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Archive for December 22nd, 2016

The movie Timbuktu: pain, beauty and humor

BEIRUT: A football bounces down a flight of stairs, landing at the feet of three men. One of them picks up the ball and holds it up to a fellow walking past.“Is this yours?”

“No,” the fellow answers abruptly, raising his hands as if in surrender. “I swear.”

The three men are packing Kalashnikovs but it’s still an odd response.

Jim Quilty published in the Daily Star this Mar. 12, 2015

Timbuktu’s pain, beauty and humor

When Islamist militants took possession of northern Mali in 2012, they enforced a literalist version of religious law that banned many common practices. Their stringent, intolerant vision of Islam seemed particularly heavy-handed in Timbuktu, the ancient center of Muslim learning noted for its tolerance.

A few stories leaked into the international media – images of ancient shrines being denounced as idols and attacked with sledgehammers, of entire libraries of ancient Islamic and pre-Islamic manuscripts pitched into bonfires – all anticipating recent footage of ISIS’ gleeful destruction of ancient artifacts in northern Iraq.

One execution, dutifully put online by northern Mali’s Islamist occupiers, showed the parents of two children being stoned to death – deemed criminals because they were unmarried. This footage, and the Islamist occupation generally, provoked Abderrahmane Sissako to make his critically lauded, award-winning 2014 feature “Timbuktu.”

The film’s plot centers on a pastoral family – Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki), their daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) and their shepherd boy Issan (Mehdi AG Mohamed). Satima and Kidane are torn between whether to remain in their homeland or to leave, as so many of their friends have done. The film charts the consequences of their decision to stay.

The family’s story is set within a collage of vignettes illustrating the incongruities – sometimes comic, always tragic – of the largely foreign rulers’ version of Islam and that of the town’s actual residents.

Sitting in front of your house is declared illegal, as is wearing trousers that cover the lower part of the leg. When the moral police nag one resident to roll up his baggy trousers to the newly prescribed length, he sighs, pulls them off and throws them over one shoulder, continuing down the street in his underwear.

In addition to the hijab, women, on the other hand, are ordered to cover their feet and legs and their hands.

Football too is banned but if you acknowledge that the sport was forbidden – as one Timbuktu football fan learns when he goes before the judge – he may decide not to have you flogged.

Football is among the motifs of “Timbuktu,” providing the premise of one of the film’s more beautiful sequences.

After the judge decides not to have a football fan whipped for his immoral behavior, the scene jumps directly to a dusty football pitch where two squads of youngsters are rallying up and down, battling for possession until, ultimately, one side scores.

The fact that they’re playing with an imaginary football makes the scene all the more potent.

A pair of Islamists, faces swaddled in turbans, approach on motorbike. The youngsters stop playing and pretend to do calisthenics until the patrol moves on. Such bitter comedy is at home in this story.

Adept as Sissako is at sketching the sad absurdities of Islamic militancy in practice, his film is not anti-Muslim. As the writer-director pointed out to the audience of a master class he gave in Doha this week, he felt compelled to make this film because this version of Salafi Islam is diametrically opposed to the tolerant, humanist form of the religion he knew growing up in Mali and Mauritania.

When the gunmen carry out particularly egregious acts – marching armed into the town’s main mosque or kidnapping a young woman and marrying her to a gunman, without her permission or that of her parents – the imam of Timbuktu’s mosque speaks on behalf of the place’s humanist faith.

Ghoulish and stupid as their actions are, the men occupying Timbuktu are marked by all too human frailties. An early sequence shows gunmen marching a North African man into the frame and handing him over to the town’s new rulers.

The man is blindfolded like a prisoner but, upon arriving, it’s clear he too is a militant.

Timbuktu’s Islamist regime, it seems, simply doesn’t trust its recruits to know precisely where they are. His guides are careful, though, to instruct his new colleagues in the complex schedule of meds he must take.

Since a significant number of the militants – principally Abu Hassan (Salem Dendou), the chief, and his lieutenant Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri), who lusts after Satima – are North Africans who don’t speak North Malian dialects, translation (and incomprehension) is central to Sissako’s story, churning up moments of comedy and accentuating stupidity.

