x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Camels on camera: a film project in the desert

'A huge responsibility,' says fledgling director as he navigates Al Dhafra Festival's huge site and deals with the location's challenges.

Fadel al Muhairi at work directing a documentary film at the Al Dhafra Festival in Madinat Zayed.
Fadel al Muhairi at work directing a documentary film at the Al Dhafra Festival in Madinat Zayed.

MADINAT ZAYED, AL GHARBIA // The film crew has been shadowing Sheikh Zayed bin Hamdan since he arrived at the Al Dhafra Festival on Monday night. They were there when one of his camels won the first round of the festival's beauty contest. And their cameras will also be rolling when he presents prizes to the top three winners in the falcon competition. Fadel al Muhairi has spent a month in the desert preparing for this, his first documentary. He is one of six students who won a place in Adasa Film Labs' year-long programme, launched in October to nurture emerging Emirati filmmakers. In addition to navigating the enormous site, and negotiating the physical difficulties involved in desert shooting, it is also his first time heading a project of this size.

"I have a huge responsibility as director," he said. "We have had lots of practice for this in the studio and have talked about it during workshops, but actually capturing the moments on film in a live situation is much more difficult, as you rely on people acting naturally in front of the camera." Mr Muhairi's mentor is Adrienne Briggs, director of The Circle, a branch of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach) dedicated to film.

Ms Briggs said the camel-festival film is part of her long-term plan to train aspiring filmmakers. "When The Circle started in October I had an idea of how I would like it to work," Ms Briggs said. "It has so far met and even exceeded my expectations." To film the documentary, The Circle hired a crew of 26. Mr al Muhairi is directing the crew, with Adasa students Khaled al Subaihi and Yusry Ali al Tamimi working as cameraman and producer.

"Yusry has been my right-hand man through the producing process and every decision I make I explain to him so he can learn on the job," Ms Briggs said. "Khaled wants to be a director too, so he is taking much from watching the professionals at work." The documentary will also tell the story of the first tribe to bring black camels to the UAE, following the Bedouins from the Saudi border as they travelled to the festival site with their camels.

"Being in a location like this is fantastic," Mr al Muhairi said. "It is the best part of filmmaking. You see people and places that you don't know if you will ever see again." After the 10-day festival ends on Jan 1, the footage will be edited into a 52-minute film under the supervision of professionals from the UAE and UK. The film is expected to be finished by March, when it will be marketed to networks across the region.

"I am confident this will be a top-quality production," Ms Briggs said. "We have gathered so much great footage already and we still have another week to go. When the film is finished I am sure there will be local and maybe even international interest from networks. That, however, is not our priority right now. We are just concentrating on making the film and ensuring the students get the most from the experience."

Other students from Circle programmes are at the festival, making a film about the camel beauty contests. Their plans are to produce a DVD featuring the top three camels in every round for camel breeders and owners as a memento and point of reference for future festivals. The Circle will oversee production of both films and Adach will be responsible for their distribution. @Email:aseaman@thenational.ae