The Soul of Dubai, introduced by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, aims to show that the city is not just about skyscrapers and trade, but has maintained its culture, heritage and values during decades of steady growth. Salem Belyouha, the project and events director for Dubai Culture, has the details.
A true story
The Soul of Dubai is not about changing mindsets, insists Belyouha, but is about presenting the "reality", he says.
"I've travelled a lot and it is very upsetting when I hear people say Dubai is all about 'glass and concrete'," he says. "The directors chosen will reveal the underground Dubai, but we are not making up stories about the city."
The three Emirati directors were hand-picked by the authority for what Belyouha describes as their contribution to the growth of the local film industry - Ali Mostafa, who directed City of Life; Nayla Al Khaja of D-Seven Motion Pictures; and Khalid Ali, a film and theatre director and scriptwriter.
The initial phase of the project is focused on films, but will extend to other areas of the arts including theatre, literature and music and will soon welcome applicants from around the world who are based in the UAE.
"We want the Soul of Dubai to grow organically and we will evaluate each phase as we expand," says Belyouha.
Each filmmaker has been supported financially and in all aspects of their production from start to finish. The scripts have been finalised and approved by Dubai Culture and production will now begin. The films will be ready in time to be screened at the next Gulf Film Festival in Dubai, after which they will be taken to international festivals.
"Dubai started with humble beginnings and we aspired to achieve greatness. Today, we are at par with international cities in business, arts and culture yet we stayed true to our roots - but some audiences are unaware of this, which is why we introduced the Soul of Dubai," says Belyouha.
The initiative will also shed light, he says, on the level of integration in the city, which is "unique" because residents live in harmony and tolerance. Promoting original content is also a key objective.
Each of the short films is intended to highlight the city through the director's artistic interpretation. For Mostafa, his film Don't Judge a Subject by its Photograph follows an amateur photographer and an infamous art critic, focusing on the galleries in Al Quoz and the city's buzzing art scene.
"Some people say Dubai is soulless and that's hard for me to hear. It is strange to grow in a place that has changed so fast but it was not always so cosmopolitan. However, I feel the two sides do complement the city," says Mostafa.
For Al Khaja, every city has a soul and it is up to an individual to identify it. Her film The Neighbour follows a new resident to the city who is quickly overtaken by loneliness, but finds comfort in an Emirati neighbour.
"Through the film I explore how we can find humanity through our neighbours. As nationals, we have a responsibility to each other no matter the colour, race or background," says Al Khaja.
In Ali's The Night, the director explores the spirit of giving during the middle of the month of Shaaban in the Islamic calender. It follows an Emirati family as they prepare for that night despite facing various challenges.
"It depicts the story of human characters and shows the UAE is not just trade and commerce but about real people, the real fabric - we are a society that holds on to family and culture and we take care of our past," says Ali. "Those who forget their past have no future."
For more information, visit www.dubaiculture.ae