Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Dr Amina Al Rustamani, project director, Dubai Studio City, and a key management team-member of Dubai International Film Festival, says Diff facilitates the emergence of Dubai as a destination for filmmakers from around the world. Rajeev Nair met her
There are three inspirational photographs on the walls of Dr Amina Al Rustamani's office at Dubai Media City. Coincidentally, all three could apply to her current role as a key management team-member of Dubai International Film Festival (Diff).
The first reads: "The most important lesson is learn which bridges in life to use and which ones to break off."
In Diff parlance, Dr Amina must use films as a bridge to bring together different cultures.
The second reads: "The great thing about inspiration is in leaving footprints for others to follow."
Cut to Diff: Dubai's film festival has a whole different dimension in its vision. Unlike being a mere celebration of cinema, it inspires a meeting of minds through films.
The third caption reads: "What happens, happens for a reason."
Hasn't Diff been reason enough for the emergence of a new breed of young Emarati filmmakers, whose works are being showcased at Diff 2005?
Dr Amina is an acknowledged authority in wireless technologies. She received her BS, MS and DSc degrees in electrical engineering from the George Washington University, Washington DC, and had joined the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone as project engineer for Samacom, the satellite communication services provider of the Dubai Holding Group; and was later DMC's director of broadcasting.
She played a major role in designing and implementing the satellite TV broadcasting and video encoding facilities for broadcasters in Dubai Media City and elsewhere in the region.
Currently involved in developing Dubai Studio City as a regional hub for filmmaking, she has played a strategic role in shaping Diff 2005, especially in highlighting the works of talented Emarati filmmakers.
Excerpts from an interview:
You are associating with Diff hands-on for the first time. What are your expectations from the event?
I expect different things of different dimensions. First of all, I expect people to enjoy watching the films. I guess we have already accomplished what we have been preaching through our festival-objective of Building Cultures, Meeting Minds. With the film festival, people get to study different cultures and understand the backgrounds and the issues they face, which will ultimately bring them closer. In terms of business, I expect Diff to host filmmakers who can see first hand what Dubai has to offer and establish a better relationship to explore future opportunities.
What is your evaluation of Diff 2004?
It was a huge success. There have been a number of enquiries from Europe, the Middle East, America and Asia. People have started talking about Diff, and the film industry is looking at Dubai in a different light. They seem to realise that if we have a film festival, naturally we would also be promoting Dubai as a location for shooting and production.
Is it possible to outline your specific involvement in strategising for Diff 2005?
I have been very much involved in encouraging local talent in the Diff roster. We have 38 Arab films and five are by UAE film-makers. It makes me feel proud that these talented youngsters can start a film career right here. All they need is a big push and guidance. And this year, we are also finalising a panel discussion on Syrian filmmaker Moustapha Akkad (who died in the recent bomb blast in Jordan).
From your interaction with the world film community, what do you think is their impression of Diff?
Honestly, I have been receiving very positive feedback. In fact, it surprised me that people know of it and talk about it. That is how you measure the success of a film festival.
According to you, what is the defining character of Diff?
In the Arab map, Diff would fit as being really a home for new young talent. On a world level, what we always talk about as a strategy for 'Building Cultures, Meeting Minds' makes Diff hugely different from other similar events. That aspect also reflects on what and how Dubai is. Diff focuses on bringing films and content that appeal to all communities in Dubai.
Do you think, Diff also puts a spotlight on Dubai as a tourist destination?
Yes, definitely. There are a lot of linkages between tourism and filmmaking, and we already have a remarkable synergy between Diff, Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City — all of which opens doors for filmmakers to Dubai.
As project director of Dubai Studio City, do you see any tangible achievements in filmmaking in Dubai?
Since we launched Dubai Studio City, we have a got a number of enquiries for shooing in Dubai. We already have a Location Approvals Services under DSC, which is an important service for all filmmakers and television production companies. It is a single-window service, wherein we liaise with other government entities — the Dubai Municipality, Dubai Police and Ministry of Information — to facilitate filmmaking here. Since July, we have approved 70 projects — including commercials, television productions and films. International production companies cannot afford to waste time; they need to get their approvals as fast as possible.
That is what I expect out of Diff too — to increase the number of film productions here. Simultaneously, we are also putting in the necessary infrastructure in place, which is not a simple task.
What is Dubai's advantage as a film destination?
The locations, obviously. Secondly, we are putting in place the infrastructure; we are fast and efficient with our services and people are impressed with the way we conduct business and the high levels of service we provide. I have been visiting the world's major film production centres — India, USA, Canada. We want to understand their strengths and deliver the goodness of all of these centres, here in Dubai.
