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Gulf Film Festival | Emirati director | Documentary

Provocative stories from the Gulf Film Festival

Mai El Shoush, The National
April 13, 2013

With the average budget for short films estimated at between US$20,000 and $30,000 (Dh73,500  and Dh110,000), the quality of filmmaking has improved “dramatically.” In terms of the subjects tackled by Emirati filmmakers specifically, the most noticeable trend in this year’s selection of local films are “provocative stories touching the redline”, according to Samr Husain Al Marzooqi, the manager of Dubai Film Market.

Documentary shorts such as Souvenirs from Candy Land, by Amani Alowais, explore substance abuse, its trends and possible solutions, while Drop Outs (Silent Weapon) by Suqrat bin Bisher, deals with male “dropouts” through interviews with both professors and students. The documentaryEnough Is Enough by Aisha Al Hammadi, follows the story of five Emiratis who fight to defend the rights of their foreign mothers. A similar subject is highlighted in the short Half Emirati by Amal Al-Agroobi, which looks at a handful of Emiratis as they try to meet society’s expectations and whether or not they are truly accepted.

“In recent years, such projects have been really taking off. Especially documentaries of the vox pop style. They all touch on sensitive subjects,” says Al Marzooqi. “Socially, it is more open,” he says, adding that “advancements in social media, family support [are] a few of the reasons why today it is more liberal to talk about these types of subjects without apprehension”.

The Dubai Film Market, a division of the Dubai International Film Festival, offers various initiatives to support Arab filmmakers, including financial aid. During the GFF, they also offer seven consultants who can be approached at any time by budding filmmakers looking for industry insights, in addition to the international speakers taking part in panel discussions.

“The film festivals are cultural events that nurture the industry. The number one inquiry we receive is about financial aid,” says Al Marzooqi. “When it comes to subjects they wish to tackle, they have the freedom – so it is now between the filmmaker and his audience.”

Other Emirati filmmakers taking risks include Fatima Al Baloushi, whose project In Case You Forgot looks at how some young girls are killed by their male siblings after being accused of allegedly mingling with the opposite sex.

“It’s sad that some girls lose their life. It also gives the wrong impression of what Islam teaches us,” says Al Baloushi.

In the documentary Living in Limbo by Fatima Abdulrahim and Haneen Alhammadi, which is part of the Official Gulf Student’s Shorts Competition, the two girls explore how former prisoners face challenges when they try to re-enter society.

“We want to change society perceptions because we all make mistakes,” says Alhammadi.

Despite the level of freedom, Al Marzooqi says what is lacking are affordable university degrees in filmmaking. He also points to low numbers of animated films as well as projects dealing with current city life “like you see in similar big cities.”