'Ajami', directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, tells five stories set in a mixed Jaffa neighbourhood. Courtesy NYUAD and Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi
'Ajami', directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, tells five stories set in a mixed Jaffa neighbourhood. Courtesy NYUAD and Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi

Director Scandar Copti opens up about his new film ‘Happy Holidays’, the Oscars and funding



Scandar Copti, the Palestinian director of the 2010 Oscar-nominated film Ajami, is working on his second feature film Happy Holidays. The docu-fiction film is inspired by real-life events in Palestine, and Copti will work with non-professional actors, similar to the style he followed in Ajami.

The story is set  in Galilee and Jerusalem and the action will blend fiction with reality amid everyday events, following the story of three main characters. 

“My film is a social story that again talks about reality construction and how education, the media and all the forces that regulate the way we are supposed to think affect our life, and then our realities become the consequence basically of what we do and not who we really are,” said Copti, who is based in Abu Dhabi and works as an Assistant Arts Professor of Film at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“It is again a sophisticated structure of three different characters that is very realistic, that talks about how even the Israeli holidays shape our understanding of our reality.”

Copti hopes to start shooting in spring of next year, and is looking to work with non-professional actors for three to four months, without a script, relying heavily on improvisation and allowing the events on the ground to shape the story and give it weight. 

“I like telling stories, but I also like listening to stories, so when I go to Nazareth and Jaffa, we [Copti and his wife] have two little kids and we meet people we don’t know and you start hearing stories,” he says. “Our role, as artists and filmmakers, is to collect what we see, give it our own interpretation, add an intention to it and release it.”

When Copti and his co-director Yaron Shani released Ajami, he didn't expect it to be a runaway success. The film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category in 2010. 

"When we did Ajami nobody wanted to buy it, not in Europe, not in the States, not anywhere," he says. "Then suddenly we got the special mention in Cannes, then everybody started calling us, but still we were not able to distribute the film in a lot of countries.

“And only when we made it to the Oscars, we started getting tonnes of phone calls and I thought it is a little bit hypocritical...because the same people that told us, ‘OK listen, I don’t think it is a good film,’ suddenly believe in this film, and this is a global problem.”

The trailer for Ajami:

It’s a post-colonial mentality problem, he says, where artists in this part of the world think they’re not good enough.

Copti adds that artists in the region face a number of challenges, from a lack of sufficient funding for Arab films to few distribution companies espousing Arab films, that often don't make it to local, let alone international commercial screens.

Filmmakers such as Copti often have to turn to Europe – as he is doing today – in order to get funding for their work.

“I am writing my next feature film... but in my head I am thinking about the reader in the film fund in Germany that will read it,” he says.

“What I am doing is adjusting myself to meet the expectations of a non-Arab reader because we don’t have enough Arab film funds that could fully support a film.”

And also, fewer funds are coming out of Europe. "Europe is giving less money to non-European films because they have better things to fund, like refugees, and Brexit is on the way, so priorities have changed a little bit," he says.

"The same funds that gave me money for Ajami are now giving half to everybody."

So, more often  than not, filmmakers such as Copti have to rely on something outside their control – such as luck.

“I don’t believe in this capitalist equation that if you work hard, you will make it,” he says. “Are we saying that the Arab world is not working hard? I think it is a ridiculous capitalist claim. There is a lot of luck and other forces that are involved. There are a lot of forces that are causing us to either become who we are or to remain what we are in order to sustain the situation. The most immediate thing is the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

While the occupation stares filmmakers such as Copti straight in the face, it doesn't overtake his films, which instead show subtly how it works to eat away at the everyday existence of so many people.

"I think occupation affects us on all the levels and I want to show those levels," he says. "You see how people who are suffering in Ajami, how they became violent because of oppression and because of the segregation and the racist law and racism that the occupation is bringing on us."

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Read more:

‘A Drowning Man’ pours heart into an undocumented migrant’s struggles

Scandar Copti speaks about the hometown inspiration of his Oscar-nominated movie Ajami

Dubai filmmaker Leen Alfaisal's Syria documentary premieres in London 

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Although some in the Arab world frowned upon the collaboration with Israel in the film, to give an accurate portrayal of events, Copti enlisted Israelis in Ajami, which was a joint Palestinian-Israeli production. It featured real Israeli police, paramedics and citizens. This time, he's seeking Arab-European funding but looking to work with Israelis to portray Israeli characters.

Despite all the challenges facing Arab cinema, Copti is optimistic, especially about the work the Arab diaspora is doing to boost the appeal of Arab cinema internationally.

“You see more Arab film festivals popping out in the States and in Europe,” he says. “Those diaspora communities are organising those Arab film festivals. Arab cinema can’t be done without a European co-producer and those co-producers. They push those films into European festivals and people watch them.”

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

BIGGEST CYBER SECURITY INCIDENTS IN RECENT TIMES

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MATCH INFO

Norwich City 1 (Cantwell 75') Manchester United 2 (Aghalo 51' 118') After extra time.

