Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

French cinema captures emerging Emirati filmmaker Fayssal Bensahli’s heart

This year’s edition completed recently with Emirati nominee Fayssal Bensahli joining fellow students from Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar in the French capital.
Emerging filmmaker Fayssal Bensahli works as assistant director at MBC. Courtesy Fayssal Bensahli
Emerging filmmaker Fayssal Bensahli works as assistant director at MBC. Courtesy Fayssal Bensahli

If six weeks in Paris during the European summer learning filmmaking from some of the greats of French cinema sounds like your kind of working holiday, you should probably keep your ear to the ground for the 2017 edition of the Femis Gulf Summer School.

The programme – a partnership between The Embassy of France to the UAE and the Femis Film School in Paris – sends students from across the Gulf to Paris each summer for an intensive six-week course.

This year’s edition completed recently with Emirati nominee Fayssal Bensahli joining fellow students from Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar in the French capital.

Bensahli says he had a clear idea of what he hoped to gain from the programme before heading to Paris.

“I had absolutely no notion of the depth of French cinema and I wanted to explore it,” he says. “I love French movies, but I don’t have a very good background in it, so I wanted to learn more about the approach they use when making films.”

Bensahli studied filmmaking at Dubai’s SAE Academy, and currently works as an assistant director for MBC. He has completed and screened a number of short films, where he has been the director, writer and cinematographer.

As such he is one of the most experienced students to undertake the Femis programme to date. Mohamed Bendjebour, the French audio-visual attaché to the Gulf, admits the selection panel initially had reservations about selecting him for fear that he may not learn much from the programme.

Bensahli was quick to dispel such notions. “I was spellbound by the amount I learnt in such a short period, and not just that, it matured me so much,” he says.

The film talent notes that his approach to his work has been much influenced by the Hollywood style of filmmaking, and he clearly enjoyed receiving a touch of Gallic flair.

“French cinema is so deep and I dived right into that world and learned about something I had absolutely no notion about,” he says. “It’s such a different approach. There’s this absolute appreciation of every single crew member – the director, the producer, the cinematographer, the music composer – everyone is equal. It gave me a new angle on how a film should be approached. I learned exactly what I asked for.”

The course is not merely a matter of learning about the concept and theory of French cinema, however. Each student is required to produce a film by the end of the programme, and Bensahli was impressed by the technical and practical learning on offer.

“I learned so much from watching some of the greats of French cinema, not just in terms of watching their films, but also from the experts we had coming in to take sessions and give lectures as part of the course,” he says.

“We had directors, producers, assistant directors, script supervisors, continuity managers, casting directors – everybody who is a master in their department in the French cinema – came and gave us lectures on how we should go about making films.”

With his Parisian odyssey now behind him, it is back to reality for Bensahli. He is working in MBC’s Media City studios rehearsing for his next show, and is also looking for opportunities to screen his Femis graduation film – the dark medical comedy Soft Sand.

Looking forward to next year’s programme – when the organisers hope to be able to send more than one student – Bensahli encourages aspiring filmmakers and the more experienced like him to sign up.

“I think even someone with 10 or 15 years experience in the film world, if they entered this programme they’re still going to learn so much,” he says.

“I really can’t recommend it enough.”

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Updated: November 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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