UAE: The future of Arab cinema
The rise of female filmmakers in the region, the focus on the importance of storytelling, and the potential to establish on international grounds are just a few of the many elements to look out for
A couple of weeks ago, Cinema Akil, the only independent cinema in the UAE, hosted the
the first-ever edition of Arab Cinema Week. The ten-day event served as a representation of stories and talent from the region. It was curated by Rabih El-Khoury, and the event served as a perfect opportunity for cinema lovers to explore a range of themes. Most of the films, which were part of the event, were screened in the UAE for the very first time and in the presence of their directors, giving the audience an opportunity to also meet with the creators to engage in insightful interactions. We spoke to a few creators to understand what lies ahead when it comes to Arab cinema. Curator Rabih also placed an Algerian focus on the event to reflect on the country’s 60 years of independence with the screening of Karim Aïnouz’s documentary Mariner of Mountains, Djaffar Gacem’s historic drama Héliopolis, and Salah Issaad’s contemporary Soula. Cinema Akil’s founder Butheina Kazim said, “I am proud to dedicate our platform to annually present a program that celebrates the growing film industries in our region; giving them the attention they very much deserve.” The Week’s short film program addressed human bonds to bring together stories from UAE, Qatar, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia including Emirati female director, Sarah AlHashimi’s Why Is My Grandfather's Bed In Our Living Room?
There has been a sea of changes in the Arab film industry over the past decade, which will only be enhanced in the future with more Arab women working in the industry.
Suzannah Mirghani, writer, researcher, and independent filmmaker
“Since I started making short films ten years ago, I have had the pleasure of seeing the rise
of women filmmakers in the region. When I started out, the majority of production crews were predictably male-dominated. However, it satisfies me to know that it is now possible to make a film with an entirely female crew, both on the technical and creative sides,” said Suzannah Mirghani, writer, researcher, and independent filmmaker. Suzannah is the writer, director, and producer of Al-Sit, a film that is set in a cotton-farming village in Sudan, where 15-year-old Nafisa has a crush on Babiker, but her parents have arranged her marriage to Nadir, a young Sudanese businessman living abroad. Nafisa’s grandmother Al-Sit, the powerful village matriarch, has her own plans for Nafisa’s future. But can Nafisa choose for herself?
Shaima Al Tamimi, a Yemeni-East African visual storyteller based in the GCC, whose work explores themes such as migration, healing through introspection and a deeply-rooted documentary approach, said, “From where I stand, the future of Arab cinema looks very promising with more individuals understanding the importance of telling stories. It has taken a long time for the region to be able to get to this point.” Shaima, who is the director of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, a film that is a heartfelt introspective letter to the director’s deceased grandfather, it (letter) questions the continuous pattern of movement amongst Yemenis in the diaspora, shared her optimism for the future, “Filmmaking from the Arab world has not only been growing but has also been making its way to international film festivals and global platforms. Of course, the status of the industry differs from one Arab country to the other. However, collectively, we are seeing spurts of growth that started from an independent level and grew to major organisations investing in film education and production like in Qatar and Saudi Arabia for example.” The film further fuses archival photographs, sourced footage, parallax animation, and abstract videos to create an audio-visual body of work that calls attention to the collective feeling of statelessness and sense of being felt by migrants.
From the number of Arab film festivals opening up around the world, and their integration into curated events and festivals, there is definitely a demand for the consumption of Arab stories. I am very hopeful for the future of Arab cinema, but also know that we still have a long way to go.
Shaima Al Tamimi, a Yemeni-East African visual storyteller based in the GCC
UAE-based Sarah’s vision is to continue to make films from the region that reach
international audiences, “And help open up more conversations about challenges faced within the community that I live in through the cinematic lens of the creative community-based in the country.” Her directorial film Why Is My Grandfather's Bed In Our Living Room? tells the story of an Emirati family that lost their ancestral house to community development plans aimed at modernising the city. As they recall the sudden loss of the family house, it is apparent that a century-old wooden bed, which is the only tangible memory that remains, is a poignant feature of their story. The attachment of both the house and the bed are intertwined together in the bittersweet memories of the family members.
I think our stories and narratives are relatable to so many different people, which makes me believe that Arab cinema has the potential to expand on an international level.
Sarah Alhashimi, a filmmaker in the UAE
This piece was first published in Khaleej Times.