My UAE: how director Maitha Al Awadi is wowing the big screen
At the age of 16, Maitha Al Awadi made the bold move of leaving her home in Dubai to embark on her bachelor’s degree in Australia. This self-reliant streak, however, didn’t always come naturally to the now 27-year-old Emirati filmmaker.
“Before moving abroad I had different plans for my future. I was a quiet bookworm who rarely went out and didn’t make new friends unless an old friend introduced me,” she explains. “I didn’t even know how to open a bank account, let alone use an ATM.”
Yet it was this leap of faith that helped Al Awadi find her independence and opened the door to new cultures and experiences – ones that would lead to her eventual move into the film industry.
“When I went to Melbourne and joined my course, at first I wanted to be a character animator, and hoped to make characters for the likes of Pixar or DreamWorks in the future,” she explains.
“But during one class on filmmaking the professor asked each of us to come up with a logline – a one-line brief that states the central conflict of a film – to pitch in the class. All the students had to choose which ideas they wanted to work on and it was mine that they selected to make. This was when I decided to minor in film and television at the university in hopes of pursuing a career in filmmaking. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Al Awadi would eventually go on to pursue a master’s in filmmaking in Brighton, United Kingdom. This experience would allow her to develop more than 12 short films during that period, including X, which will be released at the World of Women’s Cinema – WOW Film Fair Middle East, which starts in Dubai today and runs until Wednesday, March 8.
The film explores the rollercoaster journey of a girl’s romantic relationship through the use of contemporary dance.
“The film is based on a poem, inspired by a true event that happened to me back in Australia when one of my friends was going through a very heartbreaking period in her life,” she explains. “This roller coaster of falling in love to breaking up is unfortunately a repetitive cycle that people have to go through to find their partner for life,” Al Awadi says, adding that she hopes the dance segments allow the audience to better understand the struggle of the main character.
X is one of 58 films to be shown at the fourth World of Women’s Cinema – WOW Film Fair Middle East, where Al Awadi is also director.
The event will include 14 filmmakers from the Middle East– among them four Emiratis – as well as others from countries across five continents. This specific focus on women in film is something Al Awadi feels is necessary in an otherwise male-dominated industry.
“It’s really important to have festivals like WOW as they not only help to recognise female talent, but also showcase their potential and abilities on a global scale and help them in their career journey,” she says.
Working on a project that looks to empower women is not a particularly surprising choice for Al Awadi, as she comes from what she describes as a “female-dominated household”.
“Both my grandmother and mother pushed me and my siblings to complete our education to the highest possible level as neither of them had similar opportunities,” she says. “It was my mother who pushed us to pursue education abroad, hoping it would open our eyes to what life might be like without the support of a family.”
Al Awadi explains that it was this experience and the support of her mother which helped her develop as a person – something she admits she couldn’t have done back home, in part due to societal pressures.
Though Al Awadi is busy with the film festival and her other role as producer for Blaze, the creative arm of the Arabian Radio Network, she reveals she is also working on producing another feature film from a script she wrote last year.
“The screenplay was inspired by a two-week-long expose done by Humans of New York’s photographer Brandon Stanton, which focused on Syrian refugees who fled from Syria to Greece. The plot focuses on a chance encounter which helps Adnan, a Syrian refugee, find redemption after a tragic loss during war. Currently, the script is circulating festivals and has been selected as a finalist in several of them.”
As for those who are just starting out in the industry, Al Awadi urges them to be as creative as possible and to follow their passions. “Never let others’ opinions dictate your creativity,” she says. “If you allow them to, your true self will disappear and you’ll remove what makes you, you in your films.”
What is the last book you read and loved?
I don’t remember the last book I read as I’ve been reading more fan fiction stories in the past few years, but one of my most loved novels is called A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught.
If you could work with one filmmaker, who would it be?
Tim Burton. His work has inspired me since I was a kid.
What do you do to relax?
I read until I drop.
Which country do you hope to visit next?
I’m really aiming to visit either India or Thailand next.
Who is the one figure in the film industry (regionally or internationally) who inspires you?
That’s a tricky one, if I had to choose I’d say Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie because both are passionate about humanitarian aid.
What is your favourite movie, to date?
The Dark Knight, although Beetlejuice and Shutter Island both come close.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would that be?
Coffee or tea?
I love both, but coffee is my energy drink.
What is your favourite film genre?
I love animation because it always brings a smile to my face and makes life a bit happier.
What is your favourite meal?
Butter, jam (preferably raspberry) and toast.
Updated: February 27, 2017 04:00 AM