x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

­Introducing the next generation of filmmakers

The Emirates Film Competition, part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, aims to find the next generation of regional filmmakers.

The young directors Rashid Al Nuaimi, left, and Deena Stevens. Antonie Robertson / The National
The young directors Rashid Al Nuaimi, left, and Deena Stevens. Antonie Robertson / The National

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival is not only about big names and features, it is also home to the Emirates Film Competition, which gives young students a chance to show their short films to an international audience

The competition

The aim is to find the next generation of regional filmmakers. Launched in 2001, the Emirates Film Competition was one of the earliest film initiatives in the UAE. After early success, in 2008 and 2009 the competition was incorporated into the first two years of the Middle East International Film Festival (which was rebranded as the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2010).

This year the competition returns with 40 selected shorts by Gulf-based filmmakers. The entries will compete for the twin prizes of Best Short Documentary and Best Short Narrative Film. Both titles are divided into streams catering for student and adult filmmakers. The winning directors stand to receive handsome cash prizes of Dh30,000 and Dh20,000 for first place in the adults and student streams respectively.

Growing local talent

More than the glitz and glamour of being associated with a global film festival, the Emirates Film Competition head Saleh Karama says the event is about introducing festival-goers to the latest talent from the region.

“This is really what is important to me,” he explains. “The best moments from this competition are seeing some of the international directors and actors walking in to have a look at the competition. That kind of exposure is brilliant and I find they enjoy some of the stories they see on the screen.”

Karama, who was part of the film selection panel, says that this year’s batch of films deals largely with relationships. “A lot of the stories are about how people interact with each other and society in general,” he says. “It reflects to some extent the troubled times we live in.”

Karama knows first-hand the impact this kind of grassroots competition can have on a filmmaker’s career. He won a judges award in the 2003 edition for his short film What’s Left. That achievement enabled him to direct his 2008 debut feature film, Henna, which won a Best Director award at the Middle East International Film Competition later that year.

Cultivating new visions

Karama hopes the Emirates Film Competition will inspire viewers to pick up the camera themselves. “That would be a great achievement for us,” he says. “I urge people who are interested to use the competition as a chance to meet and learn from the filmmakers. Then they should go out and start planning.”

But make sure you plan it well, says Aisha Abdulla, one of the student filmmakers. She says enthusiasm alone is not enough to make a decent short film. “A lot of people who just do a film quickly end up making mistakes and not doing their best work,” she says.

“I say take your time, don’t always worry about competition deadlines. Use as much time as you need to work on the script, find the right crew and equipment and shoot the film. It takes patience but, trust me, it’s worth it.”

The filmmakers

Deena Stevens

Get used to seeing this name on the big screen. The 22-year-old Dubai filmmaker has three films in the student stream, chosen from nearly a dozen shorts produced while she was earning her Visual Communication degree at the American University of Sharjah.

Stevens says she took her filmmaking more seriously after doing well in last November’s 48 Hour Film Project in Dubai. “The people in the competition said I should make more films,” she recalls. “So this year I enrolled in classes at school to really learn more about it.”

With her new knowledge she produced the documentary short Beewun, about a local hip-hop dancer, and two narrative shorts: a musical called Freshman and the drama Love Impaired. “Whatever happens, I am just glad to be part of it all,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether I win or not, the chance to meet other filmmakers is all worth it.”

Rashid Al Nuaimi

The 21-year-old Dubai student is tipped to do well this year. His Hessa already screened in the Short Film Corner at Cannes this year.

The film is a tribute to Al Nuaimi’s grandmother and her generation of Emiratis. “The story is about learning from history,” he explains. “Youth today have a tendency to forget the accomplishments of the older generations.”

Al Nuaimi says he is proud that his story could reach an international audience. It proves, he says, that good stories can be shared.

“The film is about our culture, but everyone can learn something,” he says. “My grandmother didn’t take life for granted. I wanted to take that story and show these lessons to a new generation.”

Aisha Abdulla

The Emirati filmmaker and student is excited to be on the world stage. The 24-year-old has had four films screened in local and regional competitions, including the Gulf Film Festival. However her Emirates Film Competition submission, the short documentary Against the Wind, is her first time at an international film festival.

“This is definitely a milestone for me,” she says. “This what you aim for and to have an international crowd to see my film is a wonderful feeling.”

Her short follows a female sports photographer and her entry into this male-dominated profession.

Abdulla says the festival will present plenty of networking opportunities. “The chance to spend time with international filmmakers and directors from the Gulf and Middle East is invaluable,” she says.

• The shorts will screen in batches, beginning with the EFC Short Narrative Competition 1 on Friday at 6pm in Marina Mall Vox 3. For more details, visit www.adff.ae

sasaeed@thenational.ae