Emirati girls make brave progress with camera

Filed on April 15, 2010

DUBAI A striking feature of Gulf Film Festival this year is the large number of participating Emirati filmmakers most of them girls just out of college or in their final year. Talk to them and it is hard to believe that the UAE only has a nascent film industry.

While they accept that emerging filmmakers face the challenge of financial constraints to fund their movies, they are also upbeat and confident about the industry’s prospects.

And what impresses is the courage they show to explore subjects that not long ago would have been totally off-limits or frowned upon.

Take the team of Aisha Al Suwaidi, the director of Re-Construction, a documentary that explores the trend of plastic surgeries in the UAE. The film’s video and sound editor, Nawar Al Shamsi — a co-student of Aisha at Dubai Women’s College — has an interesting observation to make: “While women were more forthcoming about being on camera, Emirati men who had done plastic surgery simply refused.”

She said that tackling such bold subjects that explore the society’s psyche is now a norm than an exception. “We have done movies on movie censorship; there are movies about Arab men loving their cars more than their family — the young UAE filmmakers are bold with their themes now.”

Nawar said their movie ‘Re-Construction brought to light some startling facts. The film was made over a year with a lot of research and effort going into it. “We had a hard time finding people to talk about their experiences on camera.”

If finding subjects was the concern of Nawar and her team, for Latifa Al Karrani and Shamsa Ahmad, students of Applied Communication at Dubai Women’s College, the fear was they might accidentally stumble upon their ‘subjects’. So they stayed clear of their mis en scene during nights – after all, they were making a movie on the haunted houses in the UAE.

‘Jin Hunters’ is a fun and light-hearted documentary but Latifa and Shamsa say they were terrified out of their wits. They took the camera to ‘known’ haunted houses in Nadd Al Hamar and Mizhar in Dubai, and Jazeerat Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah. “We were scared,” the girls laugh, “but we brought in fun to the movie with our fear.”

In making the movie, Latifa and Shamsa wanted to explore the truth about djinns but they had an open mind. “We didn’t know if the houses were haunted or not, or whether djinns exist. Even after shooting the movie, we do not have an answer and we leave that for the audiences to decide.”

They of course have a trove of stories shared by people they met on their cinematic journey; a boy reports about his car breaking down and feeling like the walls closing on him.

The two girls are avid fans of the horror genre, and say Emirati filmmakers are today exploring subject matter never attempted before.

Jumana Al Ghanem and Ahlam Albannai, also students of Dubai Women’s College, however take their camera on a different journey — right through the heart of Arab linguistic identity. ‘Am Arabi’ explores the status of Arabic as a language among today’s Arab youth.

But they are not professing that youngsters limit their knowledge to Arabic. “They must learn English, Hindi, French… whatever language they like. But they must also know Arabic, because it is part of their identity.”

Jumana and Ahlam have worked on three shorts together earlier and they say their strengths are complementary. They say the key challenge before Emirati filmmakers is to find the right talent, especially actors.

The Gulf Film Festival ends today with an award ceremony honouring winners in the students and official competition as well as script competition for Emirati writers.

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