Since scooping the Camera d’Or in Cannes with her directorial debut “Divines,” Houda Benyamina, the ambitious 36 year-old French-Moroccan – one of France’s rare jobbing Arab female filmmakers of North African origin — has become one of the country’s hottest emerging directors.

“Divines,” which was picked up by Netflix rolling off Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, will vie for a foreign-language Golden Globe on Jan.8, alongside Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” and Benyamina just got signed by WME agent Jerome Duboz, whose client list ranges from South Korean film master Park Chan-wook (“The Handmaiden”) to up-and-coming Indian helmer Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”) and multi-hyphenate film vet Wim Wenders (“Submergence”).

Benyamina, whose acceptance speech in Cannes gave us a taste of her acerbic, bold personality and ruffled feathers among high-profile French industry figures in the process, hasn’t yet been blinded by the spotlights.

“Since Cannes, I have been approached by many American agents but I immediately clicked with Jerome Duboz who happens to have grown up in the same suburb as me in Evry Courcouronnes! From the first email he sent me. I sensed that he got me right away; I totally trust him,” said Benyamina, who last presented “Divines” at Les Arcs Film Festival where she took part in several workshops and a panel on the status of contemporary female filmmakers in Europe.

“I came from nowhere. Me and producer, Marc-Benoît Créancier (at Easy Tiger) we found each other, the Ch’tis [a nickname for natives of Northern France] and the chick from the ghettos; and because we were both outsiders it was tough to break into the French film community — It’s like entering a members-only golf club,” said Benyamina, who was poised to become a hairstylist before taking acting classes and venturing into filmmaking with the shorts “Ma poubelle geante” (“My Giant Trash”) and “Sur la route du paradis” which won two prizes at Dubai.

Benyamina also said “Divines” proved difficult to finance because it was perceived as ‘yet another film about the banlieue (underprivileged French suburb), especially after Celine Sciamma’s “Girlhood,” even though the two movies don’t have much in common except for the fact that they showcase minority female protagonists from underprivileged suburbs.

But Benyamina claims she and her producer were resourceful and tenacious enough to make the film happen and find the necessary backers in France, including the acquisition exec at French pubcaster France 2 who had initially declined to pre-buy the film and changed her mind after hearing Benyamina speak about it with passion. Like many Arab directors, Benyamina also received support from Doha Film Institute and Dubai Film Connection.

An eminently political film weaved into a friendship tale, “Divines,” which stars her sister Oulaya Amamra and Deborah Lukumuena as two friends determined to make money fast and escape their project for a better life, was conceived by Beyamina following the 2005 riots which erupted after the deaths of two boys who had been running from police in a high-rise ghetto near Paris.

“What’s extraordinary with Divines is how universal it is — it sparks enthusiasm and empathy among young female audiences across different ethnic origins and social backgrounds; it captures the complexity of womanhood and the subtleties of a friendship between two women,” said Edouard Waintrop who selected the film for Directors’ Fortnight and recently showed it during the rerun screenings of Directors’ Fortnight in Geneva where he was surprised to see how well the film clicked with local female auds.

Benyamina, who said she was brought up watching popular, mainstream movies on TV, has a penchant for colorful characters and spunky dialogue filled with punchlines. Besides Martin Scorsese’s movies (in particular “Mean Streets”), Benyamina cited films by Bertrand Blier, Henri Verneuil, Ettore Scola and Paolo Pasolini which made her love cinema and inspired in many ways “Divines.”

Rejecting any kind of typecasting, Benyamina is looking to broaden her canvas and tackle different genres going forward.

Although she aspires to make films as freely as possible, Benyamina is not the kind of European “auteur” who only wants to direct movies she’s written. In fact, she said she’s already found interest in scripts Duboz sent her.

“Alejandro González Iñárritu is a role model for the way he’s been leading his career, tackling both personal movies and much bigger films in terms of scope, budget and cast, with the same artistic ambition, the same verve,” said Benyamina.

“Houda is interested in many things beyond the banlieue and her inner world is much bigger than the story of ‘Divines;’ For instance in Cannes, she was mesmerized by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ‘Endless Poetry,'” noted Waintrop.

One of her passion projects is “a ‘Cosmos’ movie, somewhere between ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘Gravity,” said Benyamina with her eyes wide open and a child-like smile.

Another project, which is high up in Beyamina’s slate, tells a lifelong love story between a French woman and an American man, and is inspired by a true story. Although Beyamina acknowledged that she recently met James Franco and Robert Pattinson to chat, she said neither had read her script at that time. While she would love to work with either of these actors, she said she could also choose to cast unknown actors who fit the parts, like she did with “Divines.”