Director Sharada Ramanathan's debut feature film Sringaram – Dance of Love makes its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival. She says the film is an exploration of feminism as a fun, romantic and aesthetic experience. Rajeev Nair has the details
Sharada Ramanathan recalls that Sringaram — Dance of Love was seeded while returning from a seminar on feminism. As a socio-cultural activist who has worked with Spic-Macay, CRY and the Ford Foundation, and steered the founding of the Indian Foundation for Arts, Sharada was disturbed by the notion of feminism as an intellectual import from the West.
To her, feminism also could be a "fun, romantic and aesthetic experience." That brand of feminism propounded by the singers, dancers and writers of yore seemed jettisoned with modernity. It was largely replaced by an essentially alien "concept" — as against an organic human response — of affirmative action and conflict resolution.
Moving away from the clichés of "cross-over cinema" and the brow-beaten formula of Bollywood, she realised that in film-making "ethnic audio-visuals hold greater promise in capturing the imagination of local and international markets, festivals and audiences."
Sringaram, thus, found its core in south India, in the lives of devadasis or temple dancers. Akin to the geishas of Japan, devadasis were the repositories of traditional arts. They even presided over temple rituals and the local governance. When the Devadasi system was abolished, the traditional arts they patronised too were disenfranchised.
The devadasis faced a peculiar dilemma: In art they were regarded as auspicious and in the social space they were degraded to the lower caste. They addressed this dichotomy of living through her instrument of expression — sringaram (poetic love).
The film, which makes its world premiere at Dubai International Film Festival, has a dream crew. Accomplished classicist Lalgudi Jayaraman composes the music for the film; Madhu Ambat, who has worked with directors from Mani Ratnam to Manoj Night Shyamalan, wields the camera and is also the film's executive producer; Sreekar Prasad, one of the most sought after technicians in India is the editor; art director Thotta Tharani recreates the days of yore; and Saroj Khan, associated with many Bollywood productions including Devdas, is the choreographer.
Sringaram, ultimately, meets the core message of Diff — Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds — by looking within, and exploring an "aesthetic and history that has universal resonance."
"Sringaram has a connection with global audiences since the story could have happened anywhere, anytime — only the context would change," says Sharada Ramanathan.
Here, she gives an insight into the making of the film:
Why did you choose the subject of devadasis for the film? Considering the period flavour of the theme, do you feel your film can connect to contemporary audiences? And have you built the theme to reflect contemporary realities?
The Devadasi embodies three wonderful dimensions of life — womanhood, art and social challenge. In Sringaram, the Devadasi is a woman, an artist and is from a "lower" social strata of society. A combination of these three realities in her life make her a very interesting narrative.
Also, I think there is a general movement in world cinema towards historical scripts. This maybe because, on the one hand, we want to reflect on those aspects of history that still influence us today. But on the other hand also because I think we actually see the aesthetics of the past as superior to the environment which we make for ourselves today.
I am a contemporary woman looking back on an exciting time of history, so if I can connect with Sringaram, then so can contemporary audiences. Sringaram also has a connection with global audiences since the story could have happened anywhere, anytime — only the context would change. It is like the Geishas of Japan. Looking back also tells what our progressions and regressions are, in a universal sort of way. I also think that India is most noticed for its cultural life, more than anything else. International audiences are enthusiastic about a genuine Indian cultural experience.
As a modern woman making a period film, it is natural for me to only take those elements which are relevant to me today. What I don't have from the past, what I don't want to have, what I am missing and yearning for — all of that.
What was the toughest part in executing-conceptualising the film?
The toughest part was determining a body language, style for the film. There are innumerable research and textual materials of this period but very little audio-visual. And I had only been exposed to Indian cinema which was either distinctly commercial with theatrical dramatics or reality-based art cinema. I was cautious not to adopt a modern here-and-now style or a 1940s and 1950s style, when Indian cinema was still somewhat virginal. The only way out was to help each actor to internalise their characters, get to the soul of their characters and then emerge with natural performances. In fact, the music is completely unplugged. No synthesizer, no electronics.
You have an A-list of technicians working on the film. From Madhu Ambat to Lalgudi Jayaraman, the crew list reads like the best in the field. Wasn't it tough pooling them together? Do you recall how you went approaching them, and why them?
Frankly, I think this shows that if you put your idea above yourself, people rally around it. I first approached Lalgudi mama who had already refused scores of offers including the likes of Sivaji Ganesan. We had three sittings and several months of waiting before he yielded. After that, I knew that only Madhu Ambat could shoot a film like this. He loved the idea, he said yes, but of course there was Lalgudi's involvement to bait him with! Then I called up Saroj Khan, Thota Tharani and Rukmini Krishnan and even the lyricist Swati VAR who was willing to work in harmony with Lalgudi. I told them that I had no choice but to work with them if this film had to be made. Take Saroj Khan for example. She is the only choreographer in Indian cinema who has worked across three-and-a-half generations and even choreographed for Kamala when she was "Baby" Kamala. Who else could replace her in a film like Sringaram? It was the same with the others too.
