Spending time stranded in a three-star hotel in Sharjah on a rainy day does not sound like a particularly inspiring day. But so it was for Nayla al Khaja, a UAE film-maker who wrote her upcoming work while stuck in the northern emirate, unable to embark on the drive back to Dubai because of the weather. Ms al Khaja, 32, says that her short movie Mallal - the first ever Emirati-Indian film production - was written in this unlikely situation. The story centres on a young Emirati couple who travel to southern India on honeymoon. The new wife is bored, so she looks to the local community for inspiration, only for her trip to take a dramatic turn on its final day.
Mallal means "bored" in Arabic, and Ms al Khaja, the UAE's first female independent film-maker, was just that when she wrote the film. "I was stuck in a three-star hotel in Sharjah, and it was pouring with rain - and I couldn't get back to Dubai. I was so bored, but I opened up my laptop - and the story just came pouring out," she said. If the film was written on a rainy day, what happened next was a whirlwind ride for Ms al Khaja. She submitted the script to the Gulf Film Festival, and in April was awarded first prize in the script-writing competition for Emirati Short Films.
Abu Dhabi's media zone twofour54 has just agreed to fund a portion of the production as part of its efforts to "build a sustainable Arabic media industry in the emirate". The film will be shot in August, and is scheduled to be ready for viewing in November. The filming of Mallal will also be used as an opportunity to train budding Emirati film-makers and boost the UAE's fledgling movie industry and foster local talent.
Twofour54 will provide funding for three Emirati film-makers to accompany Ms al Khaja for the duration of the shoot, where they will receive hands-on training in the art of film-making. "We hope that the experience gained by these young Emiratis will inspire them to follow a career in the film business and ultimately become the future leaders of the UAE's media industry. We jumped at the opportunity to work with Nayla on this project and have already started looking at establishing a long-term relationship," said Wayne Borg, chief operating officer at twofour54.
The film will be shot during Ramadan in Munar, in southern India. "We're going to train three young Emirati film-makers, by giving them the experience of working on set - they will have the chance of working on all parts of the production. It'll be rigorous, hard, and not a Cinderella kind of shoot. If they think they're going on holiday, they're so not," said Ms al Khaja. "What are the challenges for Emirati film-makers? The challenge is that there is no industry here, there's no infrastructure, and there's no film culture. But the film industry is growing ... it's definitely picking up. As UAE film-makers we should make the UAE look good outside the country," she adds.
"There are many Emiratis who have the talent and the ideas, but have lacked the infrastructure that is required to turn their ideas into reality. However, that is changing fast and they are now being given the right support and opportunities." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org