Filmmaker Amal Al Agroobi promotes Sharjah through her webisodes
Amal Al Agroobi’s car has a bumper sticker that says: Proud to Be A Sharjonian, a line she came up with to represent anyone connected with Sharjah and proud of its heritage.
Proud to Be a Sharjonian also happens to be the title of the Emirati filmmaker’s new series of five-minute webisodes on YouTube, a cultural guide in English and Arabic (with subtitles where necessary) that offers information on everything from where to go for the perfect cup of karak chai to the conversations and games that take place in a men’s majlis.
After making critically acclaimed documentaries such as Half Emirati (2012) and The Brain That Sings (2013), both of which tackled social issues in Emirati society, Al Agroobi wanted to rediscover Sharjah and give expatriates and visitors a window into the emirate.
The filmmaker, who grew up in the United Kingdom and returned to the UAE in 2009, says she first lived in Abu Dhabi and moved to Sharjah, her hometown, two years ago.
The 28-year-old says: “I love Sharjah, but I didn’t grow up here. But whenever I visited during holidays, this would be the place I wanted to be. The emirate has stayed the same since the UAE became a nation and that’s what I’m most proud of.”
She firmly believes Sharjah’s unique position as the 2014 Capital of Islamic Culture needs to be promoted.
“There is so much about Sharjah that people are unaware of,” she says. “For example, in terms of events, more goes on in Sharjah than some of the other emirates. We have a high number of degree and doctorate holders in the country.
“People don’t know that shisha and alcohol are banned here and when they find out they take it as a sign of restriction of expression, which is not true. In fact, we have diversity here, and interfaith sessions, and are free to discuss and express ourselves on topics others would consider a taboo.”
To get the low-budget project off the ground earlier this year, an initial amount of US$6,000 (Dh22,000) was crowdsourced through Aflamnah. Al Agroobi plans to make six videos each year.
When making each webisode – she’s done two so far – the filmmaker says she tries to “discover Sharjah the way a newcomer would.With this series, I have more flexibility than I would otherwise while making documentaries. In the last episodes, I’ve tried new camera techniques.”
The first, titled On a Tour of Culture, was uploaded in May. It takes viewers into the Heart of Sharjah, one of the UAE’s largest historical preservation and restoration projects, and features locals and a team of architects from Amsterdam studying the Islamic architecture of Sharjah.
The second episode, titled Where Art Was Born, was posted last month and offers a glimpse of Sharjah’s art movement, with a tour by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, the Emirati social commentator and owner of Barjeel Art Foundation, and the Italian artist Giuseppe Moscatello from the Maraya Art Centre. It also features the 61-year-old artist Mohammed Yusuf, who is also the founder of the Emirates Plastic Arts Society.
Her next webisode will focus on small businesses in Sharjah and is scheduled to be released soon.
“I don’t want to rush into making these videos, and I want to take my time in selecting certain events and topics I’d like to cover,” says Al Agroobi.
“One of these is the Sharjah International Book Fair [November 5-15]. And the different churches in Sharjah.”
She also wants to make a video on one of the men’s majlis. “I’d like to show what it’s like to be in that setting,” says Al Agroobi. “As a woman, I cannot be exposed to that, but I’ve met some people who’ve have agreed to show me what they do in the majlis for this video.”