You have a mix of known and unknown names in the cast; what did you look for in your performers, say Manoj K Jayan, Aditi and Hamsa?
I was obviously looking for the right "fit." I knew that all of them, seasoned actors or otherwise would be alien to the subject and its treatment, since we still make historical and mythological films with the synthesiser groove. But I was looking for potential that I could work with. Aditi has that fresh, beautiful personality and Hamsa has the mysterious, slightly seductive persona. Both of them are trained dancers. So that was a criterion. Manoj has a Malayalam cinema orientation and can be a brash princely landlord without hamming it. Even a world famous comedian like Y Gee Mahendra fitted perfectly into the mystical mood of the film.
Why did you choose Dubai to premiere your film? Does your film reflect the tagline of the festival, Building Cultures, Meeting Minds?
Well, of course, the tag line did fit, so that was easy. But Diff has gained a presence in the map of world festivals in just a year, so I think that whatever the middle east does, it does with élan. Also, Diff has struck an instant chord with filmmakers, critics, professionals and cinema-goers too. It has the right touch of everything a festival should have, an of course, its close enough home.
Do you think films like Sringaram is India's true answer to cross-over cinema — especially in a scenario where Bollywood is regarded as Indian cinema overseas?
I think that true crossing over through cinema has always happened only through culturally honest cinema and not culturally dishonest or confused cinema. If this was not true, international film festivals would not be such sought after spaces for legitimacy even by the so-called Bollywood cinema. I think this trend is now only gaining strength. Audiences are tiring of formula films made in a cultural vacuum. I don't think Bollywood has made any serious cross. Raj Kapoor is more the exception than the rule. Bollywood caters to a large non-resident Indian audience abroad, which is looking for nostalgic light entertainment. But even Indian audiences are looking for different cinema now, perhaps a whole new genre — they want to be surprised in an intelligent sort of way!
Most directors try to make a statement with their first films. And they choose a period theme for it. Do you think you have been sticking to that dictum? What next for you?
Are you kidding me? Most first time feature directors are making movies that will get them a second commercial film. Now I don't know if that succeeds all the time or not. In my case, I go with the idea. I have been feeling this urge for a long time to explore a time where there was great art, great social challenge, great audio-visuals, and great feminine feminism. The idea has to dictate everything else including its medium. Perhaps with another idea I would have written a book...
Are you bothered about the commercial success of your film? Do you feel Indian audiences, the masses, are ready for films like Sringaram?
The response so far has been extremely positive. I am a so-called commercial audience myself, and I must be honest enough to make what I would look for, don't you think? And yes, this is a great time to make great changes when the audiences are thirsting for change. I hope the distributors are listening.
Sringaram — Dance of Love
Cast: Aditi Rao Hyderi, Hamsa Moily, Manju Bhargavi, Manoj K. Jayan, Shashikumar, Chandrasekhar, Aishwarya, YG Mahendran
Script and screenplay: Indira Sounderrajan
Cinematography: Madhu Ambat
Art direction: Thotta Tharani
Choreography: Saroj Khan
Costumes: Rukmini Krishnan
Editing: Sreekar Prasad
Lyrics: Swati VAR
Music: Lalgudi G Jayaraman
Director: Sharada Ramanathan
Tonnit Thomas exhibits a selection of his travel photographs at BurJuman centre Dubai through Dec. 10. The photographs are insightful sketches of every day life, candid to the core. Rajeev Nair has the details
Tonnit Thomas dates his photographs. That is an organisational hangover from his art director vocation. He is a hobby-photographer, one who walks around with a small digital camera and clicks life, the way he sees it but from the vantage perspective of an artist.
Creative head of an advertising agency in Dubai, Tonnit, an Indian, regards photography as a diversionary outlet from the 24-hour commitment his job demands. Shooting pictures thus becomes a venting out of creative frustration wherein a constantly occupied mind bangs itself against the walls of creative briefs, layout options and client deadlines.
With his photographs, Tonnit becomes the client. His instinct gives the brief, his mind frames the layout and his aesthetics approves the result.
To put it without frills, there’s something about Tonnit’s photographs that awes you. Perhaps it is in the eclectic showcase of subjects — from weddings to rains and lions to sunsets. It could be the locations — from as nearby as Sharjah to the banks of the Pamba river in Kerala to Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town. It also ought to be the subjects he frames — a junk-metal vendor in Syria, an orthodox matriarch in Kerala, or well, a child, his daughter Olivia, who wakes up to a new morning and a feeding bottle of milk.
