x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Cinema paradiso in Dubai

"Once the movie starts, everything else disappears."

When you grow up with a single parent, anything that comes out of their mouth you consider to be gospel truth. Mainly because you have no other source from which to seek daily wisdom. You blindly follow, it becomes a habit and before you know it you're doing it because you want to, not just because dad says so.

My dad loves going to the movies. When he was growing up, he'd save up his entire week's worth of allowance - our family isn't well off - so on Fridays he could buy a ticket in the only movie theatre in town, alone, and lose himself to the magic of cinema.

Naturally, my childhood was spent losing myself in the dark, with him, in tales of adventure and fantasy and action and comedy. It became our thing.

My dad was the simple, quiet type and I reckon that at the movies he gets to lead lives he can't possibly have due to his circumstances.

The Gospel of Dad influenced me so much I ended up studying film at university. It held on even when I moved out of the house: spending all my Friday nights at the movie theatre two blocks away from my apartment, alone, in the dark, losing myself to the stories on screen.

When I moved to New York, I encountered a roadblock - the movie tickets were absurdly expensive and I was broke. I could barely eat three times a day, how could I spare the money for something as shallow as cinematic magic? "Losing myself"? "In the dark"? Get over your self, I thought.

I didn't.

I thought there must be a way to satiate my frivolity and I sought to discover it. I ended up working in a cinema, where in exchange for ushering people to their seats, selling disgustingly buttery popcorn and Gummi Bears and mopping soda-spilt floors, I was paid the minimum wage plus unlimited free movie tickets. Pure bliss! The pesky moviegoers, not so much; the access to temporary two-hour pleasures, yes.

At the movies, there's always a seat waiting for me. At the movies, I am - we all are - anonymous. We are all nobodies; we are equal.

Last weekend, at a screening at the Dubai International Film Festival, I was reminded of this. I met a college student who's volunteering for the festival and he told me the only reason he did it was so he could watch the movies for free. Throughout the film, I'd occasionally glance at him, standing on the side of the theatre, watching like the rest of us who paid for tickets, standing there and laughing with us and having a great time.

I approached him after. I asked him how it feels to watch a movie standing up: does it affect the whole cinematic experience?

"I don't know," he said, "because once the movie starts, everything else disappears."