The finalists of the second annual Arab Film Studio (AFS) competition have just wrapped up their first weekend of a five-month-long training programme where they will get to experience all aspects of what it takes to produce a short film, from script to screen.
The particular finalists chosen, all of whom submitted a short film, come from as far afield as Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, as well as the UAE itself.
Organised in partnership between twofour54 and Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the film production company owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National, the inaugural contest that took place last year invited Emirati filmmakers to submit a short film, of which the six most promising entrants won a chance to learn movie production skills from the experts, before receiving a budget to make another movie.
The AFS competition is being repeated this year following a similar format, except the number of participants has been increased to 12 and entry has been extended to both expats living in the UAE and the residents of other GCC countries.
Among the finalists is Mohamed Yahia, a 29-year-old Emirati who works as a manager in the airline industry. He was chosen for the AFS competition after filming a piece about two friends visiting a graveyard.
While appreciative of the chance to be tutored in filmmaking skills, he is still uncertain as to whether he wants to eventually take up the profession. "I'm glad to see that the film industry in this region is growing but, for the time being, filmmaking will just remain a hobby. For me, it's just not the right time to shift career," he explains.
"But the ultimate goal is to make a feature film that has local content but also appeals to an international audience. Sort of like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Chinese film that also was an international hit."
Another finalist, Allegra Brooksbank, is a 42-year-old from the US who is the director of development for Handheld Stories, a charity that teaches children in impoverished countries how to make documentaries about their lives.
"Although I'm teaching film at the moment, I'm not really qualified [to teach], so I wanted to do this course to learn more," she admits.
After seeing an advert for the course in The Pavilion Downtown Dubai art space, she put together a comedy film about a woman who gets distracted while looking at text messages and ends up lost in the desert.
Brooksbank is certain the course would be an edifying experience. "I'm really excited about it and pleasantly surprised by the contestants and the seriousness of the course," she says.
After last weekend's introduction to the course, the finalists will return to twofour54 in March for a two-week intensive boot camp in filmmaking, before putting their newly learnt skills to the test in their own production.
These films will be reviewed by a panel of international judges, with the winner receiving a Dh50,000 development deal with Image Nation Abu Dhabi. Their efforts will also be entered into film festivals around the world.
Speaking after addressing the students at the first morning of lessons, Mohammed Al Otaiba, the head of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, said courses such as this were crucial to the future successes of the UAE's movie industry.
"We have realised there is a lot of talent out there, but the industry here is quite nascent. So, it's a point of our remit to offer talent to the film industry in the UAE," he says. "We want to teach them filmmaking from A to Z. They need it and we need it as well. Hopefully, this pool of talent will grow and we can start using it in our productions, whether films, TV series or commercials."
To follow all the action for AFS 2013, visit www.arabfilmstudio.com