x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Finalists are against the clock for Arab Film Studio's short film competition

We talk to some of the busy finalists in Arab Film Studio's short film competition.

Contestants in the short film competition take part in the makeup element of the three-month programme.
Contestants in the short film competition take part in the makeup element of the three-month programme.

It's an uncharacteristically hazy Saturday morning in Dubai and at one of the open courtyards of Knowledge Village, time is running out for one budding Emirati filmmaker. With just 15 seconds remaining, Khalid Al Abdulla wants to reshoot the last scene again. "Three. Two. One. Action," shouts the 22-year-old. Crew positions are assumed, silence descends – save for the hum of a few ever-present pneumatic drills in the background (this is Dubai, after all) – and we're off.

Thankfully, the scene – which involves an actress walking away from a park bench – is only five seconds long and Khalid and his five-strong crew manage to just squeeze it in before his hour is up. But there's no time for a breather when he's finished, as up steps 18-year-old Fatima Al Dhaheri, who had just been Khalid's boom operator, for her moment in the director's chair. The mass of crates, tripods and other filmmaking apparatuses is moved to a location of Fatima's choosing (just a few metres away, fortunately), and the process starts again.

Both Khalid and Fatima are finalists in the short film competition from Arab Film Studio, a partnership between Image Nation Abu Dhabi – a company owned by Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National – and twofour54 tadreeb, which is looking to seek out and train local talent.

Launched shortly after the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival in November last year, the competition invited Emirati filmmakers to submit a three-minute video and six were selected to take part.

The names were announced in January, and since then the group has been taking part in an intensive three-month training programme covering all aspects of filmmaking, including scriptwriting, make-up, sound, production and marketing. At the end, each contestant will have produced a short film and, from these, one will be selected as the overall winner, who will receive Dh50,000 to develop a feature screenplay for Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

On the grounds of Knowledge Village, just outside the SAE Institute Dubai, which is giving several of the courses, it's the competition's first "shooting challenge" that is underway.

Here's the story so far: each contestant has been given several lines of dialogue, which they can use or ignore (but, crucially, not add to) to devise a short drama of their choosing. At their disposal, they have all the necessary equipment for shooting outdoors, two props (an old camera and a music box) plus an actor and actress. Easy?

Not quite. Sadly, there's little in the way of time to sit and consider a potential story because when each filmmaker steps up to take the reins as the director, the others will be taking it in turns to fulfil the other roles needed, such as director of photography (who will be in charge of the camera), first assistant director, second assistant director and boom operator. And the overall mark for the day, which will go towards their final score, will take into account their abilities in all roles.

Throwing some significant pressure into the mix as well, they each have just one hour to get it all done. It's going to be a long, tiring day.

Khalid's short – the first to be filmed – sees his male lead sitting on a park bench, studiously examining his BlackBerry. Into the scene walks the actress, who attempts some mild flirtation. "What are you doing here?" she asks. "Do I know you?" is the response. She gets up and walks away. "So shall I see you again?" asks the actor. "You'll see me soon."

It's hardly Charlie Kaufman territory, but there isn't much dialogue to work with and with just one hour, it really needs to be as simple as possible. Fatima Al Dhaheri's drama sees a similar encounter, but this time with the characters meeting on some stairs just a few metres away.

The group of six vary in age between 17 and 27, but all have experience and aspirations in the film industry. The eldest member, the Emirati/American Omar Butti, currently works in television as a presenter for Emirates 24/7 on Dubai One, while the youngest, Sarah Al Ameri, was involved in the 48 Hour Film Project in Dubai last November.

This weekend, it's the second shooting challenge, to be done indoors, and following this the contestants will edit their work. A final short film will eventually be submitted and a winner selected by a panel of international judges in June.

The next few weekends are going to be somewhat busy for the group. But with the chance to work with Image Nation and a Dh50,000 screenplay budget up for grabs, the lack of spare time is definitely going to be a worthwhile sacrifice.