This element of the narrative helps lend “Timbuktu” a universality that elevates it well beyond the modest goals of docudrama. It resonates at a much higher pitch, too, with its visual beauty – a feature it shares with Sissako’s previous works – thanks to cinematographer Sofiane El Fani.

“Timbuktu” has been collecting prizes since its world premiere at Cannes in May. The film’s most noted accomplishments include its nomination for the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars last month and, a few days before that, the seven Césars (aka “French Oscars”) taken by Sissako, Fani and their colleagues.

Determined folk have had access to digitized pirate versions of “Timbuktu” on their computers for some time now, of course, but Beirut will be officially able to see what all the fuss has been about when the film screens at the Beirut Souks shopping mall Thursday evening.

The projection marks the opening of the eighth edition of Ayam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya (Beirut Cinema Days). Founded and run by Beirut Development and Cinema, a cultural organization comprised of once-aspiring filmmakers and their fellow travelers, Ayam Beirut is a festival for filmmakers and film lovers as interested in society as aesthetics.

Since its inception, the country’s sole festival of Arabic cinema has been a bi-yearly, noncompetitive event, eschewing the ersatz glamour preoccupying most major film events in favor of having talented (often younger) filmmakers present their work to the public and conduct master classes with their colleagues.

This edition will provide a platform for the Lebanese premiere of 11 feature-length fictions, 18 feature-length docs and 12 shorts. The festival will project the latest works of local heroes Ghassan Salhab and Akram Zaatari as well as new works by younger artists like Bassem Fayad and Ahmad Ghossein.

The latest work by well-known regional artists Mohamad Malas (Syria), Samir (Iraq/Switzerland) and Rashid Masharawi (Palestine) will be projected, alongside award-winning, critically lauded and aesthetically bold work by younger filmmakers – Naji Abu Nowar (Jordan), Hicham Lasri (Morocco), Nadine Salib (Egypt), Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan (Palestine/Canada).

The feature-length doc lineup includes two of 2014’s three most-feted works on the Syrian conflict – “Silvered Water,” the searing work of Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan, and Talal Derki’s “Return to Homs.”

Most all these filmmakers are more or less Arab but the fiction program has been pleasantly augmented with “Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev’s critically lauded film from 2014.

“Timbuktu” will be projected at Cinemacity Beirut Souks, Thursday at 7:30p.m. Ayam Beirut al-Cinemaiyya continues at locations around Beirut through 21 March. For more information, see

Notes and comments on FB and Twitter. Part 11

And the best way to get promoted is to learn something new and get good at it? In public sector, getting expert in routine procedures?

It turned out that Koran Never mentions Shari3at

Michel Aoun, the only President to Lebanon whom: 1. the people know him, 2. has the largest representative block in Parliament, 3. has actually resisted foreign occupations

Ce decalage infime qui pourrit tout ce qui est beau et la possibilite de la perfection. Faisons adieux a toutes les synchronisations forcés

Pourquoi cette insistence a la synchronisation? Faut-il que quelqu’un echoue?

On compense a toutes nos deffficiences: et celles de nos differences communautaires?

Et si la literature et l’Art, qui activent nos neurones miroires, nous montrent tout ce qu’on rate et raterons

Tout vient a son heure? Pourquoi l’heure n’est jamais au rendez-vous de la paix?

La vraie nouveauté: Ce qui ne vieillit pas, malgré le temps.

Sans les habils de l’altruism, l’acte de se reproduire est deplacé.

It turned out that Koran Never mentions Islamic State

It turned out that Koran Has no punctuations: It can be openly interpreted

It turned out that Koran Never believed in miracles

Besoin de l’Art? On aspire a renouer avec nos illusions sprirituelles.

L’Amour, le bien et le mal, la philosophie et la culture… Ces icons respectables comme la tique a son gros chien.

Japanese movie director Ozu: The Munakata sisters.

