x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Young filmmakers' chance to see Avatar director Cameron

Fledgling talents have unique opportunity to meet giants of movies

ABU DHABI // Only one week ago, Salwa al Hashemi, a recent graduate from Zayed University, was not sure whether a career in filmmaking was right for her.

The 24-year-old Emirati was interested enough in film and broadcast to major in the subject for her undergraduate degree. But she was not certain whether it would make for a lifelong profession.

Such doubts were allayed, however, when Ms al Hashemi sat down for lunch, where she shared a table with two of the world's most famous names in the film industry.

Ms al Hashemi was one of about 20 students and young filmmakers who got the chance to meet James Cameron, who directed the 3D blockbuster Avatar, and the Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha, who is behind the Ice Age series of films.

The two men, whose movies have attracted combined box office takings of more than US$8 billion (Dh29.3bn), were in the capital for the recent Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

They gave the group advice about how to make it in the business - but were also taught a thing or two about Emirati culture. "Before I met them, I was not sure if being a professional filmmaker was a career for life," Ms al Hashemi said. "After … I was really inspired, and I felt like I wanted to be like them."

Ms al Hashemi made a documentary about students with special needs while studying at Zayed University. She said she was waiting for her chance to pursue a career in the UAE's fledgling movie industry. "Filmmaking in the UAE is not that popular or famous, but it is growing."

Maitha al Mehairbi, a 22-year-old Emirati graduate from Zayed University, is employed by Abu Dhabi's media zone twofour54, and is working on a web-based film series called Jirfah, which is about the lives of Emiratis living in Abu Dhabi.

Top of the agenda in her discussion with Saldanha was how to make films that reflect UAE life, but which also have a broad international appeal.

"One of the problems I struggle with is creating something with accuracy to our culture, [and also] appealing to an international audience," said Ms al Mehairbi. "We'd like to not just cater to this demographic, but to appear to a broader international audience."

"[Saldanha] said 'avoid sugar-coating your story', which I think is very important."

She said the conversation with the two directors was "a two-way discussion … They were very interested to know about this region as well".

The high-rise development of UAE cities came as a surprise to the two directors, Ms al Hashemi said. "The image [they had] was of desert, and camels."

The lunch was a collaboration between Abu Dhabi Media, which owns and publishes The National, its subsidiary Imagenation, the twofour54 media zone and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission.

It was the first "Young Media Leaders" event in what will be a series of meetings organised by Abu Dhabi Media that are geared towards growing the skills base in the local media industry.

"Gatherings of this kind provide our young local talent with access to some of the brightest minds in the industry, which is invaluable to their development," said Mohammed al Mubarak, the chairman of Imagenation Abu Dhabi.

Mr al Mubarak said the first event was "a true cross-cultural and cross-generational conversation".

"The students and young filmmakers were excited to speak to James Cameron, Carlos Saldanha and Jim Gianopulos [the co-chairman and chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment], but our guests were equally excited to speak to the young attendees and learn more about their local experiences," he said.