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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Samosas in Times Square: one Emirati's virtual reality vision to share UAE life with the world

Filmmaker Hassan Kiyany wants to use technology to allow potential visitors to immerse themselves into local culture

Emirati photographer, Hassan with the virtual reality headsets he hopes to use to bring the UAE a little closer, wherever you are in the world. Courtesy Leo James  
Emirati photographer, Hassan with the virtual reality headsets he hopes to use to bring the UAE a little closer, wherever you are in the world. Courtesy Leo James  

An Emirati filmmaker wants to open up the UAE to the world - without people even having to dust off their passport.

Hassan Kiyany wants potential visitors, from New York to Norway, to see samosa dough dropped into a cauldron of spluttering oil or watch as fishermen spread out their catch in a local market.

These are the authentic stories of UAE life that Kiyany is eager to put in the spotlight - and he hopes to turn to technology to serve up a virtual reality tour.

“People want an authentic experience of a place,” said Mr Kiyany, who runs Dubai-based film and production company, Kiyany Media.

“We know the UAE has so much culture, It is all around us, and it’s up to us to tell this story of real people and real places so people want to visit and meet these people who inspire others and me.”

In one short film, entitled, ‘The man who sells samosa and you probably ate one,’ he talks to the owner of a 50-year-old store near the Dubai Creek that daily sells 10,000 crispy triangular snacks.

As people queue up outside, the owner tells of how people order pre-prepared layered sheets of the comfort food so they can cook the crunchy pastry overseas.

He believes virtual reality will provide a major boost to tourism.

“Imagine an American walking into a UAE kiosk in Times Square where he puts on a VR headset and watches culture that is live and local. He will be inside the samosa shop, hear the guys talk, see how they make samosas. That is the power of virtual reality,” he said.

“It does not have to a hotel or beach. The more real it is the more people will want these experiences and we can attract tourists so they get a sense of the people in this part of the world. That would make someone want to go to this place. Video is great but VR immerses you and there are endless possibilities.”

Local markets and stores he frequents are part of the multi-media packages Mr Kiyany releases on his website.

“It is part of my mission to continue to meet people I don’t know and help share their stories. To talk about how they started, the struggle they go through and how, despite the challenges, they are still on their feet, still trying. I value this and I want others to understand it.

“When people talk about Dubai they talk about mainstream as the only way to describe us. But my mission is to give more focus to ordinary people. That is when you can learn the history that can be an important part of your visit.

“This will have a big effect on travel and tourism. We can bridge a gap to make it easier for people to explore another culture. It can be eye-opening and very powerful. There will be more focus on this in the future.”

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