Man of the match Harry Maguire (Manchester United)

Know before you go
  • Jebel Akhdar is a two-hour drive from Muscat airport or a six-hour drive from Dubai. It’s impossible to visit by car unless you have a 4x4. Phone ahead to the hotel to arrange a transfer.
  • If you’re driving, make sure your insurance covers Oman.
  • By air: Budget airlines Air Arabia, Flydubai and SalamAir offer direct routes to Muscat from the UAE.
  • Tourists from the Emirates (UAE nationals not included) must apply for an Omani visa online before arrival at evisa.rop.gov.om. The process typically takes several days.
  • Flash floods are probable due to the terrain and a lack of drainage. Always check the weather before venturing into any canyons or other remote areas and identify a plan of escape that includes high ground, shelter and parking where your car won’t be overtaken by sudden downpours.

 

MATCH INFO

Europa League final

Who: Marseille v Atletico Madrid
Where: Parc OL, Lyon, France
When: Wednesday, 10.45pm kick off (UAE)
TV: BeIN Sports

THE DETAILS

Director: Milan Jhaveri
Producer: Emmay Entertainment and T-Series
Cast: John Abraham, Manoj Bajpayee
Rating: 2/5

At Eternity’s Gate

Director: Julian Schnabel

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaacs, Mads Mikkelsen

Three stars

PSA DUBAI WORLD SERIES FINALS LINE-UP

Men’s:
Mohamed El Shorbagy (EGY)
Ali Farag (EGY)
Simon Rosner (GER)
Tarek Momen (EGY)
Miguel Angel Rodriguez (COL)
Gregory Gaultier (FRA)
Karim Abdel Gawad (EGY)
Nick Matthew (ENG)

Women's:
Nour El Sherbini (EGY)
Raneem El Welily (EGY)
Nour El Tayeb (EGY)
Laura Massaro (ENG)
Joelle King (NZE)
Camille Serme (FRA)
Nouran Gohar (EGY)
Sarah-Jane Perry (ENG)

The Boy and the Heron

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Starring: Soma Santoki, Masaki Suda, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: 5/5

The specs: 2018 Dodge Durango SRT

Price, base / as tested: Dh259,000

Engine: 6.4-litre V8

Power: 475hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 640Nm @ 4,300rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel consumption, combined: 7.7L / 100km

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
VEZEETA PROFILE

Date started: 2012

Founder: Amir Barsoum

Based: Dubai, UAE

Sector: HealthTech / MedTech

Size: 300 employees

Funding: $22.6 million (as of September 2018)

Investors: Technology Development Fund, Silicon Badia, Beco Capital, Vostok New Ventures, Endeavour Catalyst, Crescent Enterprises’ CE-Ventures, Saudi Technology Ventures and IFC

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Vault
Started: June 2023
Co-founders: Bilal Abou-Diab and Sami Abdul Hadi
Based: Abu Dhabi
Licensed by: Abu Dhabi Global Market
Industry: Investment and wealth advisory
Funding: $1 million
Investors: Outliers VC and angel investors
Number of employees: 14

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
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Add:
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Sambar – vegetable-infused toor dal curry
Aviyal – mixed vegetables in thick coconut paste
Thoran – beans and other dry veggies with spiced coconut
Khichdi – lentil and rice porridge


Optional:
Kootukari – stew of black chickpeas, raw banana, yam and coconut paste
Olan – ash gourd curry with coconut milk
Pulissery – spiced buttermilk curry
Rasam – spice-infused soup with a tamarind base


Avoid:
Payasam – sweet vermicelli kheer

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

The Roundup : No Way Out

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki
Rating: 3/5

WHEN TO GO:

September to November or March to May; this is when visitors are most likely to see what they’ve come for.

WHERE TO STAY:

Meghauli Serai, A Taj Safari - Chitwan National Park resort (tajhotels.com) is a one-hour drive from Bharatpur Airport with stays costing from Dh1,396 per night, including taxes and breakfast. Return airport transfers cost from Dh661.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Etihad Airways regularly flies from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu from around Dh1,500 per person return, including taxes. Buddha Air (buddhaair.com) and Yeti Airlines (yetiairlines.com) fly from Kathmandu to Bharatpur several times a day from about Dh660 return and the flight takes just 20 minutes. Driving is possible but the roads are hilly which means it will take you five or six hours to travel 148 kilometres.

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

The Bio

Name: Lynn Davison

Profession: History teacher at Al Yasmina Academy, Abu Dhabi

Children: She has one son, Casey, 28

Hometown: Pontefract, West Yorkshire in the UK

Favourite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Favourite Author: CJ Sansom

Favourite holiday destination: Bali

Favourite food: A Sunday roast

Biog

Age: 50

Known as the UAE’s strongest man

Favourite dish: “Everything and sea food”

Hobbies: Drawing, basketball and poetry

Favourite car: Any classic car

Favourite superhero: The Hulk original

J Street Polling Results

97% of Jewish-Americans are concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism

76% of US Jewish voters believe Donald Trump and his allies in the Republican Party are responsible for a rise in anti-Semitism

74% of American Jews agreed that “Trump and the Maga movement are a threat to Jews in America"