The programme has so far attracted 200 foreign companies
Brought up by a single mother, Maitha Alawadi was always taught that sky is the limit. Today, as an award-winning filmmaker who has exhibited her movies at 22 film festivals across the world, she is paving the way for other filmmakers in the country to dream big.
Describing herself as the "byproduct of independent Emirati women" Alawadi and her siblings were always taught to believe that one day they must grow up to pave the way for other Emiratis.
"Our mother taught us that we can truly do anything we set our minds to," said Alawadi. "Unconventional as she was, she always reminded us to dance to our own rhythms and see where that may lead."
Beginning her education at two-and-a-half years old, Alawadi was always the youngest in her class. While that meant she had to grow up sooner and learn more at a younger age, it also gave her the chance to pursue many opportunities that spanned three different continents. After graduating from school at the age of 16, Alawadi moved abroad to pursue what was the beginning of her dream of being a filmmaker.
"I've always been fascinated by what's being broadcasted on TV and in cinema," she said. "I was wowed by the feeling that I get when watching the stories unfold, of being on the edge of my seat, at the verge of tears, laughing silly or even cheering for the character when they've finally overcome their obstacles. I become so invested in the characters that I used to mourn the death or the misfortunes that befall certain characters in these films."
That play of emotions made her realize how powerful films can be. After graduation, she returned to the UAE with a mission.
"Film is all about sharing the worst and best of humanity that people can relate to and learn from, and I wanted to be part of that," she said. "I wanted to create films that shared stories of people whose voices weren't being heard, or of those who thought their voices didn't matter. I wanted to shed light on social topics and help raise awareness on issues that were left unheard, untouched, or used to push certain political narratives."
However, there were several challenges that awaited her in the industry.
"Being an Arab woman, an Emirati woman no less, there are a lot of expectations and sometimes that can mean your creative outlet is limited by the standards set forth by your culture and what is deemed to be appropriate," she said.
"At the end of the day, I have a responsibility to deliver the stories I tell as authentically as I can, especially when they're based on real events or people. However, in that process, I have to consider cultural sensitivities and find the right balance between honouring the source material and producing something that would appeal to regional tastes and start healthy conversations rather than culture wars.
In her career spanning over a decade, Alawadi has had several wins.
Her film Nour, which depicted a family's struggle for survival in war-torn Syria, was an official selection at 22 global festivals with multiple wins from the Oregon International Film Awards, Mexico International Film Festival and Golden Harvest Film Festival. She won second place at the Sheikh Majed Youth Media Awards 2012 for her short, animated film Imprint and was featured as a guest speaker at TEDxJESS. Her films X and Charlie have been screened internationally.
However, what she counts as her biggest achievement is the opportunity to work with Emirati actress Fatma Alhosani who she grew up watching on TV.
"I was chosen to direct a film commissioned for UAE's 50th National Day by Image Nation and Creative Labs and meeting her on my set was a surreal experience," she remembers fondly.
"What made it even more special is the fact that the shoot was at my great grandfather's house in the old Al Fahidi neighbourhood. As a child, I couldn't have imagined that in 20 years, I would be directing the person I saw on TV at a historical landmark that holds a special place in my heart, surrounded by family and friends who also helped contribute to the film. It felt like my life was leading up to it."
The work is far from over for this ambitious young lady. In her current position as Head of Production at New Media Academy, she works with multi-talented creatives from different backgrounds to enhance Arabic digital content worldwide.
She is also involved in multiple film projects in the UAE, including her first television series called Behind the Burqa'a. She is also seeking developing options for her feature script Nour along with her Emirati film Bent Oboy.
She has just a few words of advice for her fellow Emirati women.
"Don't be afraid to do something that no one else is doing," she said. "Pave your own path. Peer pressure and groupthink are powerful forces, and you might have to fight them. No one is going to live through the consequences of the decisions they try to make for you. You are more than capable of being in charge of your own life. I believe in you, and so should you."
The programme has so far attracted 200 foreign companies
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