Young filmmakers in the spotlight at Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival
Creative young minds have many stories to tell – about childhood, Emirati culture, old UAE neighbourhoods that now exist only in memories, fashion or even horror – but are rarely given an outlet to share them.
That’s not the case for school pupils and college students from the UAE who have turned their stories into films that are screening at the Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival.
Fatima Al Maazmi and Aisha Al Shurafa can’t hide their excitement after winning the festival’s Best Child-Made Film award for their documentary film Al Freej Al Thani (The Other Neighbourhood) .
“It’s an awesome feeling. I didn’t expect people to like my movie,” says Al Maazmi, a student at Higher Colleges of Technology Dubai.
The pair’s four-minute film documents an unnamed, underprivileged neighbourhood in Sharjah that is considered hostile and dangerous. They were still at school when they made the film three years ago.
“The people there don’t like strangers coming,” says Al Maazmi. “They are known to be hostile and even throw stones at outsiders. But while shooting, we realised that people there communicate more with each other than the neighbourhoods we live in.”
Al Shurafa, who is now a media student at Dubai Women’s College, has three films screening at the festival.
We’re Still Here is a documentary about a heritage market area of Sharjah where elderly Emiratis meet for coffee, to play cards and share some general banter. The third is a horror film called Al Fanoos – and was the most fun to make.
“I’m hugely passionate about horror,” says Al Shurafa. “It’s my most recent film, made just two months ago, and it’s completely my work – idea, script, filming and editing.
“I picked a traditional old house and created a story from nothing.”
Emirati youngsters have been innovative with their story ideas and experimented with diverse genres and film styles in their films, about 15 of which are screening at the festival.
High-school pupils Lina Albarri and Dina Fayyad have made a two-minute animation called Be You, about self-esteem, while brothers Abdullah and Abdulrahman Ahmed, senior students of Dubai Modern Education School, have created an animation about safe driving.
Many of the youngsters were keen to address social issues through their short films.
Fifteen-year-old Maitha Nasser Baroot focused on people with special needs in her film Don’t Ignore Me, while Ward Hameed’s Remorse tackles the perils of smoking among teenagers.
Another touching story is The Greatest Treasure, by Grade 10 student Meera Bin Ghlaita.
“My film is about a poor orphan boy who eyes the good clothes and shoes of a rich boy sitting in the garden and how he would love to be in his place. But he later realises the rich boy can’t walk properly,” says Bin Ghlaita, who roped in her cousins as actors.
Hessa Al Shehhi, a fashion design student at Esmod French Fashion Institute, and her friends also enjoyed exploring and documenting an old neighbourhood in Sharjah inhabited mostly by low-income families in their documentary Freejna (Our Neighbourhood). She says the neighbourhood, Al Qadsia, will soon be demolished and that is why they were keen to preserve it on film.
“We actually loved going through that neighbourhood and seeing the people there, met some kids playing and sitting on the sidewalk, everyone going to pray together ... we lived their life for a day,” says Al Shehhi.
Most of these films were produced during filmmaking workshops organised by Funn, the Sharjah-based government organisation that promotes media arts among children and youths in the UAE.
“I’ve attended workshops in photography, filmmaking and animation – and seeing our work on the big screen means a lot to us,” says Al Shehhi.
Al Maazmi and Al Shurafa say that they learnt filmmaking basics from well-known directors through these workshops.
“It was great learning from famous directors such as Nujoom Al Ghanem – I still remember her teaching me how to hold a camera,” says Al Maazmi.
These young filmmakers want more youngsters to pick up cameras and make movies.
“More youth should make movies because they are innocent. Their work will touch hearts,” says Al Shehhi.
“There just aren’t enough young filmmakers in the UAE,” adds Bin Ghlaita. “We need more of them.”
Ask them what the future holds for them, and the next generation of Emirati filmmaking seems to be in good hands. “I always dream to be a famous documentary filmmaker with National Geographic or similar, you know,” Al Maazmi says.
Al Shurafa adds: “Of course, I want to become a filmmaker, and hope my movies reach worldwide. I want to make Arabic films and take them to foreign audiences.”
• The Sharjah International Children’s Film Festival continues until Friday, October 23. Visit www.sicff.ae
Updated: October 21, 2015 04:00 AM