Quite obviously, Tonnit sees what most other eyes miss. He sees the sun firing red the trunk of coconut trees that frill a paddy field; he also sees a crow that rests on the wooden electricity pole nearby. He sees seriousness in the playful sport of children as they dive into the depths of river Pamba; he sees water-drops on a vehicle’s glass playing hide and seek with the every day stock of a grocery; he sees the magical rhythm and sense of harmony in a wedding dance in Jordan. Yes, in short, he sees life and the unspoken beauty of all things mundane.
And yet, photography will remain his hobby. In leaving it so, he gets his creative freedom to shoot with his digital camera rather discreetly, and never ever with the flashes on. He feels that the moment you pose the camera against the subject, you lose the spontaneity of the moment.
Photography could have been his profession. While he was a student of applied arts at the prestigious College of Fine Arts in Kerala, he was commissioned by an American company to do their calendar with wildlife photographs. He toured the forests of south India for a month.
But after completing his degree and an advanced course in animation from the National Institute of Design, he took up a job as trainee visualiser with an advertising agency in Bangalore, India. In Dubai, since the last three-and-a-half years, Tonnit has been pursuing his longtime hobby while he travelled to various countries mostly for work-related shoots.
His own passion for fine arts was ignited by his mentally challenged brother, who died at the age of 34 years. Encouragement also came from his father, who died while Tonnit was 17. And a third inspiration, especially his rain photographs, came from studying the photographs of an Indian photo-journalist Victor George, who had a passion for chasing the monsoon with his lens and died while on an assignment covering a landslide.
Self-taught in photography, Tonnit feels his art director’s eyes gives his photographs the difference. “I am an art director and I choose pictures for the layouts. I guess my photographs have an art director’s point of view; they are very instinctive in that sense,” he explains.
He studies photographs by international professionals and also finds a creative resonance to his hobby from the war movies and documentaries that he loves to watch. Involuntarily, these external insights make his photographs very live. “It is how you see the world around you,” he adds.
To be candid with his photographs, he has to be unseen with his camera. “I just walk around and shoot. Nobody knows I am shooting, and that gives a difference to the composition.”
Sure enough, Tonnit sees the same world we see, and yet shares with the rest of us a different perspective — which makes the works of a hobby-photographer relevant to our times.
One common thread runs through the 98 films pooled in from 46 countries to be screened under 12 segments at the second edition of Dubai International Film Festival: They celebrate the essential oneness of humanity, and conform to the unique tagline of Diff — 'Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds.' Rajeev Nair writes
Often, the simplest of statements, cliched as they may sound, can move minds. That is what 'Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds' has been doing for the Dubai International Film Festival.
It is a unique tagline for a film festival. It doesn't preach glamour, it doesn't endorse glitz, it doesn't even talk films per se. And yet, it works. Which explains the inclusion of 98 films from 46 countries in the second edition of Diff.
It also explains why an actor of Morgan Freeman's stature should declare his willingness to attend the festival a second time round. That could be a pointer as to why Bob Geldof, the singer, song-writer, actor, social activist, agrees to attend a gala event to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Indeed, the world's film community is coming down to Dubai to endorse the essential solidarity that cinema — as a creative expression — brings about on audiences, anywhere in the world.
While the second edition of Diff has the "strongest collection of Arab cinema in the entire world," it does not dilute its core of opening a forum for dialogue through cinema. "We are using cinema from around the world to bring people together," says Neil Stephenson, director, Diff.
Hannah Fisher, co-programmer of the Operation Cultural Bridge segment, says "Diff looks at films that show the basic humanity of all people — no matter the culture, colour, creed or nationality. We have selected films that show we are all the same."
Having attended Cannes and Rotterdam, among other film showcases, Fisher says Diff is "very well received abroad. They are very impressed with how it has been organised."
Operation Cultural Bridge, this year, features some landmark films:
* Ron Fricke's Baraka, a film that takes viewers through 24 countries
* Being Osama, directed by Mahmoud Kaabour and Tim Schwab that offers intimate glimpses into the lives of a group of men who share the first name Osama
* Irish director Gerry Nelson's Kosovo: The Hand of Friendship, filmed over three months in Kosovo and the UAE
* Director Dominic Savage's passionate love story of a British Pakistani Muslim girl and "a local white thug," Love + Hate
* Marilyn Agrelo's exuberant documentary of a group of boys and girls learning ballroom dancing, Mad Hot Ballroom
* Ruba Nadda's Sabah that draws two delineated cultures — the North American world and that of an Arab woman living in the West
* Director Arsi Sandel's musical-comedy West Bank Story of an Israeli soldier falling in love with a Palestinian girl
and the much-awaited Hollywood premiere of Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
"The very fact that Brooks is coming with his film to Diff is marvellous," says Fisher. "His intention (with the film) is to break down barriers. The film bridges cultures and helps develop ties where people get to know more about one another."