Documentary on Ozu: Tokyo-Ga, by Wim Wenders

Allah yer7ama? Wa 3a shou ma baddo yer7ama? Ma 3emlet ella al kheir

Allah yer7ama? Ma 3emlet ella al kheir. eshfa3 laha btishfa3 feek

Tawwel bi 3omrak: Ma tkaterleh al sneen

Art of first impressions? In design and life

Blah blah blah blah blah?

0:25 So what the hell was that? Well, you don’t know because you couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t clear. But hopefully, it was said with enough conviction that it was at least alluringly mysterious.

Clarity or mystery? I’m balancing these two things in my daily work as a graphic designer, as well as my daily life as a New Yorker every day, and there are two elements that absolutely fascinate me.

Here’s an example. how many people know what this is? Okay. how many people know what this is? Okay. Thanks to two more deft strokes by the genius Charles M. Schulz, we now have 7 deft strokes that in and of themselves create an entire emotional life, one that has enthralled hundreds of millions of fans for over 50 years.

This is actually a cover of a book that I designed about the work of Schulz and his art, which will be coming out this fall, and that is the entire cover. There is no other typographic information or visual information on the front, and the name of the book is “Only What’s Necessary.”

So this is sort of symbolic about the decisions I have to make every day about the design that I’m perceiving, and the design I’m creating.

Clarity gets to the point. It’s blunt. It’s honest. It’s sincere. We ask ourselves this. [“When should you be clear?”]

Something like this, whether we can read it or not, needs to be really clear. Is it?

This is a rather recent example of urban clarity that I just love, mainly because I’m always late and I am always in a hurry. So when these meters started showing up a couple of years ago on street corners, I was thrilled, because now I finally knew how many seconds I had to get across the street before I got run over by a car. Six? I can do that. (Laughter)

let’s look at the yin to the clarity yang, and that is mystery. Mystery is a lot more complicated by its very definition. Mystery demands to be decoded, and when it’s done right, we really want to. [“When should you be mysterious?”]

In World War II, the Germans really wanted to decode this, and they couldn’t.

Here’s an example of a design that I’ve done recently for a novel by Haruki Murakami, who I’ve done design work for over 20 years now, and this is a novel about a young man who has 4 dear friends who all of a sudden, after their freshman year of college, completely cut him off with no explanation, and he is devastated.

And the friends’ names each have a connotation in Japanese to a color. So there’s Mr. Red, there’s Mr. Blue, there’s Ms. White, and Ms. Black. Tsukuru Tazaki, his name does not correspond to a color, so his nickname is Colorless, and as he’s looking back on their friendship, he recalls that they were like five fingers on a hand.

So I created this sort of abstract representation of this, but there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface of the story, and there’s more going on underneath the surface of the jacket. The four fingers are now four train lines in the Tokyo subway system, which has significance within the story. And then you have the colorless subway line intersecting with each of the other colors, which basically he does later on in the story. He catches up with each of these people to find out why they treated him the way they did.

 this is the three-dimensional finished product sitting on my desk in my office, and what I was hoping for here is that you’ll simply be allured by the mystery of what this looks like, and will want to read it to decode and find out and make more clear why it looks the way it does.

5:19 [“The Visual Vernacular.”]

This is a way to use a more familiar kind of mystery. What does this mean? This is what it means. [“Make it look like something else.”] The visual vernacular is the way we are used to seeing a certain thing applied to something else so that we see it in a different way.

This is an approach I wanted to take to a book of essays by David Sedaris that had this title at the time. [“All the Beauty You Will Ever Need”]

the challenge here was that this title actually means nothing. It’s not connected to any of the essays in the book. It came to the author’s boyfriend in a dream. Thank you very much, so — (Laughter) — so usually, I am creating a design that is in some way based on the text, but this is all the text there is.

So you’ve got this mysterious title that really doesn’t mean anything, so I was trying to think: Where might I see a bit of mysterious text that seems to mean something but doesn’t?

And sure enough, not long after, one evening after a Chinese meal, this arrived, and I thought, “Ah, bing, ideagasm!” (Laughter) I’ve always loved the hilariously mysterious tropes of fortune cookies that seem to mean something extremely deep but when you think about them — if you think about them — they really don’t.

