x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

You may not have heard of them, but they're famous on YouTube

YouTube's Your Film competition is down to the last 50, including two shorts from the Middle East.

A scene from Super.Full, one of the Middle Eastern entrants to Your Film.
A scene from Super.Full, one of the Middle Eastern entrants to Your Film.

YouTube's ability to bring the world closer together is nothing new. For years, the video-sharing platform has enabled anyone across the planet with a decent internet connection to join as one to laugh at Star Wars kid, to watch Rebecca Black's pop debut with horror and to aaaawwww at a never-ending tirade of cutesy kittens doing cutesy kitten things.

But recently it's become a serious tool for filmmakers to showcase their talents, tell stories or even collaborate on projects.

Last year's Life in a Day was made from clips selected from more than 80,000 submissions uploaded to YouTube. This year, things are going a step further, especially for those looking to break into the industry, with the site's Your Film Festival.

How it works

Anyone wanting to enter had until the end of March to submit a short, story-driven video, in any format and any genre.

This produced some 15,000 submissions from more than 160 countries, from which 50 have been selected.

The YouTube community (basically anyone who goes on YouTube) now has until July 16 to vote for these 50, and the top 10 will be screened at the Venice Film Festival in August and September.

Sounds amazing. Who is in the final 50?

There are several entries from the US, UK and Australia, but the Middle East has a couple of representatives, with the Lebanese filmmaker Niam Itani's Super.Full. and This Time, by Ramy El Gabry of Egypt.

The stories

Super.Full. is a quiet drama telling the tale of a deaf petrol attendant working in Doha. "I prefer visual storytelling," explains Itani, who teaches scriptwriting at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. "I didn't want any dialogue originally, but then as an alternative I thought of sign language, which is quite cinematic and picturesque."

Shot in Cairo, This Time is a rather moving story involving an old woman visiting her son, with high hopes that are eventually dashed. "It's a cultural story about the region, which I first developed into a script," explains El Gabry. "I was personally affected by the story, so decided to make it into a film."

The grand prize

In Venice, a special jury (which will include Sir Ridley Scott, who is also behind Life in a Day) will select an overall winner, who will receive a US$500,000 (Dh1.8 million) grant to work with Scott on a new production.

"I've got a feature film in dire need of funding," says Itani, adding that $500,000 should help cover production. El Gabry has bigger ambitions, it seems. "I want to make films that make the world a better place and people better people."

Another film worth catching

Also in the final 50 is Skateistan: To Live and Skate Kabul, a beautifully shot documentary by the British filmmaker Orlando von Einsiedel, about the first skateboarding school in Afghanistan and the children who go there, which definitely should be viewed.

To vote, head to www.youtube.com/yourfilmfestival, but remember to do it before July 14