She says Looking for Comedy is a "fascinating film" and underscores the Operation Cultural Bridge's objective of "making people understand that there are so many misconceptions about this part of the world amongst people in the West."
Diff asserts it message of cultural bonding with the opening gala Paradise Now, which won the Blue Angel Award for Best European Film at Berlin International Film Festival 2005. The film by Hany Abu-Assad is about two Palestinian friends who are asked by the commander of a guerrilla organisation to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv.
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, programmer, Arabian Nights, says the selection was made after careful deliberation. "We went through a struggle in choosing this film," he recalls. "The synopsis might sound controversial but it is a beautiful film that is also very neutral. It explores the mindset of suicide bombers — why does he do it, is his vision correct?"
Ali says the difficult part about choosing the Arab films was to find sufficient numbers of film productions. "The pool is small and you do not have a wide range to select from. The alternative is to find other pools of films — that have been made by Arab directors in different countries."
At Diff 2005, Arab films are highlighted in four segments: Arabian Nights, Arabian Shorts, Dubai Discoveries and Emerging Emaratis.
In choosing films for Arabian Nights, Ali observes that the aim was not to pick films that made overt political statements or speeches. "Instead, the selected films, present not just political concerns but also cultural conflicts and moral dilemmas — all rooted in human stories, no rhetoric."
In Arabian Shorts segment, women dominate in several of the choices — thematically and behind the camera — including Women in Struggle by Palestinian filmmaker Buthina Canaan Khoury about Palestinian film-makers in Israeli jails; and Yasmin's Song, a love story by Palestinian Najwa Najjar.
Dubai Discoveries, a new segment, is deigned to provide a platform for young Arab filmmakers to showcase their "determination to establish cinematic forms that diver from the commercial mainstream," observes Ziad Al Khuzai, programmer.
Moroccan director Yasmine Kessari's The Sleeping Child, Abdellatif Kechiche's The Dodge, Iraqi director Oday Rasheed's Underexposure, Bader Ben Hirsi's A New Day in Old Sana'a, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari's The Gaze and Nidal Al-Dibs' Under the Ceiling are the selections.
Emerging Emaratis showcase five films by UAE filmmakers: Abdullah Hassan Ahmed's Ameen; Ali F. Mostafa's Under the Sun, Omar Ibrahim's An Ordinary Day, Saeed Salmeen Al Murry's Hoboob and Nada Mohammed Alkarimi's Dying for Fun.
Bold, intelligent and aspirational — that is how Zee Network defines its latest offering, Zee Arabiya, a channel bred in, and for, the Middle East
Photographs: Kamal Qassim
Hot is how they want it to be and hot is how they are serving it. Breathing heat and fire from every pore, Zee Arabiya, Zee Network's first Middle East-bred channel is defining a new niche.
And that is all about being young, youthful and very "yo."
Less than a month since the free-to-air channel replaced the television network's music-focused Zee Music from the UAE, Zee Arabiya has hit the right note, according to Manoj A. Mathew, vice president, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Real Media, which takes care of all interests of Zee Network in the Middle East.
The result of one year of elaborate preparation, including abundant ground work, Zee Arabiya has the unique identity of bringing "relevant Arabic, Asian and Western content in one platform," explains Mathew.
It is this three-pronged approach underscored by a desire to showcase Arabia and its music to the rest of the world that sets apart the channel.
The launch of the channel coincides with another landmark announcement from the Zee Network stable: Its investment to the tune of $50 million to set up Zee Towers in Dubai Media City.
Zee Towers will serve as the network's regional headquarters — a relocation from Singapore, which gives greater content management. "The power to manage content with locally produced programmes, commercials and packaging is much more than doing a remote operation," explains Mathew.
Zee Network Chairman Subhash Chandra said the project, to house all regional offices and studio operations, will have over 100,000 sq ft of leasable space across five floors. Construction is set to begin in December with completion scheduled in February 2007.
Meanwhile, the network is going full steam with plans to further strengthen Zee Arabiya. On the pipeline are more live and interactive programmes.
Mathew says the Asian programming content of the channel is not restricted to Bollywood. "If there is a hit content from other parts of the region, it will be featured. As of now it appears to have a Bollywood flavour because that is one of our core strengths."
Zee Arabiya has two spoken languages: English and Arabic, not Hindi, reminds Mathew. "And it is not a Dubai-centric channel; it is Middle East-centric."