This says, “Hardly anyone knows how much is gained by ignoring the future.” Thank you. (Laughter) But we can take this visual vernacular and apply it to Mr. Sedaris, and we are so familiar with how fortune cookie fortunes look that we don’t even need the bits of the cookie anymore. We’re just seeing this strange thing and we know we love David Sedaris, and so we’re hoping that we’re in for a good time.

[“‘Fraud’ Essays by David Rakoff”] David Rakoff was a wonderful writer and he called his first book “Fraud” because he was getting sent on assignments by magazines to do things that he was not equipped to do. So he was this skinny little urban guy and GQ magazine would send him down the Colorado River whitewater rafting to see if he would survive.

And then he would write about it, and he felt that he was a fraud and that he was misrepresenting himself. And so I wanted the cover of this book to also misrepresent itself and then somehow show a reader reacting to it.

This led me to graffiti. I’m fascinated by graffiti. I think anybody who lives in an urban environment encounters graffiti all the time, and there’s all different sorts of it. This is a picture I took on the Lower East Side of just a transformer box on the sidewalk and it’s been tagged like crazy. Now whether you look at this and think, “Oh, that’s a charming urban affectation,” or you look at it and say, “That’s illegal abuse of property,” the one thing I think we can all agree on is that you cannot read it. Right? There is no clear message here.

There is another kind of graffiti that I find far more interesting, which I call editorial graffiti. This is a picture I took recently in the subway, and sometimes you see lots of prurient, stupid stuff, but I thought this was interesting, and this is a poster that is saying rah-rah Airbnb, and someone has taken a Magic Marker and has editorialized about what they think about it. And it got my attention.

I was thinking, how do we apply this to this book? So I get the book by this person, and I start reading it, and I’m thinking, this guy is not who he says he is; he’s a fraud. And I get out a red Magic Marker, and out of frustration just scribble this across the front. Design done. (Laughter) And they went for it! (Laughter)

Author liked it, publisher liked it, and that is how the book went out into the world, and it was really fun to see people reading this on the subway and walking around with it and what have you, and they all sort of looked like they were crazy. (Laughter)

 [“‘Perfidia’ a novel by James Ellroy”] James Ellroy, amazing crime writer, a good friend, I’ve worked with him for many years. He is probably best known as the author of “The Black Dahlia” and “L.A. Confidential.” His most recent novel was called this, which is a very mysterious name that I’m sure a lot of people know what it means, but a lot of people don’t. And it’s a story about a Japanese-American detective in Los Angeles in 1941 investigating a murder.

And then Pearl Harbor happens, and as if his life wasn’t difficult enough, now the race relations have really ratcheted up, and then the Japanese-American internment camps are quickly created, and there’s lots of tension and horrible stuff as he’s still trying to solve this murder. And so I did at first think very literally about this in terms of all right, we’ll take Pearl Harbor and we’ll add it to Los Angeles and we’ll make this apocalyptic dawn on the horizon of the city. And so that’s a picture from Pearl Harbor just grafted onto Los Angeles.

My editor in chief said, “You know, it’s interesting but I think you can do better and I think you can make it simpler.” And so I went back to the drawing board, as I often do. But also, being alive to my surroundings, I work in a high-rise in Midtown, and every night, before I leave the office, I have to push this button to get out, and the big heavy glass doors open and I can get onto the elevator. And one night, all of a sudden, I looked at this and I saw it in a way that I hadn’t really noticed it before.

Big red circle, danger. And I thought this was so obvious that it had to have been done a zillion times, and so I did a Google image search, and I couldn’t find another book cover that looked quite like this, and so this is really what solved the problem, and graphically it’s more interesting and creates a bigger tension between the idea of a certain kind of sunrise coming up over L.A. and America.

12:22 [“‘Gulp’ A tour of the human digestive system by Mary Roach.”]

