Local Going Dubai

Tue Dec 11,2012

HEADLINE: Local going global
Standfirst: Emirati film-makers on the challenges of breaking boundaries

Amal Al-Agroobi’s decision to leave behind a career in the sciences wasn’t one that was planned out. “I woke up one morning and got to work and thought, you know what, this sucks.”
Al-Agroobi, who has a master’s in neurosciences and has worked as a biomedical scientist, knew at that moment that she wanted to pursue her passion for film. “Film has always been a part of my life and something that I always wanted to do. But being from this part of the world, you do what your family wants you to do – something that can get you a job and sounds okay.”
When she decided to chart a new course for herself, she started afresh as a trainee with the Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation in 2011; now she is presenting her short documentary HALF EMIRATI at DIFF. The subject is one that is close to her own life as she grew up in the UAE as a half-Syrian/half-Emirati girl and this, she explained, is something that has affected her life and that of her siblings. “My father’s side wasn’t very accepting of my mother for a very long time,” she said, adding that when the time came for her to finally try her hand at film-making, she decided it was the perfect topic.

Industry insights

Observing differences between the industry in the UK and the Emirates, Al-Agroobi said “we have a lot of people in the wrong places who don’t know what they are doing and because they don’t know, they are wasting the talents of others.” In the UK, she added, everyone is willing to start at the bottom and work their way up.
“New film-makers immediately want to step into the position of director instead of looking at what they are actually good at,” said SAFI director Ahmed Zain. In his decade-long career as a film-maker he said he has noticed the older directors have grown by learning from their mistakes and thus making better films, while younger film-makers from the Emirates “have a problem with choosing strong scripts.”
“There’s a need for more specialised industry professionals, especially scriptwriters. More courses should be offered that train film-makers on various aspects of the process,” he said. Emirati film-makers and their colleagues from the Gulf currently have access to the Gulf Script Market for Short Films, launched at the fifth edition of the Gulf Film Festival in 2012.
Fatema Al Nayeh, who debuts as a film-maker with her film LIFE SPRAY, said her greatest challenge was finding good female actors. “Looking for an actress was challenging because in Emirati society, it’s hard to find a female to act because they think it’s not for our culture.”  Al Nayeh is determined to change perceptions. “I want to be like Nayla Al Khaja [a pioneering female Emirati director] and I want to get to the Oscars someday.”

Pushing boundaries
Al Khaja has definitely paved the way for several female directors from the Emirates, as families have become more accepting of film-making as a career. After Al Khaja emerged onto the scene, people have begun to be more accepting of women entering the field, said Al-Agroobi.
Tackling taboo subjects requires a similar approach of gently pushing the boundaries. “I think it’s like a little child playing and see how far it can push the mother before she gets mad,” said Al-Agroobi. “There are some lines you don’t cross,” she said but, “there are some topics that you can tread around and I think that once that goes through, people will start to tackle things in the grey area a little more and see if the UAE accepts it or not.”

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