x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A curtain call for the film industry after the festivals end

Looking back on the recent Dubai International Film Festival 2010, it¿s clear that we have come a long way in creating a culture of film in the UAE.

Looking back on the recent Dubai International Film Festival 2010, it's clear that we have come a long way in creating a culture of film in the UAE. In order to better understand the missing links in the local scene, perhaps we should take a brief look at the film industry worldwide.

Since the first films were created in the late 19th century, there has been a sense of a greater project. Even then, creative talents saw that it was history in the making and worked to save a repository of knowledge about filmmaking and the people behind it. That knowledge base has grown into a celebrated film culture around the world, from critical analysis to educational workshops, financial endowments to educational programmes focusing on film.

To bring the project home, in recent years we have created the Dubai International Film Festival, the Gulf Film Festival and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. While they are continuing to establish themselves, all three festivals have achieved much for their age.

They deserve credit for establishing a platform for local and regional filmmakers and artists to showcase their work and gain recognition. They've also brought an international spotlight and A-list stars to support the nascent industry.

However, there are a few key missing links. To begin with, where is the collaboration between the film festivals and local universities and schools? Where is the sharing of ideas and the opportunities for teaching? How are children who are interested in the arts benefitting from cutting edge developments in the field?

Children and students volunteering as ushers or ticket sellers is not enough to teach them about event planning or give them an understanding of filmmaking. A better solution would be to encourage young people to have a direct participation in the creative process, perhaps through exchange programmes that would see them travel abroad to learn from foreign filmmakers.

At the festivals, there are so many famous artists and A-listers that visit the Emirates, but are these people adding further value by helping to educate young people? Certainly, we have already seen the impact that stars such as Colin Farrell can have after he addressed the First Group Theatre earlier this week.

If young people who aspire to become actors or filmmakers have a chance to see these stars firsthand, it has to give a boost to their aspirations. These A-listers made it big for a reason, so why not help young actors here understand and learn how that is done? Or are these visits all for show?

Why don't we focus on building a real sustainable film industry by asking major cinema outlets to dedicate one of their theatres to locally produced independent films. Locally produced short films and documentaries should be encouraged for the entire year with screenings and DVD sales, not just during the festivals.

Just look at the line-up of movies on Orbit Showtime, which sometimes includes the most ridiculous selection. I'd rather have a cable channel dedicated to locally made movies for one day of the week.

Not to criticise the film festivals, but if so much money can be dedicated to the glorious and glamorous, couldn't some percentage be dedicated to the nuts and bolts of the industry? Arab movie stars and directors from across the region could contribute by recognising young talent and giving back to their communities.

Ultimately, if the patrons of the arts - and I'm not only talking about everyday viewers - showed their support for burgeoning filmmakers in more ways than just funding, the local industry will be able to stand on its own feet.

"There is a powerful wind blowing through this region," said Rupert Murdoch at the Abu Dhabi Media Forum earlier this year. "Ride this wind and you will raise from these desert sands something extraordinary: a capital of creativity that is modern, that is global and that is fully Arab."

If art and music are food for the soul, then film and visual media should be food for thought. Five years from today, I would like to see Emirates' productions celebrated at the Emmys and the Oscars, not just at local events.


Aida al Busaidy is a columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show