Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

Reality check at ADFF panel discussion on UAE film industry

What could have been a self-congratulatory PR exercise was instead a refreshingly honest look under the skin of the nascent UAE film industry.
From left, The National editor-in-chief Mohammed Al Otaiba, filmmaker Nawaf Al Janahi, ADFF’s senior programming officer Adel Al Jabri, head of DIFF Film Market Samr Al Marzooqi and twofour54 head of Intaj, Paul Baker. Mohamed Somji / seeing things photography
From left, The National editor-in-chief Mohammed Al Otaiba, filmmaker Nawaf Al Janahi, ADFF’s senior programming officer Adel Al Jabri, head of DIFF Film Market Samr Al Marzooqi and twofour54 head of Intaj, Paul Baker. Mohamed Somji / seeing things photography

So Monday’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival panel on local production was quite an eye-opener. The panel, which was chaired by The National’s editor-in-chief Mohammed Al Otaiba, featured representatives from ADFF, Dubai International Film Festival, twofour54 and the local filmmaking community. It could easily have been an exercise in self-aggrandising PR, particularly considering the ­international attention the nascent UAE film industry has received in recent weeks from American publications such as Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Instead, it turned out to be something else entirely: a ­refreshingly honest, warts and all look under the skin of the film industry in this country, beginning from the moment Dubai Film Market’s Samr Al Marzooqi pointed out that until UAE cinema actually starts ­making money, we don’t really have an industry.

“My definition of a film ­industry is when a film makes its own money,” said Al Marzooqi. “Whoever worked on that film got paid properly. When will we have an industry? When people actually make a living out of it. From a personal point of view, we don’t have that.”

The Emirati director Nawaf Al Janahi (2010’s Sea Shadow) bemoaned the level of “propaganda” surrounding Emirati cinema.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved,” he said. “But there’s this tendency to celebrate everything Emirati, which is good. It’s nice. But sometimes it goes over the top. If something’s bad, just say it’s bad. Whether you’re a journalist, a filmmaker, or an industry person, just say it’s bad.”

A large crowd, interestingly consisting largely of young, ­female Emiratis (50, according to a panel member who made a rough count from the stage) was later asked if any of them would like to be a production assistant for the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, an attempt at addressing the fact that what the industry currently needs is junior- ­level staff prepared to learn and work their way up. The lack of a show of hands was intriguing.

For those who were prepared to start at the bottom, ­however, there was good news. Paul Baker, head of the local Star Wars-producer twofour54 Intaj, revealed that huge opportunities already exist, if you’re prepared to take them.

“Three Emirati interns from Star Wars have been taken back to the United Kingdom and now work full-time at Pinewood on the Star Wars shoot.”

Updated: October 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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