The six winners of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's Aflam Qaseera Production Fund have begun shooting.
ADFC's Aflam Qaseera film project gives legs to shorts
Jeremy has unexpectedly encountered a present-day genie and is offered magical choices shrouded in mystery. Although sceptical, he accepts the offer, which could prove life-changing.
This is the plot of A Genie Called Gin, a screenplay by the UAE-based filmmaker Jac Mulder, one of the six winners picked by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) for its inaugural Aflam Qaseera (Short Film) Production Fund, a competition for emerging writers and directors in the Emirates. Each filmmaker is receiving up to Dh100,000 in funding.
Selected from more than 90 candidates, the films, which are five to 12 minutes in length, are a mix of genres in English and Arabic. The goal is to create films for international screenings and eventual broadcast, and the commission recently announced that the six films had started production.
"I'm in heaven," beams Mulder during his project's first shooting day. "This is a vision coming to light and this is exactly where I am meant to be. The support from the commission has made my script funnier and more exciting."
Mulder has been based in Dubai Studio City since launching his post-production house Muddville in 2008.
"The fact that ADFC believed in our story is a great opportunity," he says. "Over the past couple of years, there's been a real turning point in the local industry. Young filmmakers need more support, and efforts like this from ADFC means leaps and bounds."
David Shepheard, director of the ADFC, says the number of submissions exceeded expectations - a testament to the rise of interest in filmmaking.
"At first, we did not know how many people had a great story to tell, so the amount of interest we received is a good indication," he says. "Some of the scripts were not complete, but for us it's about the quality of the story that we know people will want to see."
Each winner was paired with a local production company to receive training and experience. This also means business for local companies, according to Shepheard.
Once the short films are complete, the commission will provide marketing to push for their inclusion in regional and wider international film festivals.
Hamad Mansoor Alawar's short film, Daddy's ABC, is about a father who finds caring for his new baby rather more demanding than he had expected. Alawar has previously worked with the studios Pixar, ILM and Blue Sky.
"I really saw the commission's call for film scripts as an ideal opportunity to show the world a glimpse of what stories I dream of - what worlds I can create," he says. "It is our responsibility to create the best piece of art we can. We are the first six stories supported by the ADFC and we must set the greatest example."
The idea, Alawar says, came to him after his first spell alone with his daughter.
"I was left with her for about five minutes, and the crazy storyteller in my head started to come up with different scenarios. In its core is a real appreciation for all the mothers out there who make our lives as husbands much easier."
The Tooth of Hope by Nizar Sfair, who directed the reality television series The Hydra Executives and who has won awards for his previous short films, is centred on a man who loses his job and tries to keep it secret from his wife.
"Being on a film set has always been something magical to me, especially because I know I'm creating a universe that doesn't exist," he says. "My duty is to make it believable."
Mohamed Youssouf, whose script Visa Run was also one of those chosen, says the practical learning experience offered by the competition on the craft of screenwriting is "what made my story stand out and made me a better writer". The film follows two men who cross paths in a Dubai coffee shop and what occurs after they unwittingly exchange mobile phones.
"I'm a comedian, so I always look for the 'funny' in everything - like how people will go to great lengths not to communicate with each other face to face," says Youssouf. "We text our plans to meet and then cancel those plans via text as well. We BBM [BlackBerry Messenger] like it's the only way to stay in touch. We use Twitter to describe our days, like it's so special."
Like Visa Run, Sana Bagersh and Hana Makki's The Journey explores what happens when we encounter total strangers. The film chronicles a young Ethiopian woman's arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport and her conversations with a taxi driver.
"I thought the story mirrored the experience of many people who come to the UAE for the first time in search of a better life," says Makki. "This experience with Aflam Qaseera will definitely give me the confidence to get into filmmaking."
She says such initiatives awaken "wonderful creativity".
Mohammed Al Otaiba, another winner, says he hopes Aflam Qaseera will encourage additional support for "a pool of growing talent". His script The Orphanage is about an investigative journalist who pays a high price while looking into the disappearances of children from an orphanage.
Al Otaiba recently acted as a cultural consultant to the supernatural thriller Djinn while shadowing its director, Tobe Hooper. "The experience was an eye-opener," he says. "It's fantastic to understand what it entails to collaborate and support one another to make sure the film is completed on time and within budget."
Shepheard believes making a short film is often more challenging and so hands-on training can be invaluable. "With the developing technology and websites such as YouTube, demand for short films is rising," he says. "Being able to work with up-and-coming filmmakers is exciting. Our goal is to see more productions happen here."
Shooting for The Journey begins tomorrow, which means that if you are due to fly over Christmas and the New Year you may spot some commotion at the chosen location - Abu Dhabi International Airport.