Most people have been at the festival for over a week, running around from meeting to meeting and networking, and basically trying to make the most of being at the center of the global film industry. At this point, everyone’s looking a bit worse for wear, after a bunch of sleepless nights and hectic days.
So I was doubly lucky last night to get a little break from the hectic pace of the festival when I accompanied Lebanese actress Razane Jammal to the premiere of Kanye West’s directorial debut, Cruel Summer.
I can’t say I know much about Kanye West besides the fact that he snatched Taylor Swift’s microphone at the Grammys a few years back. But recently I’ve been coming across a bunch of articles that all claim he’s a misunderstood creative genius. So I headed to the premiere with an open mind.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even how to dress. Given there was no way I was competing with Razane’s Basil Soda dress, I just went for jeans, a shirt and blazer. Proudly dressed by Zara. Once we got to the Palm Beach parking lot, where a massive white pyramid had been built to house the 7 screens the experimental short would play on, I let Razane do her thing on the red carpet where she spoke to interviewer after interviewer.
She has one of the main roles in the film, which is a proud moment for Lebanon, but also a proud moment for the Arab world, given that the film is entirely shot in Doha, with the help of the Doha Film Institute who served as creative and cultural advisors on the project along with Emirati director Mohammed Saeed Harib.
The hand-painted invites which I was holding onto were numbered, mine said 34 out of 250. I hadn’t really given much thought to what I was in for until I got to the parking lot, and as I hung around on handbag duty beside the red carpet, I started noticing the stars getting there. Jay Z, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Kid Cudi, the star of the short movie. It was pretty surreal for a moment, when I stood there, a few Mojitos coursing through my system, just taking in exactly where I was. Once everyone was around, we were ushered into the structure. Bleachers had been set up facing the seven screens, and I sat down next to an awesome Qatari producer, who I’m pretty sure offered me a job writing the Arabic version of Heroes.
Then the movie started, and it was absolutely immersive. In the opening car theft sequence, featuring a cameo by West himself, the shots of Lamborghinis speeding through Doha look like scenes from Akira. Hyper stylized and slick, they pull off the impressive feat of making the streets of a Gulf capital look sexy. Kid Cudi is the thief-in-chief who falls for a blind Arabian princess. The dream-like story unfolds on seven screens that alternatively switch on and off, occasionally showing different angles of one shot and at other times act like an IMAX experience. You find yourself looking around at the different screens, which include one on the ceiling and one on the floor, so you don’t miss anything.
West explained in a speech at the end of the 30-minute short that the intent was to reproduce the way we live our lives today, constantly hopping from one screen to the next, trying to absorb the world around us and turn it into a coherent whole. The film has a very slick, music-video feel to it, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because that also says something about where our cultural consumption is today. The underlying narrative of the piece is strong enough for it to be more than just an exercise in style.
The Gulf has never looked so cool, and what could have been a very cheesy depiction of sand dunes and falcons mid-flight, actually proved visually-compelling and interesting. In a sense it reminded me of M.I.A.’s Bad Girls video, a kind of parallel and hyper-stylized Arab world. Even if Kid Cudi plays the main character, Arabs have pivotal roles in the film. The blind princess played by a young Qatari actress, and Lebanon’s very own Razane Jammal who gets prime screen time as an Arabian queen in the dreamlike flashback sequences.
Seeing how blown away everyone, including myself, was as we came out of the screening, I was convinced that Kanye West was truly something of a creative mastermind. I was also immensely proud that as Lebanese and Arabs we can be the central element of something so compelling, a partnership between Arab creatives and some of the world’s most powerful producers of mass culture.
By Nasri Atallah