x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Within five years cinemas will be offering three Emirati features a week'

Three emerging film talents s say censorship and funding are among the hurdles in the way of their aim to remove the stigma attached to Emirati films,

Ali Mostafa, the director of <i>City of Life</i>. 'It was a lot of work but at least we have made it easier for the next guy,' he said.
Ali Mostafa, the director of City of Life. 'It was a lot of work but at least we have made it easier for the next guy,' he said.

DUBAI // Emerging Emirati filmmakers are pushing for change that would allow their industry to develop. It is as though they are "caught between two fires", according to Mishaal al Gergawi, the Emirati commentator and writer.

Al Gergawi was moderating a gathering of three of the nation's most successful filmmakers in Dubai. They spoke with hope about the future of their industry, while lamenting personal roadblocks and battles with censorship. Ali Mostafa, the director of the Emirati feature film City of Life, which is having a month-long run at the UAE box office, believes that within five years cinemas will be offering three Emirati features a week.

"I hope the next film to come along will be bigger and better and we will keep on growing as an industry," he said. "Our aim is to remove the stigma attached to Emirati films, so people don't think twice about seeing the movie once they know where it was made." Nawaf al Janahi, who earned the most promising filmmaker award at last year's Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) after directing a feature film about gang violence called The Circle, also predicted a bright future for home-grown movies.

"I think in the next two to five years we will have a very vibrant and active film industry, whether the story is Emirati or not," he said. "The Government has a budget now and things are starting to change." Tuesday's event at The Capital Club also featured the female director Nayla al Khaja, who runs the production company D-Seven Motion Pictures. It took place in a week that held significant developments for the upcoming generation of Emirati filmmakers.

The DIFF launched the Muhr Awards, which will see 15 Emirati features, shorts and documentaries compete for a first prize of Dh35,000 (US$9,500), and second and third prizes of Dh25,000 and Dh15,000 in December. Also this week, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival announced that it would take over running the Emirates Film Competition to strengthen support for filmmakers in the region. Despite the good news, the filmmakers told a packed house of more than 100 people that their path was not an easy one.

Al Khaja, some of whose films have tackled topics such as child abuse and extramarital relationships, said: "It has and still is very much a struggle to follow my choice of career path. I deal with very controversial topics and I come from a very conservative family, but if you love what you do you have to continue." The nation needed to trust that its filmmakers would be sensible when telling their stories, she said.

"We don't want to make something distasteful or shocking, we simply want to make good films," she said. "It's frustrating to come up against censorship issues, when we see American movies showing equally controversial subject matter every hour on our satellite TV." Censorship was one of the biggest challenges that Mostafa had to overcome in producing his film, which includes scenes of young Emiratis drinking alcohol and an unmarried pregnant woman considering abortion.

"I knew from the beginning I was going to be walking on dangerous ground making a film like City of Life and I had to appeal to the National Media Council constantly for about six months before I started making it," he said. The film was due to premiere at the DIFF last year when it was banned, said Mostafa. It took a phone call from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pledging his "full support" before the screenings went ahead.

"It was a lot of work but at least we know we have made it easier for the next guy," Mostafa said. Al Khaja said the future of the industry would be down to federal policy. "More important than any awards are film funds and grants for local filmmakers, not just Emiratis but anyone who lives here," she said. "We need good quality productions that will put our films on an international stage and we need to be turning them out regularly. I think if we have one or two box office hits a year then we will be making huge progress."

City of Life will be screened for one more week in cinemas nationwide. aseaman@thenational.ae