Emirati Vibes: How UAE-made films are telling stories of people living in the country

In the fifth of a five-part series that explores what defines the UAE, Khaleej Times looks at the Emirati film scene and how it is inspired by the people

A scene from Ali Mostafa's film, 'City of Life'.
A scene from Ali Mostafa's film, 'City of Life'.

Lamya Tawfik

Published: Thu 1 Dec 2022, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 1 Dec 2022, 6:59 AM

The Emirati film scene is robust and has grown exponentially over the last decade. Movies produced here tell stories inspired by both the culture of Emiratis and the cultures of people that live in the country.

Speaking to Khaleej Times, Emirati writer and director Hassiba Freiha, described the UAE film industry as a car that was built with the best parts, and now many people are ready and excited to drive it. “In the GCC, the UAE is definitely one of the leaders in the filmmaking industry. Several Hollywood movies are being shot here, and many Emiratis are exposed to the highest level of production standards. There’s so much talent,” she said.

Emirati writer and director, Hassiba Freiha.
Emirati writer and director, Hassiba Freiha.

Today, on December 1, 'Farah', a feature film co-directed by Hassiba and her husband, Kenton Oxley, will be released in UAE cinemas. The movie is a psychological thriller which is set in Lebanon and explores themes such as mental health and the role of big pharma – themes that are far too familiar today than when the movie was being filmed in 2019 – right before the pandemic, according to Hassiba. Since its world premiere at the Beirut International Women Film Festival earlier this year, Farah has received a range of international accolades

Speaking about Emirati cinema, Hassiba, who has previously worked with Twofour54 said that she feels that movies produced here tell stories of different cultures coming together but through the output of one person who is the Emirati filmmaker. “We have so many different cultures, that are merging and interacting together. They didn’t live here for centuries – they are in fact new societies that are merging in this one cosmopolitan city,” she said.

To young creatives who want to get into the industry, but feel insecure or judged, Hassiba’s advice is to take baby steps and soon people around and society will notice. “This industry has become so legitimate that their parents will support them,” she said.

She added that when the young creatives are able to break the mould, they will then have the understanding to support their own children. “To support the diversity of the industries in this country is important and there will be a ripple effect. You must trust and have confidence in yourself first. Take baby steps and you’ll get there,” she said.

Some examples of Emirati movies:

  • City of Life: This Dubai-based feature film, directed by Ali F. Mostafa, tells of the stories of three individuals living in Dubai. The movie was released in 2009.
  • Sea Shadow: Directed by Nawaf Al-Janahi, the story is set in a coastal neighbourhood and tells the story of two teenagers who find their own paths while navigating traditions and social norms as they head towards adulthood. The movie was released in 2011.
  • Rattle the Cage (Zinzana): The psychological thriller directed by Majid Al Ansari tells the story of a man who is trapped in a prison cell and who sees visions of his family. He also has to deal with a visitor – an officer from a nearby town. The movie was released in 2015.
  • Grandmother’s Farm: This Emirati horror movie is directed by Ahmed Zain. It tells the story of a group of friends who decide to go for a trip to one of their grandmother’s farm. The boys’ getaway takes an expected turn in this movie which was released in 2013. A sequel Grandmother’s Farm 2 was released in 2015.
  • From A to B: Directed by Ali F. Mostafa, the story revolves around a group of estranged friends who decide to honour the memory of their friend by making a trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut. The movie was released in 2014.


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