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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Emirati tells the stories of real life heroes

Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli tackles sensitive subjects such as domestic violence, drug abuse and also produces stirring patriotic videos

Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli.
Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli.

An Emirati filmmaker seeks to inspire the next generation with music videos that capture and celebrate the achievements of men and women across the nation.

Abu Dhabi based filmmaker Juma Al Sahli’s recent short film to mark the UAE’s 46th National day focusses on honouring the country and its leaders.

“Our unique heritage is a source of inspiration, it is our legacy that we pass on to future generations. The video storyline takes us from the ancient traditions to the space age going through the country’s achievements in many fields and the sacrifices of the armed forces,” Mr Al Sahli said.

The National Day music video titled Ahl Al Azim or Determined People has been screened on local television channels and reached more than 800,000 views on YouTube since it was released last week.

The slickly produced film covers a wide swathe from UAE engineers in oil terminals to soldiers defending the country, aid workers comforting children in refugee camps interspersed with footage of rolling dunes and the determination of men in wheelchairs racing to the finish.

“To be able to demonstrate my love, pride and appreciation to the country is an opportunity that I’m really lucky to have,” he said.

The film was produced in line with the vision of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) chief executive Dr Sultan Al Jaber who was keen to highlight the nation’s progress, he said.

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It was the pursuit of his passion to express himself and tell stories that resulted in Mr Al Sahli switching from business studies in 2001 to join media school. This tapped into his talent as a narrator and chronicler.

“I studied business at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi but ended up graduating with a bachelor degree in media production. While running away from numbers and mathematics I stumbled into filmmaking that turned out to be the best thing that could ever happen to me,” said Mr Al Sahli.

Tackling sensitive subjects such as domestic violence against women and drug abuse were some of the controversial issues he has handled.

He won his first award for his first short film titled Al Wahel (The Mud) in 2002 that centres on the destructive impact of drug abuse.

“When my first short film won an award for best cinematography that’s when it hit me that this is where my true passion lies and that I belong to this industry,” he said.

In Raas Al Ghanam (The Goat's Head) he told a gripping true story about a woman who was emotionally and physically abused by her husband and father without showing the female character. It won the best film award in the Muhr Emirati category at Dubai International Film Festival in 2012.

“Marginalizing women and subjecting her to violence could happen in any society,” he said

“Having the opportunity to address such issues made me appreciate our leaders’ efforts in encouraging and empowering women in the country and issuing laws to protect them.”

He enjoyed working on a television film Awdat Umm Al Duwais (The return of Umm Al Duwais) in 2009 on local folklore about a female jinni.

“It was my first long film and a first Emirati horror about the famous Emirati myth of Umm Al Duwais a female jinni who seduces men and kills them for their unfaithfulness. It was challenging and exciting and we closed a tunnel in Kalba for a long period to shoot scenes in the dark,” he said.

Mr Al Sahli, 38, has directed eight short films and 10 patriotic music videos for famous singers and poets.

“When I prepare for a short film or a music video I choose to isolate myself and spend around four to five days alone. I draw and sketch scenes and ideas until I reach the final draft and feel satisfied,” he said

The National Day video used the latest techniques to combine multiple footage seamlessly into a two -minute video clip.

“It took us around one-month preparation and five days to complete the video. Most of the characters who appeared in the video were real people doing their daily jobs,” he said

Mr Al Sahli celebrates National Day by attending the official ceremony in the capital and joining the national car parade.

“We decorate our house with flags and a festive atmosphere fills the air. I usually attend the official ceremony. Then I take my car and join the parade as it fills me with excitement and pride,” he said.

The biog

Favourite car: Ferrari

Likes the colour: Black

Best movie: Avatar

Academic qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in media production from the Higher Colleges of Technology and diploma in production from the New York Film Academy