“I like to create the atmosphere of an artistic bootcamp where actors really dive deep into their roles and merge with their onscreen characters like Robert de Niro did in ‘Taxi Driver’ or Gerard Depardieu in ‘Les valseuses,’ Benyamina comented, adding that she’s a fan of Konstantin Stanislavski’s ‘Method,’ the acting technique which is more prominently used in the U.S. than in France.

“If Divines hadn’t been acquired by Neflix it would have been seen by 200,000 people max outside of France and thanks to Netflix it’s going to be available to 86 million subscribers across 190 countries,” argued Benyamina, adding out that “Netflix democratizes culture around the world and in a way is giving a universal dimension to ‘Divines.'”

Sold by Berlin-based Films Boutique, which is partly owned by the French outfit Films Distribution, “Divines” was released by Diaphana on Aug. 31 and made over 2 million Euros ($2.1 million) from an estimated 324,000 tickets sold — a healthy performance for this type of film. Although “Divines” bowed on Netflix worldwide on Nov. 18, promoted like an “original,” the movie will only be available on France’s Netflix service in 2018, as per the country’s strict regulation for subscription-based VOD services.

Interestingly, in France, the only movies depicting, to some extent, the struggle of minorities in suburban French ghettoes which made a significant critical and/or commercial impact in the last 10 years – Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet,””Dheepan,” Philippe Faucon’s “The Disintegration,””Fatima” and Celine Sciamma’s “Boyhood,” among others — weren’t directed by minorities.

“French arabs of North-African origins are well represented in French society, but unfortunately they remain for the most part confined – culturally and socially — to ‘zoolands’ and minority French filmmakers still have a long way to go to be fairly acknowledged in mainstream culture,” said Waintrop.

Benyamina, who founded the non-profit org 1,000 Visages in 2006 to train and create opportunities for aspiring minority filmmakers and actors in France, hopes to break the glass ceiling with “Divines” at home and abroad, notably at the Golden Globes.

In spite of its rising profile, “Divines” was not considered by France’s Oscar committee to represent the country in the foreign-language race and it was not either nominated for the prestigious Louis Delluc prize for first film. It nevertheless earned two nominations – first film and female newcomer (for Oulaya Amamra and Déborah Lukumuena) — at the Lumiere Awards, which is voted on by members of the foreign press.

It remains to be seen how “Divines” will fare at the Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent to the Oscars). Last year’s edition, Philippe Faucon’s “Fatima,” which had also premiered at Directors’ Fortnight, won the Cesar awards for best film, female newcomer and adaptation out of four nominations.


New Year’s kicked off with familiar favorites, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Sing,” dominating the domestic box office. Both films have emerged as the biggest hits of the holiday season.

The “Star Wars” spinoff topped the box office, just as it has since opening three weeks ago. “Rogue One” racked up $64.3 million for the four-day holiday weekend. That pushes its North American total to $439.7 million, putting it in second place among last year’s highest-grossing domestic releases. Globally, “Rogue One” has made $774.9 million through Sunday, with China, the world’s second-largest film market, yet to open.

Disney, which released “Rogue One” through its Lucasfilm banner, has four of the year’s top five domestic earners, including “Finding Dory,” which was the highest-grossing stateside film with $486.3 million. The company had a lot riding on “Rogue One.” It invested roughly $4 billion to the rights to the “Star Wars” canon, with a goal of creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s. “Rogue One” is the first of several planned spinoff films that will exist outside of the main Skywalker family saga. Disney is also readying a film about Han Solo’s origins, with Alden Ehrenreich poised to inherit Harrison Ford’s blaster.



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“Sing,” an animated story about a talent competition involving animals, picked up $56.4 million, bringing the film’s domestic total to $180 million. “Sing” is the latest offering from Illumination and Universal. The partners have previously collaborated on “Despicable Me” and last summer’s hit, “The Secret Life of Pets.” What makes Illumination’s accomplishments particularly impressive is that “Sing” cost $75 million to make at a time when most major animated releases carry budgets in excess of $100 million. “Sing” features vocal work from Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, and Taron Egerton, as well as music from the likes of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Stevie Wonder.

In third place, “Passengers,” a science-fiction romance with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, earned $20.7 million over the four days, pushing its domestic gross to $66 million. “Passengers” is being watched closely, because it is the first major greenlight of Tom Rothman’s reign as studio chief at Sony. With a $110 million budget and millions more spent in promotion, “Passengers” is banking on foreign crowds to lift it into the black. To that end, the film caught a break, scoring a release date in China on Jan. 13 — Chinese conglomerate Wanda, an investor on the film, will help with marketing in the Middle Kingdom.

