer and the richness of photographic print. The resulting works are very diverse. In some works the sea is black, in others azure. Some of the works are monumental, others small and intimate.  


10. Fouad El Koury - Suite Egyptienne
The Third Line, Dubai
13 April - 16 May 2017   

Fouad Elkoury, Kuchuk Hanem, 1990, Ink-jet Print on Baryta Paper, 72 x 90 cm

A series of more than 80 photos from the late 1980s that are are intimate, mysterious and cinematic. I wrote more about it here.        

Fouad Elkoury’s Suite Egyptienne is an account of the artist’s photographic travels through Egypt starting in the late 1980s. Using Gustave Flaubert and Maxime Du Camp as guides, Fouad followed their footsteps along the Nile valley nearly 150 years later. 

Fouad’s work evokes a sense of nostalgia for the era of Flaubert’s romanticism, while also making us reminisce the Egypt of 1989. Suite Egyptienne is an intimate series of photos, a sequence of over 80 images taken a quarter century ago, showing the ephemeral and layered qualities of history.  



My Top 10 Artworks of 2017 


Here's a look at some of my favourite art works I saw this year at some of the exhibitions I visited, which were considerably less compared to the past few years. They are listed in alphabetical (first name) order and I've hyperlinked the title that have a dedicated website/page with more information.   



1. Abigail Reynolds at the Islamic Art Festival exhibition in Sharjah Art Museum


2. Ali Jabri at Sharjah Biennale 13: Tamawuj 

Untitled, 1989-1992 9 boxes, wood and glass boxes, paper cutout on metal and glass, dimensions variable

Untitled, 1989-1992 9 boxes, wood and glass boxes, paper cutout on metal and glass, dimensions variable 


3. Allora & Calzadilla (in collaboration with Ted Chiang) - The Great Silence at Sharjah Biennale 13: Tamawuj 

The Great Silence, 2014 3-channel HD video, 16 minutes 22 seconds


4. Anna Atkins - Photographs of British Algae. Cyanotype Impressions (1843-53) at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam



5. Antonio Massoti - The Women of Bologna (1958-1962), installation at Bologna Fotografata 



6. Bariş Doğrusöz  Heure de Paris: The map and the territory, 2015/2017

Bariş Doğrusöz - Heure de Paris: The map and the territory, 2015/2017 17 digital prints, Hahnemühle Photo Rag 188 gsm

Bariş Doğrusöz - Heure de Paris: The map and the territory, 2015/2017 17 digital prints, Hahnemühle Photo Rag 188 gsm

Images via Sharjah Art Foundation


7. Lawrence Abu Hamdan - Saydnaya (the missing 19db) at Sharjah Biennale 13: Tamawuj 

Saydnaya (the missing 19db), 2017 Sound, mixing desk, light-boxImage via Universes in Universe 


8. Martin Scorsese - The Exhibition - Four Channel Media Installation at EYE Museum 

Media installation on four screens © Deutsche Kinemathek / M. Stefanowski, 2013Image via EYE


9. Picasso - Portrait of a Woman at Louvre Abu Dhabi 

Portrait of a Woman, 1928, Painted paper, gouache and ink on cardboard


10. Sarah Alahbabi at Warehouse 421

Sarah Alahbabi - Destructive, 2017, Manipulated mirror acrylics to portray Arabic phrases that criticize women. Image via Warehouse 421




15 Favourite Things I Listened to, Attended and Experienced in 2017 


Whilst I am working on my list of favourite exhibitions and films this year, here's a list of random things and moments that mattered to me this year.


1. Best song - Shadows by Chromatics:

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that Twin Peaks: The Return is my favourite thing this year. Will be writing more about this in my end of year list of favourite things I watched.

But for now I will start by saying Shadows by Chromatics is my favourite song this year. This song has been on a loop on many days when I wanted to listen to music. I teared up the first time I listened to it on Twin Peaks: The Return at the end of hour two, and it still makes me tear up once in a while.   


