x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati film producer returns to call the shots

Amina Dasmal, who runs an LA-based production company, says there has never been a better time to be a UAE filmmaker.

Amina Dasmal, pictured in her office in Al Quoz, says the medium of film is the best way for eastern cultures to communicate with western cultures.
Amina Dasmal, pictured in her office in Al Quoz, says the medium of film is the best way for eastern cultures to communicate with western cultures.

DUBAI // An Emirati woman who had to travel to America five years ago to launch her career says there has never been a more exciting time to be a young filmmaker in the UAE. Amina Dasmal, who helps run a production company based in Los Angeles, said that when she was a child the idea of working in film seemed impossible because there were no opportunities. "I had to go out to bring some influence back in but now things are different," she said. "There is a growing support base for young film-makers and I think they should make the most of them."

Initiatives like The Circle, a year-round programme which gives Emiratis the chance to travel to Hollywood, and the upcoming Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi are invaluable for the younger generation, she said. Things were different for Ms Dasmal, who grew to love films as a child. At the age of eight she lost count of how many times she watched the British costume drama Lady Jane, starring Helena Bonham Carter. By the time she was 12, watching movies including A Few Good Men with Tom Cruise and The Man in the Moon with Reese Witherspoon had changed her perspective on life.

But she never dreamed she could make a career in film. The glamour of Hollywood seemed worlds away from her home in Dubai, and she ended up working in the family business. "I was passionate about it but I thought I would grow up to be a marine biologist," she said. Three years ago Ms Dasmal started Alcove Entertainment with her business partner Robin Fox. The film production company, which also has offices in Dubai and London, aims to bridge the gap between an established film industry in the West and the burgeoning scene in the East.

"Film is a perfect medium to communicate between the West and the East," said Ms Dasmal. "The moving image is a universal language and as someone who has lived in both worlds I hope to be able to break down stereotypes and open channels between the two." Ms Dasmal, aged 28, said her first thought whenever she takes on a new project in Los Angeles was the UAE. "I always think, 'which scenes can we shoot back home?' and 'how can we bring the crew to the UAE?'," she said. "I've always been transparent about that and by being that way I find like-minded people."

Since starting Alcove Entertainment in May 2005, Ms Dasmal and Mr Fox have taken on increasingly high-profile projects. They are working with Richard Zanuck, who produced blockbuster movies such as Jaws and The Exorcist, on a project based on Joseph Conrad's book Nostromo. "It is a wonderful privilege to be part of this project and despite it being a period piece, the story is very current," she said.

The company is also casting a movie to be directed by Nadia Connors, an Arab-American who co-directed The 11th Hour, last year's documentary on the environment narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. In addition Ms Dasmal is developing a feature film called The Letter Writer, which is the story of a boy growing up in the UAE in the 1950s. She plans to draw on her own experiences growing up in Dubai. "Although I wasn't alive in that decade, it is important for me to chart the changes that have happened to my home country over recent years," she said.

Ms Dasmal, who said she has been "astounded" at how quickly the UAE's film industry is developing, urged hopefuls to take full advantage. "If you are an aspiring film-maker then pick up a camera; if you want to be a writer then put pen to paper," she said. "Don't worry about it being good or not, it doesn't matter. There is a system now in place in the UAE to encourage you so it's just about the taking the first step."