x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Big test for 'Grandma' is her debut back home

Despite a looming showcase in Europe, the Dubai-based director of Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times) says he is more concerned that local audiences embrace his film.

Mahmoud Kaabour and his grandmother whom he made the documentary Teta, Alf Marra about.
Mahmoud Kaabour and his grandmother whom he made the documentary Teta, Alf Marra about.

DUBAI // Teta is an illiterate octogenarian who has hardly left her house in 20 years. She spends all day, every day, sitting on her balcony in Beirut smoking shisha and does her grocery shopping by throwing her basket down to the shopkeepers below.

Yet, thanks to a Dubai-based filmmaker who is also her grandson, she has become something of a cinematic muse.

After winning the US$100,000 (Dh367,300) Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in October, Mahmoud Kaabour's film Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times) went on to screen for three nights at the Tunisian Carthage Festival and will make its European premiere at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam at the end of the month.

But for Kaabour, the most significant date will be next Thursday, when the film will be shown for the first time in the UAE.

"It means so much to us," said the 31-year-old Lebanese who was brought up in the UAE. "It is like the film's trip back home. I have been working really hard in Abu Dhabi for many years, long before the recent film renaissance, so this marks the fulfilment of a lot of effort. This screening has a unique significance for us."

The 48-minute film, which is the first documentary to be produced by his company, Veritas Films, a partner of Abu Dhabi's twofour54 Arabic media content project, will be shown at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi on January 13 at 8pm.

The screening will be free, sponsored by twofour54 and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) and a free bus will be provided from Dubai as part of the Art in the City initiative from Jam Jar Gallery.

David Shepheard, the director of ADFC said: "Our aim is to support filmmakers and filmmaking in Abu Dhabi, and this is a great opportunity to showcase one of the successful productions from Abu Dhabi."

Kaabour said he believed it was his personal investment in the film which had "given it wings".

"We did not make this film with the festivals in mind, nor were we thinking about the audience, or even the sensibilities of broadcasters. It was made from the heart and when we started we didn't have any funding."

In addition to the prestigious award in Doha, the film has received a glowing reception across the region. Most recently, on December 30, it was shown at the opening of the new Qatari museum, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art.

Kaabour said he hoped documentary film lovers in the UAE would enjoy it as much as those abroad had. He has been working to promote independent movies for some time, since he set up Mahmovies, a bi-annual screening of art house films in Dubai in 2008.

He said the support he had received for his film was wonderful, but more could be done. "We need more government support. We could have direct funding, shooting permits could be made accessible to us for free and licensing could be made cheaper so we could fund a proper art-house movie theatre.

"I am proud the film came from the UAE, but let's not forget it was filmed in Lebanon, where there is a more established support network for artists, and things like rent and overheads are much cheaper.

"It is wonderful that Abu Dhabi is recognising the importance of a knowledge-based economy, but it does need to be allowed a little more freedom to grow on its own."