2. The Lodgers - A Twin Peaks Podcast 

During the summer of watching Twin Peaks: The Return, I religiously listened to every episode of The Lodgers podcast hosted by Kate Rennebohm and Simon Howell with a different guest(s) in each episode. It felt like sitting with friends and listening to smart and insightful discussions and can't thank them enough for all their efforts for making this THE best podcast about Twin Peaks.  


3. Twin Peaks Recap by Keith Uhlich on MUBI  


In addition to the podcast, the weekly Twin Peaks Recap by Keith Uhlich are also insightful and smartly written and I urge anyone who watched/is watching Twin Peaks: The Return to not miss reading it. 


4. Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017 

I found out about Il Cinema Ritrovato a few years ago and was finally able to attend this year. The festival takes place in Bologna, Italy and is dedicated to the the rediscovery of old, rare and little-known films. I loved being there and look forward to attending next year. I wrote about my time there this summer here and talk about it on Tea with Culture podcast here.


5. Future Imperfect: Science - Fiction - Film at Berlinale 2017 

Future Imperfect: Science - Fiction - Film
 was the title of this year's Retrospective section at Berlinale. It included a great selection of films, many I watched for the first time. I wrote a bit about it here


6. Lucrecia Martel at BFI London Film Festival 2017

A talk with Lucrecia Martel was added last minute at the BFI London Film Festival. Her film Zama was my favourite at the festival and was glad I had the opportunity to listen to her speak. She shared her (non)scientific views on immersive cinema, time as volume and the arbitrariness of linear storytelling. Someone needs to organise a talk with both her and David Lynch.  

 Here's a good recap of the talk written by Erika Balsom on Sight & Sound. An extract:

In a Screen Talk hosted at BFI Southbank the day after the premiere, Martel turned to a surprising analogy to describe this relationship between film and viewer, comparing the movie theatre to a swimming pool: the audience should be fully submerged, feeling the film as water on skin. Martel noted that we do not live in this submerged state on a day-to-day basis – as she acknowledged, it would be a “harrowing experience” – but for two hours, in the darkness of the cinema, we are captive in body and mind.  


7. Frederick Wiseman at BFI London Film Festival 2017   

Another favourite moment at the BFI London Fil Festival this year was seeing Frederick Wiseman after the screening of his wonderful film Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. In the film, Wiseman captures Khalil Gibran Muhammaed describing the New York Public Library as "mind building" and "soul affirming".

8. Film Comment Podcast 

The Film Comment podcast is favourite in the world of film podcasts this year. Presented by Violet Lucca, who brings together a great selection of themes and guests in each episode. If you want to learn more about film and film criticism, this is the podcast to listen to.  


9. Still Processing Podcast

The Still Processing podcast is a 'culture conversation with Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham'. It is sharp, intelligent, funny and a great podcast discovery for me this year.  The Whitney Houston episode is a particular favourite.   


10. New Order in Dubai 

New Order came to Dubai in April and glad I went as it has been a while since I attended a music concert. 


11. Video editing with Tulip Hazbar 

Over three weeks between October and November, I spent many days and nights working on a video titled MUSIC TV that was played at Louvre Abu Dhabi during its opening week. It wouldn't have happened without Tulip Hazbar who helped me edit the video. The process and the journey of the video was incredibly fun and rewarding because we enjoyed experimenting and discovering new possibilities along the way. I hope we can work together again soon. 


12. Midnight screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 3D at NOVO Cinemas

It isn't often when I have a cherished and memorable experience at a cinema in Dubai, but one night on 13th September I convinced two friends to join me at a midnight screening of Terminator 2: Judgement Day which I had not seen before. I do wish cinemas in the UAE look into screening more old/restored films here.   


13. In conversation with Dr Aisha Bilkhair 

After several attempts at trying to host a talk with Ethnomusicologist and Research Advisor at the UAE National Archives Dr. Aisha Bilkhair this summer, we finally sat togeter at Art Jameel Project Space and talked about music in the UAE, its history, influences and changes. It was a small insight into the wealth of knowledge in her brains and I hope I get to sit with her for more discussions again.  

