Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 January 2020

My UAE: Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi directing the fun at Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival

A profile of Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi, the director of Sharjah International Children's Film Festival.
Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi with attendees at Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival. Anna Nielsen for The National
Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi with attendees at Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival. Anna Nielsen for The National

Dozens of small schoolchildren crowd around Sheikha Jawaher bint Abdullah Al Qasimi for a photograph, after watching movies screened at Sharjah ­International Children’s Film Festival (SICFF), an event of which she’s the director.

“Moments like this are what make my job most satisfying,” Sheikha Jawaher says. “To me, it’s them who matter. We are doing all this for them.”

The festival, which is an initiative of Funn Establishment (the Sharjah-based foundation that promotes media arts and creative talent among UAE youth), is now in its fourth year. Apart from screening children’s films from around the world, it conducts filmmaking and photography workshops during the festival and throughout the year.

“It was an idea of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the ruler of Sharjah,” Sheikha Jawaher, who is also director of Funn, says. “She wanted to start a children’s film festival and that’s how Funn was born in 2012, as a media arts hub. We launched our first film festival in 2013.

“I remember I was given a paper, a PowerPoint printout, and was told: ‘This is it, let’s start.’ It was just me when we started – I was marketing, programming, HR, finance. It’s been an interesting ride. Now, when I see my team work, I know what they go through because I’ve been in each of their shoes.”

Funn’s vision is to nurture future generations of creative artists in media and film. “I strongly believe this was needed in Sharjah,” she says. “As a teenager, I loved photography and I searched for workshops to help me grow, but I couldn’t find any. Training in graphics, animation, photography – there are very rare resources, especially in Sharjah. My son was 2 when Funn began, and I really wanted him to grow in a place where creativity is nurtured.”

She believes nurturing filmmakers is important because images go a long way in showcasing your perspectives to the world and changing people’s mindsets, especially in the age of social media.

“When I studied in the US, people would speak to me thinking I don’t understand English, and one of the deans there was surprised that I knew about Oprah,” she says. “Some of them perhaps still think we live in tents.”

These are precisely the misconceptions she wants debunked via films from the region. SICFF showcases films from around the world, including Arab countries, Emirati films and even films made by children.

Sheikha Jawaher has a degree in English language and literature, although she first opted for a major in management information systems. She hated the latter, so switched to something that reflected her passion. She also enrolled at the University of San Diego for a master’s in marriage and family therapy.

“I have the weirdest career path,” she says. “I graduated high school when I was 15, and was only 19 when I first started working, in 2003.”

Sheikha Jawaher has been an English teacher at the Sharjah Model School for Girls, a librarian and even dabbled in PR before turning her energies to Funn. Being a librarian was a job that was close to her heart.

“Before being a lover of films, I’m a bookworm,” she says. “I sometimes wake up at night and read. I can finish a book in a day. I used to sit in the library sometimes. It was so quiet, surrounded by these books.”

Each of her career experiences, she says, has affected the person she is today.

“Teaching taught me patience. Being a librarian taught me to share the passion of reading with others. Funn taught me how to start a family, because we started from scratch and grew together.”

Sheikha Jawaher is inspired by hard-working women. “Her ­Highness [Sheikha Jawaher bint ­Mohammed Al Qasimi] is a big source of inspiration, and the other is my mother. She was and still is a working mother. She heads the Family ­Development Centres in ­Sharjah. Growing up with a working mother was inspirational, especially how she juggled it along with four kids, a husband, in-laws and social commitments,” Sheikha Jawaher says.

She is now a mother herself, to a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl. So how does she manage her work-life balance?

“When I first started, I confess I couldn’t,” she says. “Work took over, but with time, I learnt to manage. I was at the opening of the film festival, and I was talking to the cook at home about lunch. My message to young women is to pursue your dreams now or you’ll regret it later.”

Who are your favourite authors?

I love Nicholas Sparks; I like Santa Montefiore, too. I am more into fiction, but I love biographies and true stories as well.

What are your favourite books?

Recently, it’s The Girl on the Train, which I finished in two hours. And The Lovely Bones – I can’t believe I just read it this year.

Are you a Disney fan?

I love the Disney classics. We were at Tokyo Disney and my son didn’t know most of them. I sang every single song from The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty. He knew Peter Pan, but he asked: ‘Mama, where is Spider-Man?’ And I had to tell him it is not Disney. I had to be dragged out by my husband at 10pm. I did not want to leave. My husband surprised us with a Disney cruise this year in summer. I’ve been to Disney in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris. I still need to go to Orlando.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

Cape Town, South Africa [pictured]. It’s beautiful. And Alaska, where I did glacier trekking, zip-lining and kayaking.

What’s your favourite movie?

Memoirs of a Geisha – I can watch it over and over.

Which places would you recommend to visitors to Sharjah?

Heart of Sharjah. It has many museums and it’s also the art area of Sharjah. And Al Majaz Waterfront.

What’s your dream destination?

I would like to be anywhere in Europe or the US during Christmas. I just want to experience the Christmas lights.

What films do you recommend for children?

They should watch movies made by children. They will anyway watch Disney films and other animation movies, but you should see the films made by children at SICFF. They are amazing, quality-wise. I was surprised they were made by children.

What do you do to relax and unwind?

I watch TV series such as Grey’s Anatomy or How to Get Away with Murder. I do this every Thursday after my kids have gone to sleep.


The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival runs until tomorrow. For more information, visit www.sicff.ae.

Updated: October 27, 2016 04:00 AM