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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Aerial assault: new Emirati sci-fi drama invades cinemas

While the special effects of huge alien ships hovering over the city are impressive, and the movie’s sci-fi credentials are not in doubt, it is equally a domestic drama, studying cultural differences.
A spaceship hovers over the Burj Khalifa in this scene from the Emirati sci-fi thriller Aerials. Courtesy Nina Sargsyan
A spaceship hovers over the Burj Khalifa in this scene from the Emirati sci-fi thriller Aerials. Courtesy Nina Sargsyan

Dubai looks set to have a rough ride with invading aliens over the course of the summer.

While many movie fans are eagerly looking forward to Independence Day: Resurgence and its marauding extraterrestrials ripping the Burj Khalifa from its foundations, or Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise crashing headfirst into Dubai International Financial Centre when the films release during Eid Al Fitr, this weekend saw an otherworldly UAE invasion – with its roots closer to home thanks to the cinema release of Emirati-produced sci-fi-horror Aerials.

Having attended a preview of the movie, we can confirm that no major landmarks were harmed during the making of this particular film.

“Well, we don’t have a US$200 million [Dh734.60m] budget for a start,” says director S A Zaidi. “Plus you have to show some respect. Our families and our friends will see this – we don’t want them asking why we wanted to destroy everything they know and love.”

In fact, while the special effects of huge alien ships hovering over Dubai are impressive, and the movie’s sci-fi credentials are not in doubt, Aerials is a domestic drama. It delves into the cultural differences that become pronounced between the protagonist, Emirati Omar (played by Arab-Canadian former rapper Saga Alyasery), and his disabled western wife (Ana Druzhynina) as they are confined to their home by the impending alien apocalypse.

Alyasery previously worked with Zaidi on the 2013 short The Sons of Two Suns – another Dubai-based sci-fi film – Aerials also reunites the director with that film’s producer, and his partner in the production house Fat Brothers Films, Emirati Ghanem Ghubash.

Further local talent is in evidence in supporting roles, with veteran Emirati actor Mansoor Al Feeli and Djinn’s Abeer Mohammed lending their talents. Ghubash also takes an uncredited cameo role in a cafe scene, in finest Stan Lee tradition.

The movie was almost three years in the making – Zaidi admits he’s something of a perfectionist.

“The audio was the biggest thing. We had to fix that again and again. From a creative perspective I had something very specific in mind, so that’s what took the most time. We didn’t have a sound stage or anything like that, so I had to do all my own sound.

“We also had the best mics out there, the same as any Hollywood film, but because there was no sound stage we had to process all the sound in post-production in a studio to get rid of all the background noise and air,” he says.

“We were lucky, as we managed to get help from friends in the industry with a lot of the equipment, for example Limbada Film Production, who own the biggest supply of Red Dragon [ultra-­­high-tech­, 6K, camera] in the country, supported us with cameras and I’m very grateful for all the help we received.”

Although Zaidi and Ghubash succeeded in attracting some assistance in terms of equipment, the labour of love was entirely self-funded.

“We were literally emptying our banks out,” says the director, adding that the Dubai Film and TV Commission was also a useful ally.

“They were really helpful in terms of permissions and the like,” says Zaidi. “They were great with fast tracking. For example, when we couldn’t shoot right under the Burj Khalifa, they were like ‘You know what? We’ll give you Sheikh Zayed Road and you can shoot it from there. Shoot it tomorrow, just get it done,’ and that’s something you don’t get easily.”

The movie is Fat Brothers’ first venture into features, and Zaidi admits that the learning curve was steep.

“I don’t know exactly how long out of the close-to-three-years we were making the film we were actually shooting for, but it felt like about two years. It was really a learning process. I don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but it’s the truth, for Ghanem and me, both.

“Ghanem insisted that he wanted to bring something new to the Emirati film industry, so I think these two aspects – us learning about how to do a feature right and take that to our future projects, and trying to help change the Emirati film scene, to bring in science fiction – I think that maybe slowed things down a bit, but we knew exactly what we wanted.”

Aerials is an achievement that Zaidi greets with “relief – especially to get in before Independence Day. Who’d want to be up against that with a mo­vie­ about aliens?”

And while their first film has just hit cinemas, the pair are already thinking about their next project.

“We have something new in the works,” Zaidi reveals. “I can’t tell you too much, but it’s another sci-fi. Come back to me in about a month.”

• Aerials is showing in Vox Cinemas Mall of the Emirates, Yas Mall and City Centre Fujairah

cnewbould@thenational.ae