14. Zeina Hashem Beck ode to Tahia Carioca 

I attended a poetry reading night with Zeina Hashem Beck, part of the launch of her book of poems Louder than Hearts. Her ode to Tahia Carioca and Egyptian cinema was delighful. 


15. Screening of Boy by Taika Waititi and getting the audience to sit through the end credits 


In November I was asked by The Scene Club to select a film they had screened over the past 10 years to screen again as part of their 10 year anniversary. I selected Boy by Taika Waititi because that same week we had his film Thor released in our cinemas.

We had a great turn out, and in my intro I suggested everyone should staying for the end credits because of two additional scenes. The majority stayed back, a site I hardly see in Dubai cinemas, even for Marvel films. I had never felt so proud of myself and left with a happy grin from ear to ear. 



Works I did in 2017 and thank you notes 


This has been a busy year for me on a professional level. I took part in a few exhibitions and programmed several talks and film screenings. It has been a fullfing year and I am looking forward to taking a step back in the next couple of months to plan and figure out would like to work on next.

Here's a run down of the different projects I worked on this year, with links if you'd like to read more details: 

  • February: Exhibited at Is Old Gold? exhibition at DUCTAC curated by Cristiana de Marchi and Muhanad Ali
  • March: Was one of the commissioned artists invited to take part in Sharjah Biennial 13: Tamawuj curated by Christine Tohme. 

Despite meeting great people this year and working with them, one thing I realised this year is there isn't enough peer support or professionalism going around in this town. The art and culture world is a small circle in the UAE and it is unfortunate when there are times where there's not enough mutual support being shown in the community.

I am learning not to let things let this get me down and to focus on the positives, and to seek out people that are worth working in terms of collaboration and exchange of ideas. 

Huge shout out, thank yous and hugs to everyone I worked with closely this year, for the opportunity to create new work, for the incredible discussions and support, for listening and for the laughs. Here's a list of people I would like to thank:  

  • Abdallah Al Shami 
  • Ahmet Salih Ozkut  
  • Ali Khaled
  • Antonia Carver 
  • Austyn Allison
  • Christine Tohme
  • Cristiana de Marchi 
  • Deepak Unnikrishnan
  • Elie Domit
  • Faisal Al Zaabi 
  • Fatma Al Mahmoud 
  • Hammad Nasar
  • Hoor Al Qasimi 
  • John Dennehy
  • Laila Binbrek
  • Laura Metzler 
  • Nick Leech 
  • Mohammed Abdallah 
  • Mouna Khorshid  
  • Muhanad Ali  
  • Nawaf Al Janahi
  • Nayla al Khaja 
  • Noor Al Suwaidi 
  • Reem Shadid
  • Shadi Megallaa
  • Tamsin Wildly 
  • Todd Reisz    
  • Uns Kattan
  • Vicky Tadros 
  • Wael Hattar

An extra special shout out to Mohammad Khawaja who is one of the most supportive people I know in the UAE and to Tulip Hazbar for all her help, support and laughs, and someone I hope to work with more in 2018. 



The Culturist turns 8

November 18, 1924. Washington, D.C. "Debutantes of Columbia Hospital Benefit Committee." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. |


Happy birthday to me.



[image via Shorpy]


Twenty films to see from Cinema of the World at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

This year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival has 49 films in Cinema of the World section. Here are my top 20 picks. Out of this selection I have already seen Loveless, No Date No Signature and You Were Never Really Here and strongly recommend you don't miss them, especially You Were Never Really Here which is one for the big screen and big speakers.  

I've added a bonus reason to watch each film recommended below. I hope the film schedule will allow me to see as many of these films. 

Click on each title for more information, schedule and to buy tickets. 

