ABU DHABI // Six aspiring filmmakers from Abu Dhabi will travel to Uganda next week to spend nearly a month honing their skills with a Hollywood director. Participants in the Maisha Film Labs programme, a summer camp led by Mira Nair, the Indian-American director behind such films as Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake, will take part in workshops in Kampala on screenwriting, production and direction.
The intention was to send eight students, but only six made the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's shortlist. Majid al Ansari, 21, was one. An Emirati who has just finished his first year at the New York Film Academy in the capital, he will be concentrating on camerawork and cinematography. "I'm looking forward to it. I know it will be long hours but I'm not worried, I'm more excited than worried," he said.
Mr al Ansari, who completed a month-long internship last summer with the team behind Ali F Mostafa's Emirati film City of Life, said he thought the experience would take him another step forward in his career. "When I first said five years ago I wanted to make films, everyone looked down on me. My friends and family weren't sure there was a future for me in films living in the UAE, but now things have changed. "City of Life was filmed, produced and directed in Dubai and showed that the Emirates are willing to give film a chance ... It is still a challenge to make it, but it is not out of the question."
Mr al Ansari hopes to specialise in lighting. He said he had always been attracted to the emotion it could convey within film. "When I was younger I loved films like Dracula and The Exorcist," he said. "The lighting was strong in these. In Uganda I am going to get to work with daylight, natural light, which is something I haven't done before." This is the first time the Maisha programme has been offered to filmmakers in the Middle East. During the course, which starts on July 25, the students from the Emirates will be working alongside others from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
They will take part in four screenwriting "labs"and there will also be a 10-day documentary workshop which will include sessions on technical aspects such as camerawork, sound and lighting. Ms Nair, twice a nominee for the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, started the Maisha programme five years ago to help nurture talent in the emerging East African film industry. During a trip to Abu Dhabi last year she decided that Maisha ("life" in Kiswahili) and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission shared a "common vision" in that if they did not tell their own stories, then nobody else would.
By agreeing to this summer's partnership, Ms Nair had given Abu Dhabi's students a "fantastic opportunity", said David Shepheard, the director of the commission. "I've seen the schedule for the programme and it is a very well thought-out process," he said. "Being under the leadership of Mira Nair ... is the kind of experience that you could not buy. She calls on people within her field and enables the students to work with other well-established directors and producers. It will be hard work, more like a boot camp than a summer camp, but we are very pleased to be part of this programme."