No, Dubai does not have a film industry, not yet that is... but with more and more young national film directors making their presence felt with noteworthy ventures that are assuming a definite national identity, ...

By Anupama V. Chand

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Published: Fri 10 Sep 2004, 11:01 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:01 AM

they all agree that that day is coming soon!

One such filmmaker who is doing significant work is Mohammed Traifi, a 28-year-old UAE national, who has just finished directing his third short feature film, 'Cigarettes' earlier this month. Mohammed, who doubles as a copy writer in an advertising agency, is a member of the UAE's only body that can loosely be called a film industry - the Emirates Film Competition, an annual event, under the aegis of the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, that calls for amateur and student filmmakers and local talents to make their own short and documentary films and submit them to a rather rigorous judging procedure, with accolades and international exposure being granted to the winning entries.

City Times decided to go behind-the-scenes at the film shooting, and catch up with the enterprising director, who insists he is mostly self-taught. 'Cigarettes' is the brainchild of Mohammed Al Traifi, who has participated in and won awards for several theatre, television and stage plays. It is part of an increasing ilk of short feature films that are being produced by the young and talented filmmakers, who are finally giving voice to a shared cultural experience.

The film deals with some of the cultural and social stigmas of local life, and illustrates the issues that young nationals encounter in their daily lives. Mohammed Traifi told City Times that he has received not only corporate support, but also community support from his fellow actors, writers, and directors, with some popular UAE actors and actresses volunteering to participate in the film, including Ashjan, who is synonymous with the local TV and stage scene here in the UAE, Mariam Sultan, another renowned name in theatre, as well as Hani Al Sheibani, an award-winning film director in his own right and Hanan Shakir.

He averred that the spirit of these actors and actresses, as well as the support of Sony Business, Atlas TV and Filmworks has been inspirational in getting his project off the ground, as has been the invaluable experience of people like Peter Davies, a well-known director of production, have helped make the first baby steps towards a full-fledged UAE Film Industry. He added that Cigarettes was also being used by Sony Business to promote their ongoing programme of providing UAE nationals in the field of cinema and film with valuable on-the-job training, as well as the latest hi-definition equipment to train on, to facilitate the marketability of their final works in the international arena, as well as locally and regionally. If all goes according to plan, Mohammed Al Traifi is hoping to showcase his film at the upcoming Dubai International Film Awards in January 2005.

Tell us what you can about the subject of the film, what it was that prompted you to make it, and when you intend to release it?

The film tells the story of Nawal, who meets and falls in love with Ahmed while studying abroad. He promises he loves her too, and when he has a kidney failure she gives him her kidney willingly to save his life. After completing her studies, she goes back home, and waits for him, moving meanwhile, from one successful career to another, becoming a popular TV presenter. Ahmed comes back, and in deference to his mother's traditional beliefs suggests that Nawal be his 'second wife”…which starts Nawal off on her agonising journey encompassing the psychiatrist on the one hand, and cigarettes on the other. It is high time we changed some old-fashioned traditions, and some one should start the job. I am trying to participate in a couple of festivals like the Dubai Film Festival, and the Emirates Film Competition, to increase my international exposure.

Is this your maiden venture at making films? If not, what are some of the others you have done?

No I did two films before this one (A Candle For My Sweetheart in 2003) and (Pay For Their Tears in 2004).

Do you have any formal educational qualifications/training in filmmaking?

No, it is all self taught which is common among the UAE film community, as there is little in the way of formal training and support. Sony Broadcast and Professional have provided some training in areas of film production…sound/lighting and editing.

Do you feel there is the need for a UAE Film Industry today? How would such an industry help directors and film makers like yourself?

Absolutely...yes, nobody can deny the importance of the film industry in the world, it is an international language that will help not only me or the directors, but it will help the whole society.

How did you convince several popular UAE artistes to star in your film?

It wasn’t difficult, we are all friends and we have the same dreams and goals and when that is the case everyone is willing to pitch in.

Do you think this initiative, and earlier ones by UAE national woman film director Nayla Al Khaja (who recently held the premiere of her promotional film, 'Unveiling Dubai'), among others will be an inspiration and example to young and amateur UAE nationals?

I hope so, that is why we work hard to get publicity for these projects. This is not for our own image alone, it is to highlight the challenges and the hardships that the UAE Film Industry and the Emirates Film Competition faces…and we hope that this message is getting through. Nayla made this point very well when she screened her film…the problems she faced are common to all of us.

Identify some aspects of your film that you think are significant to the region as a whole?

I think we need to be frank with ourselves to make the change, and I think this film is frank enough.

How do you propose to market this film, and what are your future plans with regards to filmmaking?

Right now my focus is to finish this film, then I will think about this in more detail, right now I am working to publicise the project, after which I will be entering the movie at film festivals around the globe, and I will also be doing screenings all over UAE.

Any masterpieces that you would like to work on?

There are many, but still I will prefer talking about them at the right time, Sony Broadcast and Professional are keen to hear about Emirates Film Competition scripts to evaluate how and where they may be able to support them and so I am sure that myself and others will be talking to them about some of our big ideas.

What do you think are the most important qualifications for a film director to possess today?

Imagination, and a definite belief in his abilities.

Who are some of the film directors you admire on a world stage? Does Hollywood figure in your big dreams?

I do respect Oliver Stone, and of course Hollywood is a great dream but I don’t feel that I belong there. I will be back and working right here highlighting issues that are important here.

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