A Ciambra
Director: Jonas Carpignano
18+ | Italian dialogue with English subtitles | 120 min 

A coming of age story abou Pio Amato, a Romany teenager in rural Calabria. Despite his tender years, Pio’s got the attitude and the connections – he moves effortlessly between the locals, the Romany and the immigrants as he shadows his streetwise older brother Cosimo around town. But when things go wrong and Cosimo vanishes, Pio finds that he has to be a man now, for real.   

Bonus reason to see it: This is Italy's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. 


Director: Aktan Arym Kubat
PG | Kyrgyz dialogue with English subtitles | 89 min

Anyone who craves adventure, black humour, dark deeds, mysterious legends and mythical beasts, will find much to love in Centaur. A rare submission from Kyrgyzstan, Centaur revolves around the epic titular hero, who lives in the depths of the countryside, with his deaf-mute wife and son. 

Centaur has quite a bit of peace and quiet then, to dwell on his obsession with horses and specifically, the loss of Kyrgyz national pride and unity. As the two concepts become ever entwined in Centaur’s mind, he hatches a crazy scheme that will, in his mind, restore his countrymen to their state of former glory and power. 

Bonus reason to see it: How often do we get to see a film from Kyrgyzstan? 


Custody / Jusqu'à La Garde 
Director: Xavier Legrand   
15+ | French dialogue with English subtitles | 90 min   

Through the eyes of young Julien Besson (Thomas Gioria), we watch the harrowing breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Yet, amidst the turmoil, our suppositions and assumptions are constantly challenged, in a storyline that twists and turns back and forth. 

Is Antoine, Julien’s dad, a violent, unpredictable monster? Is his mother Miriam manipulative, dishonest and controlling? It would be spoiling the eventual climax to tell you more, so we will just sincerely urge you not to miss this one.  

Bonus reason to see it: It won Silver Lion for Best Director and First Film Winner at the Venice Film Festival. 

Director: Armando Iannucci 
15+ |  English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 106 min

A gripping, hilarious drama based on the real-life demise of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. A surreally satirical and blackly comedy with a cast (including Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and Rupert Friend) portraying the lunacy and chaos that explodes after Stalin’s messy passing.

The searing script, meanwhile, offers slyly pertinent political commentary, with Iannucci skewering the sheer idiocy, craven ambition and doctrinaire oafishness of Stalin’s inner circle.

Bonus reason to see it: Armando Iannucci’s credits include The Thick Of It, In The Loop, Veep, Alan Partridge.   

The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco
18+ | English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 103 min

James Franco transforms the tragicomic true-story of aspiring filmmaker and infamous Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau—an artist whose passion was as sincere as his methods were questionable—into a celebration of friendship, artistic expression, and dreams pursued against insurmountable odds.

Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy's cult-classic disasterpiece The Room (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and welcome reminder that there is more than one way to become a legend—and no limit to what you can achieve when you have absolutely no idea what you're doing.    

Bonus reason to see it: This film has been receiving nothing but great reviews over the past couple of months. 


A Gentle Creature / Krotkaya
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
15+ | Russian dialogue with English subtitles | 143 min  

This powerful, slow-burning Russian drama, inspired by the Dostoyevsky story of the same name sees the unnamed central character – a taciturn young women running a petrol station in the middle of nowhere – embark on a long, difficult journey to the heart of deepest Siberia, where her imprisoned husband has apparently vanished. 
Once she reaches the chaotic end of the line, her quest for answers comes up against unexpected - and sinister - opposition.   

Bonus reason to see it: Sergei Loznitsa's filmography includes stand out films like Maiden and The Fog.

Hunting Season / Temporada De Caza
Director: Natalia Garagiola 
15+ | Spanish dialogue with English subtitles | 105 min 

The feature debut by Argentinian director Natalia Garagiola, Hunting Season is a heartwarming drama, set amidst the gorgeous, dramatic scenery of Patagonia. When young Nahuel’s (Lautaro Betton) mother dies from cancer, he goes off the rails in pretty dramatic fashion, culminating with his expulsion from school.
Trying to sort himself out, he tracks down his absent father Ernesto (Germán Palacios), a respected hunting guide in Patagonia, living a serene and settled life. When estranged father and son confront each other, a welter of emotional tides and waves rise and fall in conflict and tension.

