DIFF Daily 2011

Moving towards an industry - Emirati films in focus

Dec 10,2011 - 07:07 PM

BY RANIA HABIB

The UAE film industry received a massive boost in 2009 with the release of Ali F Mostafa’s ‘City of Life’, a slice-of-life feature set amidst dynamic, modernday Dubai. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Nawaf Al Janahi’s ‘Sea Shadow’ presented a story about the trials and tribulations of two young adults moving to the big
city.

UAE-produced cinema is growing more prolific by the year. At the Dubai International Film Festival this year, the Muhr Emirati programme sees 13 feature films and shorts, including the world premiere of ‘Amal’, a documentary by award-winning director Nujoom Alghanem. Such achievements augur well for an Emirati film industry – but behind the scenes, where is the country’s cinema really at?

Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Artistic director of DIFF, says that whilst production in the Emirates has progressed tremendously over the past decade, it’s still yet to establish itself fully. ‘We haven’t arrived to a place where we know that the industry can stand on its own two feet,’ says Ali. ‘It’s more of a movement than an industry.’

Alghanem, who won the 2010 Special Jury Prize Muhr Emirati award for ‘Hamama’, a documentary about a 90-yearold healer from Al Dhaid in Sharjah, agreed with Ali, saying that despite Emirati filmmakers being more productive than ever, the UAE is still falling short of a fully-fledged ‘industry’. ‘We have experiences, we have good efforts, we have great passion, but we can’t consider what is happening here an industry’ says Alghanem. ‘We need a strategic plan if we want to turn it into an industry. When you look at Hollywood or Bollywood, these are industries that are contributing towards the income of the country. We need to have a flow of investments that’s always moving and bringing money to the box office and the projects. We’re helping other industries grow, but we’re not helping our own industry to grow the same way.’

Sarah Alagroobi is an Emirati filmmaker who grew up in Belgium and recently returned to the UAE. Her first short film, ‘The Forbidden Fruit’, exploring the lives of two young Emirati adults who live a double life between their traditional homes and Dubai’s Westernised society, received its world premiere at DIFF this year. Alagroobi feels the subject matter is controversial.

‘If I was going to make something big, I thought it would be better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission,’ she explains. ‘I’ve taken a very touchy subject and shed light on it, and vocalised it very loudly. I thought it was very important to tell of the duality of our culture. Hiding one side and revealing another is not going to help anyone in developing an honest future.’

The impact of film festivals across the region cannot be underestimated and at DIFF, the fair’s proactive efforts to push this gathering momentum at grass-roots production level, is clearly paying dividends. Yet there is clearly still much ground to be covered.

‘As a filmmaker and a creative person, I am an artist,’ Nujoom Alghanem says. ‘We are not in this profession to be selling our projects; we have to focus on our creativity and our work, not be busy with marketing or finding funding. We need agents and production houses to help us, because they are major factors. But to us, the creative, they should not be the major aspect of our work.’

Alghanem hopes to develop her practice and in the future, move on to developing feature projects. Yet, to her mind, the UAE’s cinema infrastructure is still not up to speed. ‘In terms of financing, production facilities, even talents, we’re not ready. We always have theatre actors or television actors, but when it comes to film, you need to have someone with the knowledge of cinema. With respect to all the talent out there, I think we need trained people to be standing in front of the camera, very serious people, and very open people. We cannot keep making very conservative films. It doesn’t survive in modern cinema.’

Masoud Amralla Al Ali says filmmakers need more financial support, as well as proper infrastructure to prepare them for the industry. ‘We need a school to train and educate filmmakers in many specialisations,’ he says. ‘We have many directors, but the industry needs editors, producers, cinematographers, actors, composers, and that won’t happen until there is a place that can embrace these people. We need to get audiences used to Emirati films or we won’t have anyone to watch them. This takes time and won’t happen overnight – the movement is coming along nicely and I think the future will be bright.’

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