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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Emirati documentary Nanny Culture is on a film festival roll

Focusing on the relationship between nannies and families in the UAE, Nanny Culture is resonating

The crew films at an Emirati home. Courtesy Anasy Media
The crew films at an Emirati home. Courtesy Anasy Media

Nanny Culture had its premiere in October and the Emirati documentary has since been making the rounds of international film festivals on four continents, recently adding two more festivals to its list of showings.

The film has been picked up by the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival (an international festival with a sizeable Nollywood section, despite the slightly confusing moniker) to be held in October, and the Miami Independent Film Festival scheduled for August.

Directed by UAE-based Brit Paul James Driscoll, Nanny Culture offers a wry look at the nanny community in the Emirates. It follows the adventures of British nanny Julie C McIlvenny, who travels to Abu Dhabi to work for an Emirati couple with six children.

The documentary is unique in that it offers unprecedented access to the daily goings-on behind the closed doors of a typical Emirati home, something rarely, if ever, seen on screen before.

Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the creative mind behind the film, its producer, and the founder of Anasy Media that made the film, admits that at first it wasn’t easy to find a family willing to take on the project.

“It was a challenge to go and shoot in an Emirati home,” she says. “The criteria was just that we needed kids and parents, we were very open about it. We initially started with families who were already active on social media, thinking they’d be more open to the idea, but they weren’t – they felt it would be like a reality show with the cameras on them.”

In fact, when the movie’s eventual stars, Muhammad Al Hammadi, Badrya Al Hosani and their family finally showed themselves, it was through a chance meeting with mutual friends rather than casting calls or tiresome trawls through social media.

“They were great,” says Sheikha Alyazia. “Whatever direction Paul wanted to take, they trusted him to take care of the production.”

This is perhaps all the more surprising given Driscoll is himself a foreigner, although Sheikha Alyazia is convinced that, as a filmmaker and journalist who has spent many years in the UAE, he was the perfect choice.

“He’d lived in the UAE for some time so he understood the culture and the society so we could trust him with that, but also he’s British, so he understood that side too. The comedy of the film is very much British, for example.”

Sheikha Alyazia also reveals that the structure of the film developed through partnership. “So much of the story came from our own experience of working with nannies. It was just true to our experience, not something unfamiliar we had to dig up from somewhere – we even had input for the film on nannies who are still with us,” she explains.

“So we had all the experience and information we needed, then when Paul came on board he structured it. We didn’t really want to put it in a genre or a category. We were undecided, we wanted to let the story take its course.”

The approach seems to have worked – the film has already picked up the Best Documentary Award at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, the Gold Award at the Hollywood Film Competition and was a finalist at both the Phoenix Film Festival Melbourne and the 2017 American Movie Awards.

Sheikha Alyazia says she is not surprised the film has attracted a lot of interest, although she admits to not expecting such a large response.

“I think it’s because it’s not something repeated, it’s really never been done before,”

she says.

Perhaps most surprisingly, although the movie has already played to audiences in Europe, the United States, Australia and Hong Kong, it is yet to premiere in the UAE.

It has, however, been picked up for distribution by Egypt/UAE-based MAD solutions, and with Anasy Media celebrating its 10th birthday this year, Sheikha Alyazia is in no doubt about her ideal birthday present. “We have a few other things we want to complete, but really everyone is waiting for the cinema release. If we can get the release of Nanny Culture and the premiere in the UAE this year, that will be our celebration.”