Bonus reason to see it: This feature debut won the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week prize.     

I am Not a Witch
Director: Rungano Nyoni   
12+ | English, Bemba and Nyanja dialogue with English subtitles | 95 min

This debut feature from Zambian director Rungano Nyoni artfully satirises her homeland’s more esoteric traditions and beliefs. ‘I Am Not A Witch’ is a blackly comic account of a young girl, Shula, who is declared a witch by her neighbours in a rural Zambian village.
She’s sent to a bizarre ‘witch camp’, under the care of a creepy, pompous official Mr Banda who gets busy exploiting the child’s supposed talents in ever-more bizarre situations. There’s more than a whiff of black comedy here, and the performances, especially by Shula Maggie Mulubwa as Shula and Henry BJ Phiri as Mr Banda are superbly pitched.   

Bonus reason to see it: The film received high praise from audiences and critics alike at the Cannes 2017 Directors’ Fortnight. 

Director: Alexandros Avranas 
18+ | Greek dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / 103 min

A wealthy Greek couple hire an impoverished migrant to act as a surrogate mother. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it transpires. As the narrative unfolds, emotions bubble and roil to the surface, tension builds and the trio are soon sparking off each other as the situation descends into horrific tragedy and heartbreak. 
Touching on themes uppermost in the Greek collective consciousness today – ethical, financial and familial pressures conflict with the reality of migration, cultural issues and the unknowable wiles of the heart. These various facets are brought to bear upon a narrative that examines a marriage, a society and a nation in a state of unknowing turmoil, in a superbly-crafted, thrilling and suspenseful drama.   

Bonus reason to see it: The same director made Miss Violence, one of my favourite films from DIFF 2013.

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev 
18+ | Russian dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 127 min   

A compelling meditation on the complexities of life in modern-day Russia, from acclaimed director Andrey Zvyagintsev, that takes a broken family as a metaphor for the state of a nation in flux. Middle-class couple Boris and Zhenya are divorcing and starting new lives.
The split has been extraordinarily bitter, an emotional rupture of seismic proportions, and their 12-year old son Alyosha has borne the brunt. When Aloshya vanishes, after a particularly ugly encounter between his warring parents, they are forced to work together to try and find him. Full of darkness, tension and suspense, ‘Loveless’ brilliantly casts a critical eye over the morals and hypocrisies of everyday life in Russia.    

Bonus reason to see it: Andrey Zvyagintsev is a thought provoking director holding a mirror to Russian society. Also, look out for one particular scene featuring the boy which has stayed with me ever since I watched this film at the London Film Festival.
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof  
12+ | Persian and English dialogue with English subtitles | 117 mins   

A powerful tale of tradition and moral rectitude in the face of creeping commercialism, A Man Of Integrity is the story of Reza, a taciturn and reserved individual, happy to run his goldfish farm and exist peacefully with his wife and small child in the beautiful landscapes of rural northern Iran.

But his serenity is shattered when a corrupt local company, with links to the authorities and apparently, every intention of crushing the local population to its will, threatens Reza’s tranquil life. How does he retain his integrity in the face of shameless commercial bullying? A Man Of Integrity is an inspiring examination of the resilience of the human spirit, that shows you how.

Bonus reason to see it: The film was screened in Un Certain Regard section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and won the main prize. 
My Pure Land
Director: Sarmad Masud
15+ |  Urdu dialogue with English subtitles | 92 mins      

British director Sarmud Masud delivers a taut, wired story based on true facts, set in rural Pakistan. Set over the course of a single night, it sees a homestead being attacked by a group of marauding men, intent on seizing the property from two girls.

