x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Disaster film opens dam debate

The forthcoming movie, under production in Fujairah and Dubai, dramatises the Banqiao catastrophe that claimed 85,000 lives.

The US actor Joshua Frederic Smith will star in Dam999.
The US actor Joshua Frederic Smith will star in Dam999.

DUBAI // A fictional film currently in production in the UAE is expected to reopen the debate over the potentially catastrophic consequences of a breach in one of the world's many ageing dams. The film, which is being shot on location in Fujairah, Dubai and Kerala, India, by the Sharjah-based director and marine engineer Sohan Roy, focuses on the disastrous human and environmental repercussions of a dam cracking open.

Mr Roy hopes the film, Dam999, which is inspired by the 1975 Banqiao dam failure in China and stars the award-winning Indian actor Rajit Kapur, will fuel campaigns to bring down ageing dams when it hits the screens in December. "My research has shown that at least 4,000 dams have crossed their lifespan," said Mr Roy, whose project marks his first foree into film-making. "Most dams will never be demolished because a new dam costs too much to build."

The Banqiao dam catastrophe claimed 85,000 lives within two hours of it bursting, according to a World Meteorological Organisation report on extreme events. Another 145,000 people died in the ensuing famine and epidemic. "Any country you go to, there will be a dam in danger of collapsing. Thousands of lives are at stake," said Mr Roy. "This story can happen anywhere." Mr Kapur stars as an astrologer whose warnings over the dam go unheeded, while the American actor Joshua Fredric Smith plays the captain of a ship anchored off a village near the dam.

Sections of the film were shot at Dubai shipping docks last month and on a tanker off Fujairah. Registered in RAK media city, the film is being produced by Business TV, a media company for shipping firms. Lack of experience has not deterred Mr Roy, who came to Sharjah to work as a marine engineer 18 years ago. "I have tried to make a movie about real issues," he said. Historical films may not always draw audiences, said Jack Swanstrom, a professor of film at the American University of Sharjah. But the market for homegrown films in the UAE may be growing, he said.

"More people will go to see Iron Man 2 in one day than will ever go to a small independent film," Mr Swanson said. "But it's also an exciting time. The UAE has a vibrant and emerging film scene and there are opportunities for local filmmakers to exhibit their films." @Email:rtalwar@thenational.ae