x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE-made film Djinn is set to thrill audiences

After over a year of delays, the UAE's first horror film could be finally landing this year, Alex Ritman reports.

Ashok Amritaj, the CEO of Hyde Park films. Lee Hoagland/The National
Ashok Amritaj, the CEO of Hyde Park films. Lee Hoagland/The National

After more than a year of delays, the UAE's first horror film could be finally landing this year. Alex Ritman reports

It’s been several years in the making, but it finally looks as though Image Nation’s second UAE production will be seen in cinemas. Djinn, a supernatural thriller that was based in Ras Al Khaimah and directed by the horror legend Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), was initially due for release in early 2012. But now the Image Nation chief executive officer Michael Garin says the film, considered the UAE’s first horror feature, should now see the light of day this year.

“We’re hoping to premiere it in the fall,” he says.

Djinn follows the story of a young -Emirati couple who move into a luxury high-rise in Ras Al Khaimah only to find that their neighbours aren’t entirely human. It flashes back to before the construction of the apartments, when the site was an abandoned fishing village (it was filmed in the old village of Al Jazirat Al Hamra) and to an American backpacker who is introduced to the concept of local spirits by two Emiratis. It stars the Bahrain-born actor Khalid Laith (The Devil’s Double) and the Lebanese actress Razane Jammal.

However, after the filming wrapped up mid-2011 and release deadlines were missed, rumours emerged last year that suggested the delays were to do with the film’s storyline. One blog claimed that the filmed addressed “a certain type of witchcraft that is not recognised with the beliefs of the nation” and that scenes would have to be reshot.

Garin dismisses these rumours, claiming that the delays are purely technical.

“The problem with Djinn has really been in post-production: editing the computer graphics and special effects,” he says. “It’s a horror movie so it requires lots of important effects.”

Sales were launched at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and will continue at the Cannes International Film Festival next month, Garin says. “We’re getting very excited about this film.”

Djinn’s appearance in Cannes could well coincide with the DVD release of -Image Nation’s first -Emirati film, Sea Shadow, which was given its world premiere at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2011.

“It’s a very interesting experience we had with Sea Shadow,” says Garin. “It was a total success with Emirati audiences. It stayed in theatres longer than Hollywood blockbusters. Our disappointment was the fact that it wasn’t seen by expats.”

Garin claims that the nature of going to the cinema needs to be changed and that they’re hoping to educate cinemagoers in order for such films to thrive.

“With the exception of movies like James Bond and Mission: Impossible, people generally make a decision to go to the movies, then once they’ve decided to go to the movies, they see what’s available,” he says, adding that most expatriates wouldn’t choose to see an Emirati film.

But Sea Shadow has now been seen in more than 20 countries and maintained a presence on all regional airlines with a “moving” audience reaction to the film, which Garin says has the potential to sway opinions.

“We’re hoping to use the DVD to reach the expat audience so they see the film in the convenience of their home. We already do very well with Emirati audiences. What we need to do now is reach the other 92 per cent of the population and get them to understand that seeing these movies is something they’ll gladly do.”

*****

Although it may have been mauled by critics, moviegoers flocked to see Nicolas Cage do his thing in 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. And while the film might not sound particularly regional, it proved to be a huge success for the production partnership between Image Nation (a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns The National) and Hyde Park Entertainment, which helped fund it.

Just four years old, the joint venture between Image Nation and Hyde Park is now set to add several more films to its catalogue.

“We just wrapped on Elmore Leonard’s The Switch,” says the Hyde Park chief executive officer Ashok Amritraj. “It stars Jennifer Aniston, Tim Robbins, John Hawkes, Mos Def and Isla Fisher. It’s a perfect cast. John Hawkes was just nominated for The Sessions.”

Based on Leonard’s New York Times bestseller, The Switch stars Aniston as the betrayed housewife of Robbins’s fraudster husband, who is held for ransom by two criminals. The book is the prequel to Rum Punch, which was made into the film Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino.

As with Ghost Rider, the production deal allowed an Emirati to visit the set and work with the crew. But with the next project, Midnight Sun, Amritraj says they’re hoping to go one step further. “It’s a really interesting family drama we’re doing in Canada and we’re actually hoping to have an Emirati in front of the camera for a few of the scenes. We’re going to put a few Emirati actors on tape and send them over.”

And with another film, Hyde Park is bringing on board a teen heart-throb. “Next month we start filming Careful What You Wish For with Nick Jonas,” says Amritraj. The film, which will be the singer’s first lead role, is an indie thriller about a teenager who begins an affair with the wife of an investment banker.

Outside of the movies, the TV series Chance of a Lifetime starts filming next month. “It has a huge Emirati presence. There are four Emirati filmmakers plus four from Singapore and four from India,” says Amritraj. The series puts the filmmakers on teams where they complete tasks and make films that touch on subjects outlined in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The winning documentary will be screened at the UN and the winning team awarded in Cannes. It’s also being presented by Amritraj. “I’ve got to get ready, I haven’t learnt my script yet.”

aritman@thenational.ae

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