The star of the film is Suhaee Abro, playing teenager Nazo, who has to look after her younger sister and defend their home from her frankly, revolting uncle Mehrban, who has already killed Nazo’s father and brother. As the fighting intensifies, Nazo needs every molecule of strength and fortitude to deal with these men - who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the property.

Bonus reason to see it: The buzz around this film described as a feminist Western set in Pakistan is enough reason for me to watch it. 

No Date, No Signature / Bedoune Tarikh, Bedoune Emza
Director: Vahid Jalilvand 
PG | Persian dialogue with English subtitles | 104 min 

Dr Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha’ee) is a forensic pathologist. He’s a tough, hard-working, dedicated professional, whose life takes a dangerous turn one night when he accidentally hits a motorbike, on the highway. To Nariman’s horror, the bike is carrying a young family, a couple and their eight year old son, Amir Ali, as well as a baby.

Although nobody is seriously hurt, when the body of Amir Ali arrives at Dr Nariman’s autopsy room a few days later, he is shaken to the core. Was his death caused by Nariman’s carelessness? Or was it, as the child’s father believes, brought on by spoiled meat?

Amir Ali’s plunge into grief-stricken despair and Dr Nariman’s parallel internal anguish and fear, powers this quietly forceful, magnificent second feature by acclaimed director Vahid Jalilvand. 

Bonus reason to see it: The film won the Orizzonti Award for Best Director and Best Actor at Venice     

The Outlaws / Beomjoidosi
Director: Kang Yoon-Sung 
18+ | Korean and Chinese dialogue with English subtitles | 121 min 

Based on real events that occurred in 2007 dubbed the "Heuksapa Incident", this South Korean crime thriller follows a turf war in Seoul that grows between the local Garibong-dong gang and the fearsome Heuksapa gang from China, led by the bloodthirsty Jang Chen.

When the police get involved, they cook up a tense and thrilling plan to tackle Jeng and his gang with extreme prejudice. 

Bonus reason to see it: Who could say no to a Korean crime thriller?

Director: Rouzie Hassanova 
12+ | Bulgarian dialogue with English subtitles | 84 min 

For a young rock 'n' roll fan, Bulgaria in 1971 was a distinctly un-swinging place to be. An oppressive Communist government blamed it firmly on the boogie and for a young hip cat like Ahmet (Aleksander Ivanov), life is grey and dull. So, when his father walks almost 100km to the nearest town, to buy him a new radio, it’s a truly heartwarming gesture.

But beyond this tribute to paternal love, this fantastic screenplay addresses deeper issues that were at play behind the Iron Curtain. Director/writer Rouzie Hassanova’s film portrays the difficult lives of Muslims in Bulgaria, eking out a living in the rough, wild countryside. The family’s local Party officials are pressuring Muslims to convert to Christianity and Ahmet’s radio is broken – there are difficulties to surmount everywhere, large and small. 

A beautifull and poignant film is part paean to the director’s own childhood in Bulgaria and a subtle, powerful treatise on dignity and fortitude in the face of bigotry and totalitarianism.

Bonus reason to see it: A portrayal of life in Bulgaria in the 1970s we don't get to see at the cinema.

Director: Kamila Andini 
PG | Balinese and Indonesian dialogue with English subtitles | 86 min 

We love this beautiful Indonesian dream-like film, less a story and more a sustained art piece, that meditates on love, loss, duality and symbiotic relationships. Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) adores her brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena), who is seriously ill in hospital.

Detailing the intangible yet deep link between these twins, director/writer Kamila Andini invokes drama, fantasy and the outer reaches of the imagination to create a haunting homage to traditional Balinese spiritual beliefs. As Tantra retreats into a world of make-believe, fantastical stories and wonder, the contrast with his grim hospital surroundings and worried family are thrown into clear relief.  

Bonus reason to see it: Magic and fantasy through the eyes of children. As escape we all need.


Sweet Country
Director: Warwick Thornton 
15+ |  English dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles / Colour / 112 min

Watching this breathtaking Australian epic, the first thing that strikes you is the harsh beauty of the rural Outback landscape. The second is the ghastliness of the white men who exploit and abuse the Aboriginal natives working on it. One exception is a kindly preacher, Fred Smith (Sam Neill), who treats his workers with dignity and respect.