Fox’s “Assassin’s Creed” made $10.8 million over the holiday. The video game adaptation has earned a lackluster $41.9 million since opening over Christmas. With a hefty $125 million budget, it will need foreign audiences to turn out in force if it wants to avoid a write down.

Fox has had more success with “Why Him?,” a mid-budget comedy with Bryan Cranston and James Franco. The film centers on a generational clash between a father who hates his daughter’s boyfriend. It earned $13 million over the four-day holiday and has made $37.5 million domestically.

The end of the year also played host to a slew of awards seekers.  Paramount’s “Fences” has scored among the adult dramas flooding theaters. The August Wilson adaptation is generating Oscar buzz for star and director Denzel Washington, as well as for Viola Davis. Both actors appeared in an acclaimed 2010 Broadway revival of the play. The drama earned $12.7 million over the holiday and has made $32.4 million since debuting three weeks ago in limited release.

Paramount also fielded the religious drama “Silence.” It’s a passion project for Martin Scorsese, who has been trying to bring the story of Jesuits in feudal Japan to the screen for decades. “Silence” earned $110,000 in four locations over the weekend, bringing its total to $337,000. The movie, a cerebral examination of spirituality, will need to get Oscar attention if it wants to resonate with mainstream crowds.

Lionsgate’s “La La Land” is a hit with critics and audiences. The musical reunites Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who previously appeared together memorably in “Crazy Stupid Love” and less so in “Gangster Squad.” It earned $12.3 million over the four-day holiday, bringing its gross to $37 million. Along with “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight,” “La La Land” is seen as a leading contender for a best picture statue at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Fox’s “Hidden Figures,” a drama about a team of African-American scientists who calculated flight plans during the early days of the space program, earned an impressive $1.1 million for the four days from just 25 theaters. It goes into wide release next weekend. Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson star in the historical film.

“Patterson,” Jim Jarmusch’s look at a soulful bus driver, made $88,167 for the long weekend, bringing its gross to $119,657. It is being released by Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street, with Adam Driver starring.

“Live by Night,” a Warner Bros. gangster picture with Ben Affleck, continued to struggle in limited release. The film picked up $50,000 from four theaters for a paltry per-screen average of $12,548. It opens in wide release on Jan. 13.

CBS Films and Lionsgate’s “Patriots Day” earned $200,000 from seven theaters to bring its total to $681,000. The story of the Boston Marathon bombing expands nationally in two weeks.

Roadside Attractions ended the year on a high note. The indie distributor behind “Manchester by the Sea” and “Hello, My Name is Doris” announced that it had its best year ever from a box office perspective with $75.7 million. Its previous highest-grossing year was in 2013 when it took in $44.8 million.


Lionsgate’s musical romance “La La Land” took home the top honor at the 21st edition of the Capri Hollywood International Film Festival, with the Italian fest naming the movie best film of the year.

The award was announced Monday by festival founder and producer Pascal Vicedomini. Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, won more prizes than any other film at this year’s fest, with six trophies. Those include best actress for Stone, best ensemble cast, best photography for Linus Sandgren, best score for Justin Hurwitz, and best song for “City of Stars.”

“Lion” and “Hacksaw Ridge” both followed closely behind with five awards each. The Weinstein Company’s “Lion” won the Humanitarian Award, best supporting actor for Dev Patel, best supporting actress for Nicole Kidman, best adapted screenplay for Saroo Brierley and Luke Davies, and the Capri Peace Award for Sia for her song “Never Give Up.”



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Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” won best drama, best director, best editor for John Gilbert, best producer for Bill Mechanic, and best actor for Andrew Garfield, an award that he shares with Michael Keaton for “The Founder.”

The comedy of the year prize went to Meryl Streep’s “Florence Foster Jenkins,” which also won European director of the year for Stephen Frears. “Fire at Sea” received awards for best documentary and best European movie of 2016.

Best script went to Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea,” and Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo won best set design and decorations and best costumes for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.” “Toni Erdmann” was named best foreign-language film, and Disney’s “Moana” took the prize for best animated movie.

In TV, “Medici: Masters of Florence” won the fest’s “TV Series 2016” honor.

“This was an extraordinary edition for the quality of the artists who attended and the variety of works presented,” said Vicedomini in a statement. “I’m positive that most of our award winners will go on to be honored at the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Best wishes to everyone and see you at the 22nd edition of Capri, Hollywood.”


