Emirati cinema: the tabula rasa

The challenge is on for the UAE to develop its own film scene 

As a tabula rasa, it is second to none. The UAE has been both blessed and cursed with a blank slate on which to create a film culture – after all, the first full feature was released in just 1989.

But there is a growing breed of filmmakers, scriptwriters, technicians and directors eager to establish an industry in the region so that one day it might rival that of Cannes or Venice.

The most prominent development has been the film festivals that have attracted high-profile stars such as Emily Blunt and Cate Blanchett, while simultaneously championing home-grown talents like Ali Mostafa or Sarah Alagroobi.

Dubai International Film Festival’s Muhr Emirati and Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s Black Pearl are both awards created to nurture and reward filmmaking excellence in the Arab world. The most recent winner of the Muhr Emirati Best Film was Abdullah Hasan Ahmed and Khalid Al Mahmood for La Tkhaleeny (Don’t Leave Me), a poignant short that showed two female friends unable to recognise each other.

Cinema is a favoured form of entertainment in the region and multiplexes have duly sprung up to screen Hollywood blockbusters and Bollywood pictures. However, the best way to see local films is visit Reel Cinemas in the Dubai Mall.

To develop Emirati cinema, there needs to be a two pronged attack: on infrastructure and talent. Media clusters are helping with the former: twofour54 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Media City can offer access to a range of locations, and experienced scouts and crew.

As for talent, there is no doubt that there is the raw potential here. With gifted filmmakers such as Nawaf Al-Janahi – who made the coming-of age film Sea Shadow – it is clear that more and more young people are recognising that artistic expression can lead to a fulfilling career.