When Sam (Hamilton Morris) is sent to the homestead of a fierce bad hombre, Harry March (Ewen Leslie) to help with renovations, things soon turn ugly, before getting really bad. Bullets fly, blood is spilled and Sam is on the run. But will he be believed? Having scored a critical triumph with his previous feature, 2009’s ‘Samson and Delilah’, director Warwick Thornton was tipped as a talent to watch. This memorable and poignant masterpiece thoroughly vindicates that prediction.

Bonus reason to see it: Lots of critical acclaim for this film, it won the Special Jury Prize award in Venice. 

The Square
Director: Ruben Östlund
15+ | English, Swedish and Danish dialogue with English subtitles | 142 min

A hilariously biting satire on the contemporary art world that scooped a Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, The Square is set in a museum in Stockholm, and neatly sends up the hollow puffery of the art world, the egotism of wealthy curators and collectors and the ridiculous pretentions that pass for meaningful art.
Museum curator, Christian (Claes Bang), is a wily, enigmatic character who has just unveiled ‘The Square’, an installation piece that challenges viewers about their moral and ethical values.
But the gap between art and reality becomes increasingly vivid as Christian’s life takes an unexpected turn, sparked by the theft of his cellphone. Along with a reporter (Elisabeth Moss) and a crazed performance artist Oleg (Terry Notary), Christian finds himself heading into a shattering, existential crisis which threatens to derail that fragile skein of make-believe and delusion that make up his comfortable, complacent world.   

Bonus reason to see it: Same director who made Force Majeure in 2014. 

The Workshop / L'atelier
Director: Laurent Cantet  
15+ | French dialogue with English subtitles | 113 min 

A well-known novelist arrives in a rural French village to run a creative writing class. Antoine is one of a group of youngsters, selected to work on a crime thriller with the novelist, Olivia, but things soon start getting strange. As Antione gets reluctantly pulled into the deep, dark history of his hometown, his angst and violent behavior causes mayhem amidst the other members of the writing circle.  

Bonus reason to see it: Laurent Cantet is best known for the 2008 Palme d’Or-winning docudrama The Class.    

Director: Lynne Ramsay
18+ | English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 95 min 

Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames, this is a brutal, brilliant thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix which won him the Best Actor prize at Cannes this year, with its inspired direction by the acclaimed director Lynne Ramsay. 

A missing teenage girl. A brutal and tormented enforcer on a rescue mission. Corrupt power and vengeance unleash a storm of violence that may lead to his awakening.  

Bonus reason to see it: The music in the film is by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead). 

Ten Arab Films to See at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

Here's my list of top 10 films to see from the Arab world. Out of thes 10, I've already seen The Blessed (dir. Sofia Djama) and Wajib (dir. Annemarie Jacir), two strong films by two female directors that I strongly recommend you don't miss, and I am looking forward to discovering new (and hopefully good) Arab films this year.  

Click on each title for more information and to buy tickets. 

The Blessed / Les bienheureux
Director: Sofia Djama
Algeria | 15+ | Arabic and French dialogue with English subtitles | 102 min

In Algiers, a few years after the end of the civil war, Amal and Samir decided to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in a restaurant. On their way there, they discuss the state of their country. 

Amal talks about lost illusions and Samir about the necessity to cope with them. Meanwhile, their son Fahim and his friends Feriel and Reda wander through a hostile Algiers and encounter the harsh reality of life in the city. 


Cactus Flower / Zahret Al Sabar
Director: Hala Elkoussy
Egypt | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 102 min 

Aida is a struggling actress in her early thirties, from a provincial background. She finds herself on the streets of Cairo along with her elderly neighbour Samiha, a reclusive bourgeois.

