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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

UAE labour camp film moves audience to tears at world premiere

Champ of the Camp, named after the popular American Idol-style singing contest run annually in the camps, moved audience in the crowd during its world premiere at Burj Park.
The documentary film, Champ of the Camp, reduced many to tears at its premiere at Burj Park in Dubai last night. Satish Kumar / The National
The documentary film, Champ of the Camp, reduced many to tears at its premiere at Burj Park in Dubai last night. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI// A documentary filmed in the UAE’s labour camps captivated an audience of more than 1,000 at its world premiere on Saturday night.

Champ of the Camp, named after the popular American Idol-style singing contest run annually in the camps, was screened at Burj Park.

The documentary, premiered as part of the 10th Dubai International Film Festival, follows a group of labourers as they compete in the competition.

“I thought it was wonderful throughout,” said Sarah McKenzie, from the UK. “It was really well filmed and for me gave a great insight into how labourers live and the pressures they are under.”

The 75-minute film includes the workers telling their stories and expressing what an important part Bollywood plays in their lives.

At times funny and poignant, many viewers were moved by what they saw.

“I cried a few times, especially when they were talking about how they missed their families back home,” said Mona Hasan, from Lebanon. “It really opened my eyes to the life they lead and why they go through it.

“But you could also see how much they enjoyed singing and the pleasure it brought them. I highly recommend it.”

Speaking before the documentary was screened, the director, Mahmoud Kaabour, said he hoped it would shed light on the lives of men who helped to build the UAE.

“People from the outside always assume that if it’s about labourers it means it’s against the UAE, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “It’s showing how these men deal with being away from their families and how Bollywood songs play such an important role for them.”

Dubai-based Veritas Films, which produced the film, is planning to screen it at other festivals. The film’s producer, Eva Sayre, said she hoped viewers would gain an understanding about life for a labourer in the UAE.

“Mahmoud and myself have been based in Dubai for a long time and we always felt there was a glass wall dividing labourers from the rest of us,” she said.

“We see them on the highways and on construction sites but we don’t ever get to know them and we are really excited to show this side of them to the world.

“What really comes out is the love and joy they have for Bollywood films and when they sing the songs.

“It’s escapism for them as it distracts them from their daily lives. But in a way the Bollywood films reflect their lives in the sense that the emotions they go through and the fact they are away from their family and loved ones.”

One of her favourite scenes was filmed at the Burj Khalifa.

“I really hope for a broad audience to watch this film along with the labourers to really understand what they go through everyday,” she said.

Filming of the documentary proved a real challenge, Sayre admitted.

“We had issues to overcome on a daily basis with getting filming permits, funding and the physical conditions themselves,” she said.

“The competition itself takes place over the summer months so we had no choice but to film in sometimes 50°C heat and the editing process proved difficult as well.”

The filmmakers hope to get the documentary a general release across the UAE.

“It is very difficult to get distributors to be interested in promoting an independent film, let alone a documentary, but hopefully we can get a good response from the public, which will encourage us,” Sayre said.

The film will also be screened at Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates, during the festival, which runs until December 14.

nhanif@thenational.ae