Translating that into actual content means having more lifestyle features not just from the UAE but also from other parts of the region. Many programmes are subtitled in Arabic or English, as the need may be, to communicate better to the young and young at heart in the region.
The youth factor, indeed, is the mantra that Zee Arabiya's programming head, Kalyana Sundaram, stresses on. With experience spanning Warner, EMI, Virgin, Sony, MTV, B4U International and Disney, Sundaram defines the channel as one that is bold and intelligent. With a multicultural mix of VJs — a true representation of Dubai's cosmopolitan nature — Zee Arabiya seeks to be aspirational; as the one channel youngsters can tune in to identify common grounds.
Sundaram, who is credited with Indianising MTV's content for the country, says there is no other channel in the region that understands the pulse of the youth.
His brief to his VJs was, not surprisingly, to be "bold not vulgar, intelligent, confident and aspirational." That is a strategy that works with youth in any part of the world, he says. "Know what you want, present it differently and do not preach. You got to be them (the youngsters) to understand them."
While music is indeed a prime driver of Zee Arabiya, Sundaram has also shaped an equally strong lifestyle segment which focuses on the core interests of youngsters — cars, fashion, films, adventure, fun...
That is what VJ Simon does. A known face to Dubai audiences, this former VJ of Channel 7 to 9 and ARY Digital, a former RJ of Dubai 92 and the hero of the UAE's first English film production, Chamale, says he brings to the channel his wacky personality that delivers a touch of hilarity to the proceedings. He presents three shows: H-Factor, a show on Hollywood films; Garage, one on cars; and a first-of-its-kind programme that highlights the world-renowned DJs visiting Dubai.
A random selection of the programming content includes music, request shows, celebrity interviews, trailers from the latest blockbusters and lifestyle features from the region including fashion, motoring, travel, extreme sports and fitness.
Ideally addressing the 15- to 34-year-olds, Zee Arabiya's eclectic nature reflects the varied tastes of the youngsters, for whom language is no barrier when it comes to music and entertainment, says Yogesh Radhakrishnan, director and CEO, Real Media. "The music mix and attitude of the channel is for all the young and trendy at heart."
New York-based Alexander Charriol holds his first exhibition in Dubai of 18 paintings at ArtSpace gallery. He says that art is still a mystery to him, a weird process of self-discovery, and that his works bring to Dubai an element of shock value. Rajeev Nair met him
Not surprisingly, what Alexander Charriol isn’t also makes news. But that is not what the 26-year-old would want to read on the intro of his story. Discover him as the artist first, and then, as a footnote, he would add the Charriol connection — his father is Philippe Charriol, the world-renowned French watchmaker.
“That is not my business,” says Alexander, “that is totally different.” But he doesn’t disown it nor does he rule out the possibility of stepping into the entrepreneur’s garb on a later day.
For now, though, it is he, his art and his world of creative freedom. “I have never counted myself out of the business. I am still young, I can do both. But so far, so good (being an artist),” he says.
Alexander is in Dubai to exhibit his paintings at ArtSpace, the contemporary art gallery on the ninth floor of Fairmont Dubai. The exhibition will run through Dec. 21.
To be in Dubai is “be at home” for Alexander, who wears a casual air, unkempt hair complementing the observant eyes of an artist. He has been to the city thrice and most of his good friends are based here.
Alexander is candid enough to acknowledge how being born into comfort has helped him chase his dreams. “Art is still a luxury and I was privileged to have the opportunity, supported by the openness of my parents, to venture off to be an artist without any so-called financial problems. Now I am older, and I am on my own. It seems to be working.”
Alexander says he is in art because painting was his alternative to writing. “I was never good in school. I started to paint, every one said it was good and so I never stopped. I have only got good things out of it.”
He had formal art education at the American Parson School of Design, New York, and Tufts Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The art school gives a few technical skills and helps you get freer lines, he says, “but in the end, it (art) is within you.”
Though he is described as a New York-based artist, Alexander says “it doesn’t matter where you are. New York gives you an edge and credibility, of course, and it is like a passport to the art world but what is important is to find the artist within you and express.”
It is this process of self-discovery that binds Alexander to art. “Art is a mystery; being an artist is an odd job. The more you do it, the more you can understand yourself and know what it means to be an artist. But, you know, it is weird.” He paints to balance himself out, to get to neutral. “It is my job now and if I don’t do it, I feel useless.”
Alexander works on mixed media, which he says, “is the new medium of today. The key is never to have one comfortable medium. You have to push yourself. Once you are comfortable with a medium, you have to go to the next. And anyway, how far can you go with oil or acrylic alone? The more you push yourself the more original your works become. It is good to mix up the media and try to find something new out of it.”