With no money and nowhere to go, the two women, aided by young Yassin, a street-savvy kid, embark on a journey to find shelter. 
An extraordinary friendship grows among the unlikely trio, a friendship comparable to a delicate flower blooming from a thorny cactus. 

Kiss Me Not / Balash Tbousny
Director: Ahmed Amer
Egypt | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 88 min

The film follows a young and ambitious Egyptian director who faces issues while shooting a kissing scene in his new film with the leading actress Fajr who decides to pursue a more religious path.

Never Leave Me 
Director: Aida Begić
PG | Arabic and Turkish dialogue with English subtitles | 96 min

A tender tale of solidarity between a trio of young orphans. After his mother dies, 14-year old Isa is sent to an orphanage for Syrian refugees in Turkey. There he makes an uneasy alliance with 11-year old Ahmad and 10-year old Motaz.
The boys are grieving for their parents - Ahmad’s father disappeared in Syria, while Motaz was abandoned by his mother when she remarried. So, whilst not quite sure of each other, the boys are united by their dreams of leaving the orphanage to pursue their various ambitions. 
Although the three boys are very different in their temperament and desires, in face of adversity, they are forced to start relying on each other. The dangers that threatened to ruin their lives will give them a reason to find love, friendship and hope. 

One of These Days
Director: Nadim Tabet
Lebanon | 
18+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 91 min

It’s a sunny autumn day in Beirut and we’re following three young people, Maya, Yasmina and Tarek, as they live their lives amidst a rumbling backdrop of civil unrest, terrorism, war and weapons. 

Yet, like young kids the world over, their minds are more preoccupied with staving off boredom and negotiating the delicate politics of seduction and romance. Over 24 hours, we follow the trio as they navigate the beautiful, damaged, traumatized, electric city they call home.  


Until the Birds Return
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Algeria | PG | Arabic and French dialogue with English subtitles | 113 min

Modern-day Algeria is a maelstrom of stories, as its citizens negotiate the fragile barriers between past and present in these three short stories, reflecting various aspects of life in the North African state.
A nouveau-riche property developer’s past catches up with him unexpectedly. An ambitious neurologist finds his military past isn’t so easy to shake of and a woman finds herself in a dilemma between head and heart. Three tales of small human dramas that somehow successfully speak to universal themes and quandaries to which we can all relate.  


Until The End Of Time / Ila Akher Ezaman
Director: Yasmine Chouikh
Algeria | PG | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 93 min


In the cemetery of Sidi Boulekbour, Ali the old gravedigger meets the 60-year-old Johar, who is visiting her sister's grave for the first time after losing her husband. Johar wants her final resting place to be next to her sister, so she decides to organize her own funeral and asks Ali to help her.
But preparations for the final journey go awry when Ali and Johar unexpectedly start to realize they have feelings for each other.  

Director: Annemarie Jacir
Palestine | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 97 min

Internationally acclaimed director Annemarie Jacir, who returns to the DIFF with her latest feature, winner of the Don Quixote Award at Locarno Film Festival and this year's Palestinian Oscar entry, Wajib.

The heart-warming story of the rediscovery and reconciliation of a troubled father-son relationship, Wajib follows a day in the life of Abu Shadi and his son Shadi. With his sister’s wedding a month away, Shadi travels from his job as an architect in Rome to help his father in the customary hand-delivery of the wedding invitations. As the estranged pair spend the day together, the tense details of their relationship come to a head, challenging their fragile and very different lives. 

Watermelon Club / Nadi Al Batikh   
Director: Yaser Al Neyadi
United Arab Emirates | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 75 mins

Six men meet up to practice weird and mysterious rituals that recall their shocking past secrets. 

Director: Sahim Omar Kalifa
Iraqi Kurdistan | 12+ | Dutch and Kurdish dialogue with English subtitles | 95 mins

Havin, a Kurdish shepherd's wife, flees to Belgium with her nine-year-old daughter, when she is accused of having an affair. Her husband Zagros believes her and follows her to the West, only to be plagued by doubts once he is there. 


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.

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