Local filmmakers have almost doubled the number of films screening at this year's Dubai International Film Festival as part of the Muhr Emirati section.
Snapshot of vivid stories from DIFF’s Muhr Emirati section
Nujoom Al Ghanem, Red Blue Yellow (Ahmar Azraq Asfar)
The 92-minute film Red Blue Yellow offers a rare glimpse into the world of one of the foremost and prolific female Emirati artists, Najat Makki. It is unusual for an Emirati woman to reveal her personal life on film, but Makki is someone the director, Nujoom Al Ghanem, has known and admired all her life. Makki is Al Ghanem’s aunt and the close relationship they share meant the artist felt more comfortable letting her guard down in front of the cameras.
“I knew her personally very well, and I knew her art well, but I rediscovered her when I started working on this project,” says Al Ghanem. “There was always a side of her that was mysterious to me. In the film I explored that and I explored the struggling of a single woman who lives in Arab society, a very conservative society, on different levels. When she wants to organise her own exhibitions, it takes a lot of energy and time. I can understand some of what she’s feeling.”
The pair share a love of art, but while Al Ghanem’s father refused to allow her to become an artist, Makki was the first Emirati woman to get a government scholarship to study art abroad. Makki went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from Cairo University before getting her doctoral degree in the philosophy of art. “The first wish for me was to study fine arts, but unfortunately my father wouldn’t allow it,” says Al Ghanem. “Maybe he was afraid that I might be lost in Europe. So that wish stayed inside me. I started my career, instead, as a writer and as a journalist. It took time – until I got married – then I could go to the US to study video production and film.”
Al Ghanem’s film is itself an expression of her artistic ability and is beautifully shot using vivid colours that reflect the colour schemes her aunt uses in her artwork. The Indian fabrics in the souq that Makki loves to visit so she can absorb their colours, the feathers in the exotic pet bird that sits near her as she works on her art and the primary colours of red, blue and yellow that she blends together with her fingers as she paints – all give the audience a sense of the world that she inhabits.
“I felt when I was filming her that the visual part had to be present and in focus throughout the film,” says Al Ghanem. “Thankfully I chose her and art as a subject because that gave me a freedom to express myself as a director.”
Among the two projects the filmmaker is currently working on is her first feature, a fictional story.
“It has been my passion since I graduated to work on a feature film,” says Al Ghanem. “I am just waiting for funding.”
Nayla Al Khaja, The Neighbour (Al Jaara)
Nayla Al Khaja has a long list of credits to her name: she is recognised as one of the UAE’s prominent directors and producers, she won Best Emirati Filmmaker at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2007 and she founded Aflam Club in Abu Dhabi and the Scene Club in Dubai to promote independent films. She has also formed her own film and television production company, D-Seven Motion Pictures.
Al Khaja’s latest movie is about a lonely expatriate who receives a neighbourly visit from an elderly Emirati woman. Al Khaja describes it as “a heart-warming comedy about two people who have nothing in common but who find a connection through food, love and soul. It is the first film to showcase a Briton and an Emirati together in an intimate setting”.
Al Khaja’s company is also working on a horror film based on a local urban myth, and a movie about a heist. Both films will be set in the UAE and, crucially to Al Khaja, will employ local actors. “Each film will have one ‘poster face’, but everybody else around them will be local actors,” she says. Al Khaja is dreaming big this time. “We want celebrities who are willing to accept a lower charge – to work for love,” she says. “If you put a big name like Morgan Freeman on the bill that gives you an edge.”
Muna Al Ali, Concealment
Muna Al Ali’s film Concealment is a visual metaphor for the feelings we bury within us and try to forget. The 10-minute film looks at how one boy struggles with the pressures of life by screaming into bottles, which he then buries in the sand in an attempt to discard them. Al Ali says: “We all create daily pressures sometimes and this film is a reflection of how we try to deal with them. I didn’t want to be specific and talk about what those pressures are, as it’s a short film and there’s no dialogue. Everyone who sees this movie will be touched, because everyone feels pressures sometimes.”
Al Ali was an artist at the beginning of her career and has also written a book of short stories, The Mirror, which has been translated into German. She is now working on helping young writers to develop their screenplays. Al Ali is also currently in discussions with publishers over her latest book of short stories From the Window.
Alwiya A Thani, Faith in Love
Although Alwiya A Thani, the director of the romantic comedy Faith in Love, has made several short films before, this is the first time she has had one screened at the Dubai International Film Festival. “This film is my style – I like romantic comedy,” she says. The film’s cast is multinational, featuring Emirati, British, Iranian, German and French actors. “This is Dubai,” she explains. “We welcome all the good people of the world.”
Her light-hearted film deals with two people who have been unlucky in love, hingeing on a mutual friend who tries to restore their faith in love by bringing them together.
“The message of my movie is that if you love someone, you have to go chase it or someone could steal that moment away,” she says. “Like a traffic light changing colour.”
Thani works as a project manager for Image Nation (which has the same parent company, Abu Dhabi Media, as The National), where she helps develop other filmmakers’ feature films. She hopes one day to be able to make her own feature film.
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