Mary Roach is an amazing writer who takes potentially mundane scientific subjects and makes them not mundane at all; she makes them really fun. So in this particular case, it’s about the human digestive system. So I’m trying to figure out what is the cover of this book going to be. This is a self-portrait. (Laughter) Every morning I look at myself in the medicine cabinet mirror to see if my tongue is black. And if it’s not, I’m good to go. (Laughter) I recommend you all do this.

But I also started thinking, here’s our introduction. Right? Into the human digestive system. But I think what we can all agree on is that actual photographs of human mouths, at least based on this, are off-putting. (Laughter) So for the cover, then, I had this illustration done which is literally more palatable and reminds us that it’s best to approach the digestive system from this end. (Laughter) I don’t even have to complete the sentence. All right.

[“Unuseful mystery“] What happens when clarity and mystery get mixed up? And we see this all the time. This is what I call unuseful mystery. I go down into the subway — I take the subway a lot — and this piece of paper is taped to a girder. Right? And now I’m thinking, uh-oh, and the train’s about to come and I’m trying to figure out what this means, and thanks a lot. Part of the problem here is that they’ve compartmentalized the information in a way they think is helpful, and frankly, I don’t think it is at all. So this is mystery we do not need.

What we need is useful clarity, so just for fun, I redesigned this. This is using all the same elements. (Applause) Thank you. I am still waiting for a call from the MTA. (Laughter)

You know, I’m actually not even using more colors than they use. They just didn’t even bother to make the 4 and the 5 green, those idiots. (Laughter) So the first thing we see is that there is a service change, and then, in two complete sentences with a beginning, a middle and an end, it tells us what the change is and what’s going to be happening. Call me crazy! (Laughter)

[“Useful mystery“] here is a piece of mystery that I love: packaging. This redesign of the Diet Coke can by Turner Duckworth is to me truly a piece of art. It’s a work of art. It’s beautiful. But part of what makes it so heartening to me as a designer is that he’s taken the visual vernacular of Diet Coke — the typefaces, the colors, the silver background — and he’s reduced them to their most essential parts, so it’s like going back to the Charlie Brown face.

It’s like, how can you give them just enough information so they know what it is but giving them the credit for the knowledge that they already have about this thing? It looks great, and you would go into a delicatessen and all of a sudden see that on the shelf, and it’s wonderful. Which makes the next thing — [“Unuseful clarity”] — all the more disheartening, at least to me. So okay, again, going back down into the subway, after this came out, these are pictures that I took. Times Square subway station: Coca-Cola has bought out the entire thing for advertising. Okay? And maybe some of you know where this is going. Ahem.

“You moved to New York with the clothes on your back, the cash in your pocket, and your eyes on the prize. You’re on Coke.” (Laughter) “You moved to New York with an MBA, one clean suit, and an extremely firm handshake. You’re on Coke.” (Laughter) These are real! (Laughter) Not even the support beams were spared, except they switched into Yoda mode. (Laughter) “Coke you’re on.” (Laughter) [“Excuse me, I’m on WHAT??”] This campaign was a huge misstep.

It was pulled almost instantly due to consumer backlash and all sorts of unflattering parodies on the web — (Laughter) — and also that dot next to “You’re on,” that’s not a period, that’s a trademark. So thanks a lot.

to me, this was just so bizarre about how they could get the packaging so mysteriously beautiful and perfect and the message so unbearably, clearly wrong. It was just incredible to me.

18:05 So I just hope that I’ve been able to share with you some of my insights on the uses of clarity and mystery in my work, and maybe how you might decide to be more clear in your life, or maybe to be a bit more mysterious and not so over-sharing. (Laughter)

18:30 And if there’s just one thing that I leave you with from this talk, I hope it’s this: Blih blih blih blah. Blah blah blih blih. [“‘Judge This,’ Chip Kidd”] Blih blih blah blah blah. Blah blah blah

Patsy Z  shared this link

TED. 10 hrs ·

Book designer Chip Kidd shares what inspired his iconic covers:

Book designer Chip Kidd knows all too well how often we judge things by first appearances.|By Chip Kidd




December 2016

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