Naturally, his inspirations have been varied. Through the fierce energy of Jean-Michel Basquiat to the vivid colours of Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol’s commodifications, Alexander explores himself further afield.
His palette, too, evolves. It was blue a few years back. Now his starting point is gold. “I splash some gold and work from there.” However, he finds it hard to explain what attracts him to specific colours at various points in time. It is all part of his evolution.
“Right now, I have found one style that seems to be more elevated and mature for my viewers and myself. It is much looser, I show my lines more, paint less and finish them less. It is a good balance between drawing and painting and that has a good feel to it.”
In the 18 paintings exhibited at ArtSpace, Alexander brings “a little shock value” to Dubai. The paintings, according to him, are “funky, young, energetic and cutting-edge... — far removed from the decorative art people are used to here. I don’t think art is still taken very seriously here. It is like a new medium and my paintings are very in your face.”
As bottom lines go, his paintings too are about life, about the world he takes in sub-consciously. “They (the paintings) are pretty simple. It is the job of the viewer to get a feeling or emotion out of it — they can leave with a sense of uplifted spirit or even disgust, any sort of emotion.”
His recent paintings have a lot guns and there are many “peace paintings” too. “I paint happy things but they always end up being influenced by what you see without even thinking about it. My best paintings come when I don’t think.”
Ironically, he paints “depressed pieces” when he is happy, and “happy pieces” when he goes through the blues.
As a youngster and representative of tomorrow’s artists, Alexander feels that he can give to art works that transcend time. “That is what good art does, and it takes a lot of work and self-discover.”
That precisely is what Alexander does now.
Quest for facts
Be interested in the news, follow the story but do not fixate on what you believe is right or wrong. That's Richard Quest's take on journalism. CNN's high-profile anchor was in Dubai for the Leaders in Dubai summit. Rajeev Nair met him
If you could take a little of Richard Quest with you, that would be his indefatigable enthusiasm. Come on, who else can you think of, who makes a weather bulletin interesting?
Perhaps that is one reason why Quest has as many blog-sites and on-line forums that befit a Hollywood star. People seem to love him... or hate him, in equal measure. From being voted the "funniest new man" to winning on-line love notes and marriage proposals, Quest elicits reactions.
And he can't understand why. "I am nothing more than a face in a light in a box in the corner of the room." So shut him off with your remote, if you hate him.
For every 50 emails that say he is brilliant, it is that one message that spews hatred that he remembers. "Half the people like me, and half hate me. If you do a web search on me... (your will discover) there are some horrible things people want to do to me. I've got a mother. My poor mother will have to read all that..."
Seriously though... the man who also hosts a monthly interview show Quest and a feature programme CNN Business Traveller, however, isn't rattled. After all, he has a job to do, and that is to "leave your opinions with your hat and coat on the door," and just follow the news.
He has been doing that for the last 20 years starting as BBC news trainee, moving on to become its North American business correspondent, and then joining CNN in 2001.
He has covered a vast range of topics — from anchoring CNN's London coverage of the Iraq war in 2003 to reporting on the Queen Mother's funeral and the launch of the Euro in Frankfurt. He covered the death and funeral of Yasser Arafat and travelled around the US speaking to voters in a run-up to the elections.
Hard business news to breaking general stories, interviews to weather takes, Quest, a law graduate from Leeds University, has done it all. Excerpts from an interview:
What is your evaluation of the journalistic standards in the UAE?
I would say that anyone reading the papers shall read between the lines. The stories are there, but you can tell when the punch has been pulled at the last minute. In the world of censorship, most of us would agree that, the worst form of censorship is self-censorship, where you know you can't go too far, where you know the limits. But I have not come here to say this is right or wrong. Look at what is happening in my own country concerning the Official Secrets Act and the famous "memo" between Bush and Blair... I hear the prime minister using the pathetic excuse, "it is all subjudice" and can't be discussed. I hope it is going to disappear. Journalists from the UK do not come here with clean hands but I think the worst form of censorship is self-censorship. When you start to self-censor, your opponents have you to do the work for them.
What is your take on the news report that US President George Bush had planned to bomb the Doha-headquarters of Al Jazeera television?
What would I like to know is what the memo (purportedly leaked by a Cabinet Office civil servant) said... If it was a joke, it was in extremely bad taste. If it wasn't a joke, then I think there are questions to be answered. But I don't think it can be swept under the carpet in some sort of a 'we can't talk about this' fashion. The cat is out of the bag with this one, the horses are up and running, the dog has seen the rabbit — choose whichever metaphor you want to use... I do believe that questions are to be answered.
But with a predominantly pro-Bush Western press, do you think you get far?