Theatrical box office in South Korea grew by less than 2% in 2016 to KRW1.74 trillion. That was despite the performance by local films which had an outstanding year in critical terms and on international release.

Korean films accounted for eight of the top ten chart places, with the year’s only 10-million admissions title “Train to Busan” on top of the chart. “Train” became the ninth largest film of all time in terms of ticket sales. (“Avatar” is the only foreign film in all time top ten.) That helped Korean-made films cement their leading market share. They finished the year with a 53.7% of box office.

Some 217 million tickets were sold in 2016, which is almost the same as the number that was sold in the previous year. It was the sixth year in a row that admissions have topped 200 million. In dollar terms the value of the total Korean box office was unchanged at $1.44 billion.

With some 334 new Korean films released (up from 257,) homegrown titles accounted for 117 million admissions, the fifth year in a row that they have exceeded 100 million ticket sales.

Foreign films saw a 2.4% drop in ticket sales (from 104 million admissions in 2015 to 100 million in 2016). That caused a 2.5% decrease in their box office gross to KRW 815 billion ($673 million).

Genre movies with high-profile directors and actors involved performed strongly. Starring some of the country’s top actors Hwang Jung-min and Gang Dong-won, crime buddy film “A Violent Prosecutor,” and Kim Jee-woon’s Oscars contender “The Age of Shadows” took second and fourth places.

“Captain America: Civil War,” in third place, was the top foreign movie of the year. Apart from “Civil War,” only “Doctor Strange” made the top ten.

The top 3 distributors were unchanged from the previous year. CJ Entertainment held on to its usual top place with a 16% market share, earned from a total of 22 releases including “Operation Chromite,” “The Handmaiden” and “Kung Fu Panda 3,” ahead of Showbox on 15% (in the first 11 months of 2015) from 10 titles including “Prosecutor” and “Tunnel.” Walt Disney Korea took third spot with 14%, earned from 10 releases, up from 2015’s seventh spot.

The total number of films that enjoyed theatrical releases grew 29% from an already high 1,203 in 2015 to a record 1,555 in 2016. Foreign film releases increased from 946 to 1,221.


If any “Fifty Shades” fans were watching Nick Viall embark on his quest to find true love on “The Bachelor” premiere on Monday night, they got a special treat from Christian Grey.

An extended trailer for Universal’s “Fifty Shades Darker” dropped during the ABC show’s season premiere, showing more steamy footage from the sequel. In it, Christian’s (Jamie Dornan) trying to get Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) back, and she even agrees to dinner — but only because she’s hungry.

“This time, no rules,” says Anastasia. “No punishments, and no more secrets.”



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It does indeed, however, get a lot “Darker” when a mysterious woman starts to appear, and Anastasia begins questioning rekindling the flame as sexy shower scenes make way for gunplay. Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik’s “I Don’t Want to Live Forever” provides the soundtrack.

“Every fairy tale has a dark side,” the trailer’s tagline warns.

Hugh Dancy, Eric Johnson, Jennifer Ehle, Luke Grimes, Rita Ora, Victor Rasuk, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Bella Heathcote, Kim Basinger, and Marcia Gay Harden also star. James Foley directs, taking over for Sam Taylor-Johnson, who helmed “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“Fifty Shades Darker” will hit theaters on Feb. 10. A third film, “Fifty Shades Freed,” has also already landed a Feb. 9, 2018, release date.


MUMBAI — Bollywood powerhouses Karan Johar and Salman Khan have joined hands to produce a feature starring Akshay Kumar.

The untitled feature will be directed by Anurag Singh, responsible for a string of Punjabi-language hits including the “Jatt & Juliet” franchise and “Punjab 1984.”

Johar and Khan will co-produce via their Dharma Productions and Salman Khan Films outfits. Production will commence in the third quarter of 2017 and the film will release in 2018. This is the first time that the two companies have joined hands for a production.

The subject of the co-production has not been revealed but industry sources say that it is likely to be a period drama based on the 1897 battle of Saragarhi fought between the British Indian army and Afghan tribesmen.

Johar is an actor, producer, writer, director and TV host. His last directorial venture “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil” was one of the box office hits of 2016 with collections of $35 million. Khan is one of India’s most popular stars. His last release “Sultan” grossed some $86 million worldwide.

Kumar is one of Bollywood’s busiest and most bankable stars. In 2016 he starred in hits “Airlift”, “Rustom” and “Housefull 3.” His 2017 slate includes “Jolly LLB 2,” “Toilet – Ek Prem Katha,” “Crack” as the protagonist and “2.0,” the highly anticipated sequel to 2010’s “Enthiran” where he plays opposite superstar Rajinikanth.