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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Dubai debut filmmaker Janam Patal takes festivals by storm

The film is an interpretation of the insecurities she felt as a new student, thousands of kilometres away

A scene from Fear, which has picked up several awards. Courtesy Janam R Patel
A scene from Fear, which has picked up several awards. Courtesy Janam R Patel

It’s not unusual for teenagers to encounter a degree of trepidation when they first fly the parental nest and head off for college – particularly when that college is continents away. For Dubai-raised Janam Patel, who last year left her family behind to embark on her studies in the United States, at Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, this was no different. What set her apart is that she used the emotions she experienced to make a short film, Fear, which she wrote, directed and starred in, and which has already picked up awards at both the LA Film Festival (Best Editing and Young Filmmaker Award) and the Festigious Film Festival (Best Actress in an Indie Film).

The three-minute film’s achievements are all the more impressive given that Patel had never even attempted to make a movie before – she had to borrow all the equipment, her mum was her main crew member, and the whole project was made for around Dh2,000. The film, says Patel, was an interpretation of the insecurities she felt as a new student, thousands of kilometres away: “It was inspired by true events and feelings I think a lot of people of my generation feel,” she says. “After finishing my first year in college I felt there were a lot of things I was unsure of and I was letting my fears and insecurities take over me, worrying about my career and what’s going to happen later on. It was taking over me.”

The fear the film addresses isn’t unique to teenagers, Patel adds. “I just thought there’s so much fear out there,” she says. “Children are scared of lots of things, adults are scared of losing their jobs ... , and teenagers are scared of what’s going to happen in the future. It’s a really common emotion in all of our experiences and I decided to express that in a short film.”

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Fear was shot over one day, in and around Dubai Mall, and Patel hopes that as well as entertaining audiences, it can serve as an educational tool about the UAE – particularly in her adoptive US home, where she has already been shocked by some of the reactions. “I was really surprised when I showed it in the States,” she says. “One girl was like, ‘Oh my, this is so weird. I thought Dubai was really unsafe and you couldn’t leave your house or go out at night.’ It was so weird. Dubai is really popular with so many people, but there are still a lot of people around the world who think of it as some unsafe Middle Eastern scary place, or a place of restriction, so I hope my film can educate audiences about that too, when people see how normal the mall is and all the different people living in harmony.”

Patel says she had a number of rejections when she first started submitting the film to festivals, but that once the awards started flooding in, all the effort was worthwhile. She is now trying to get the film into more festivals and is working on a website and a social media campaign to try to publicise it further. She also wants to organise a public premiere for her brief debut, which she hopes will take place in Dubai, her home of 19 years. She also has a new script ready for a second movie.

Although Patel has been thrilled by the success of her film, she is keeping her feet on the ground. She is continuing in her studies and hopes that one day she may be able to use the money management skills to launch a full-time filmmaking career – but only after she’s spent a few years working in business.

She also has a few words of advice for other aspiring young filmmakers who are ready to take their first steps. “Just jump right in,” she says. “The biggest thing that was holding me back was the feeling that I wasn’t ready, or I wasn’t experienced enough because I hadn’t studied filmmaking. I had to Google things like camera angles and figure them out for myself, so don’t aim for perfection, just jump right in. That would be my main advice to other young filmmakers.”