I have heard this for a long time, about this supposed to be pro-Bush media. If the media was so Pro-Bush, as you claim, why is the president's ratings amongst the lowest in his presidency? If the media is so pro-Bush why did it excoriate the administration over Hurricane Katrina? If the media is so pro-Bush why did it lead to the whole row over Judith Miller?
Yet, at the end of the day, Bush has his way...
Oh, oh, oh... remember that we, as journalists, are observers, not participants. I covered the last election. As you travel around, it may seem inconceivable to you that people could vote for the president or prime minister. But when you meet the voters, there are as many people out there who like the president as those who don't. That is the beauty of the whole system. You meet both sides of the argument and the net effect is what makes politics such fun...
And journalism too...?
Yes. I always remember an old professor, my mentor, who said when you enter this profession, you must leave your opinions with your hat and your coat on the door. The very nature of what we do is to question authority, I have no problem with that. When it comes to BBC or CNN, governments of both left and right don't like you. because you are constantly questioning what they do...
And yet you have different shades of journalism, the sort of embedded journalists still being obsequious to authorities?
No, no, no.. (it is that) you just don't like the results. You don't like the way the story has fallen. I speak to a lot of journalism students, and I say that it is not for us to tell the listener, the viewer, the reader, what to think. Here is our story, you make your line of judgment. (To give opinions), there are columnists and commentators. For the like of me, it is not to tell what is right or wrong.
From your interaction with others in Dubai, what did you read between the lines?
What fascinates me in Dubai is the way in which there is such phenomenal growth and yet there is open discussion whether it is the right growth. I find that very uplifting. There is a honest debate going on....
As some one who has travelled virtually the whole world, exploring business stories, what is your observation of Dubai?
I was out last night at a restaurant here that frankly could have been in any part of the world. It was lively, buzzing and happenings..., but it wasn't Dubai. On that point, I question how the old going to mix with the new. It makes me question what the end-result will be. The end-result is to build an economy that is self-sustainable once oil revenues decrease. That is the goal. But will you reach it? I don't know.
If you were to feature Dubai on the Quest show what would you look for?
I don't know. I have to think about that. We did the Business Traveller here two years ago. Since then what has changed? More buildings? No, that is more of the same. But yes, property is more expensive, there is the issue of immigrant workers, and the question of nationality for those who have been here for 20 years... these are issues that Dubai must face. What I do see happening now and what I saw two years ago is the pressure of economic growth building fast. Dubai has to let the steam out, slowly. Otherwise there will be a societal explosion. Dubai's big challenge is in managing its growth. And everybody I have met seems to realise that. They are not blind to the problem.
Do you feel that television makes news look frivolous?
Where it does or not, it makes no difference. We are here and we aren't going anywhere. But (to answer the question), no, it doesn't. Television brings a different dimension. People are going to use newspapers to find what has happened overnight and to read commentaries and articles. They are going to use television and web to keep up-to-date.
Five years down the line, what change do you foresee in television?
It will become interactive. It will have the ability for viewers to choose which story they want to see. We are already seeing that in many digital networks. I know we (CNN) are working on it.
What frustrates you as a journalist?
It makes you frustrated as a journalist when you can't get to the story, when you hit the wall of bureaucracy and intransigence, you hit the wall with somebody saying, 'We are not discussing that...' But that is what people want to know. As a journalist, we will be doing a terrible disservice if we don't report.
But do you feel journalists, the world over, are losing respect through many issues including tabloid-isation of news?
Yes, of course. But if you regard the high-point in journalism as Watergate, don't forget that before it became obvious, the reporters working on it were pilloried and castigated by the other media and the administration.
Such high-points happen very rarely. Does that bother you?
That's the nature of life. Look the majority of what we do is keeping the picture on screen, and what you do is putting black ink on white paper and in getting that out, every now and again, a day will come along when you feel 'ah, that was good,' but most days are 'wasn't bad...'
Who, according to you, is the toughest to interview?
Bill Clinton. Why? Because he is brilliant. While interviewing him, there is a feeling that this man is going to realise that you are an idiot. After all, he has negotiated with the best in the world.... Bill Gates too is hard to interview because he is so focused on Microsoft that it is very difficult to take him off the subject. Politicians are usually difficult because they know what you are asking and they know what you want them to say.
What has doing Business Traveller (with its tag 'Doing Business in Different Cultures') taught you?
That we all want to succeed. People make a lot of noise of how you have to shake hands with both hands in some cultures, you have to present your business card with both hands... it is all humbug. When money is to be made, every body will happily forget the cultural differences.
What would your advice be to budding journalists?
Well, that's easy. Be interested in news and leave your opinion with your hat and coat on the front door. Go into the story and follow the story. Have an idea of what the story is about but do not fixate on what you believe is right or wrong.