Charting 3,000 years of the UAE’s civilisation

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Charting 3,000 years of the UAE’s civilisation

Published: Mon 12 Jun 2017, 4:32 PM

Last updated: Mon 12 Jun 2017, 7:17 PM

The UAE may be a relatively new country that was formed out of a federation of seven emirates 46 years back, but since then it has stunned the world with its continuous progress and world-class development. To the West, the region is mostly considered as a land of camels, desert, and oil. But a refreshing documentary showcasing the roots of the country and stretching back to some 3,000 years, made its latest triumph at Cannes Festival by bagging the Best Film in Culture Preservation award in World Peace Initiative Film Festival category.
This is the 8th international award for A Tale Of Water, Palm Trees And Family by the Emirati filmmaker Nasser Al Dhaheri, since it started touring world festivals, following its premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2015.
The 150-minute feature-length documentary tells the story of a deep-rooted journey of the UAE - land, people and culture - through a trilogy that forms the main components of UAE's civilisation.
After bagging awards in Dubai, Norway, Oakland, Canada, Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York, the movie is now set to screen at the upcoming Madrid International Film Festival, and other festivals.
"It's (the documentary) a tribute to the memory of those who worked hard in the past. A reminder to future generations that today's prosperity was made possible because of the sweat and blood of our ancestors who carved rock for water and cultivated palm trees for life in this place," said Al Dhaheri, writer, journalist and an award-winning photographer about his first film.
"It is a story about three elements: water, palm trees and family, and how they combine to establish a civilisation and constitute a culture that people don't know of. They know us only through the camel, desert and oil. This is our real story," he added. The Arabic narrative is marked by its poetic language and detailed cinematography focussing on the art of storytelling. "The film is filled with stories. It shows the real culture which existed before oil was discovered," said Al Dhaheri.
The film, which is translated into English, French and Spanish, showcases the region's ancestral dependency on two essential lifelines - water and date palm which provided food and materials for building houses and boats.
In Al Ain, where Al Dhaheri was born, there is evidence of the world's oldest known falaj - an ancient network of underground water channels that was carved out of rock around 1,000BC.
"It is testament to Herculean effort, and engineering prowess. Many of these channels still remain the main source of irrigation in Al Ain even today," Al Dhaheri said.
But the journey of understanding the rich history was not easy. It involved touring across  the entire span of the UAE. "We slept in the desert, and went (out to the sea) in the morning with fishermen. We ascended mountains, and ate in the middle of palm oases," Al Dhaheri recalled.
"We also had some  funny situations, like being attacked by a raging bull while filming a bullfight in Fujairah," he told us.
One man show
Part of the film's success goes to its cinematic power, and the depth of topic and narrative.  Working for two years with post-production teams in Netherlands and Germany, the Dh5.7 million movie was funded by Al Dhaheri, as he worked alongside a crew from Netherlands and over 20 Arab actors.
"I graduated with a degree in film studies, but my career in journalism and literature took me away from my passion, until I decided to make a film, and make it as professional as I could," said Al Dhaheri. With so much happening in the Arab cinema world, Al Dhaheri said Arab filmmakers need more support for their projects. "There must be an official authority that sponsors films in the Middle East. And this authority must select, promote, and support new projects. While my film gained success, though it was a one man show, I'm sure it would've reached out more if it was supported by an authority," he said. Funding is the main challenge faced by new talents trying to make their way into filmmaking Al  Dhaheri said.
Quick take with Al Dhaheri

How do you see this film in relation to your previous work as a filmmaker?
This film is completely different. It’s a full-length feature and has interesting tales. People should watch the movie to know the real story of this region’s beginnings.

What challenges did you encounter?
I did not find difficulties because I am the storywriter and director. However, initially, it was a tad difficult communicating with the Dutch team. Language was a problem.

Any memorable incidents during filming you would like to share?
Yes, everyone will remember the bull that chased us while filming in Fujairah.

There has been considerable talk of an emerging Arab cinema.
There is new and serious Arab cinema, and we need to elevate our movies to the global level.

Did you find any problems with your film’s distribution?
Distribution is one of the main issues in Arab cinema. But I hope my film will be well distributed because of its cultural values.

What does cinema mean to you?
I am a great believer in the importance of cinema and its ability to communicate with the people. I hope my film will be screened in other parts of the world.

By Sherouk Zakaria

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