Most agree—the Emirates’ film and arts scene remains in its infancy and its creative industries lag behind the artistic traditions of Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon. Mediterranean Arabs enjoy a rich tradition of film and art production, and the region’s cities have long been vibrant cultural centres.
Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are looking to take big steps toward developing their own creative culture. Many hope that the Emirates’ film industry will make significant strides as the first class of aspiring film professionals emerge from the 24hrs Film Workshop – a collaboration between The Scene Club, an educational initiative of the Dubai International Film Festival, and D-Seven Motion Pictures.
“This eight-day programme allowed students to enroll for three-hour daily workshops, where they could sign up for classes on production, acting and all aspects of filmmaking,” Nayla Al Khaja, founder of D-Seven, told Emirates Business.
The graduates will release their first short film after Ramadan, the first of many intended to develop the United Arab Emirates’ film industry into one rivalling its Arab neighbours’.
“We can buy buildings, but we can't buy culture,” Al Khaja told Emirates Business. “It has to be given room to thrive and through this initiative we have hopes to develop local talent, which can be utilized by foreign film producers, who are gradually making their way here.”
With the success of its first 24hrs Film Workshop, the Scene Club recently received backing from the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority. The financial support will develop and expand workshop schedules, provide industry internships and establish a permanent base to grow the organisation.
The Scene Club is the brainchild of Al Khaja, founder and CEO of D-Seven Motion Pictures and an established U.A.E. filmmaker. Al Khaja is known for her first documentary, “Unveiling Dubai,” which premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2004. Her more recent short film, Arbana, carefully examines child abuse.
Khaja’s D-Seven Motion Pictures produces commercial material, independent documentaries and films.
In June 2007, D-Seven Motion Pictures signed an agreement with Italy's Istar Productions to jointly develop and produce three films for global commercial distribution. The deal was the countries’ first such arrangement and is expected to boost the Emirates’ young film industry and develop local technical and artistic talent.
"We are working together to raise finance for our first film, “Rumi,” which is about the life of a Sufi saint. This will be an $18 million [USD] film that will be shot on 35 mm and have an international cast and crew,” Al Khaj told Arabian Business last year. “We have got three-time Academy Award winner and cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro on board and Muzaffar Ali will direct the film. We intend to complete this project in a couple of years.
”Al Khaja, who was awarded the Middle East Business Woman and Leaders Achievement award in 2007, hopes that D-Seven Productions can continue to play a role in the emergence of the Emirates’ film industry.
The U.A.E. national believes that the agreement D-Seven implemented with Italy’s Istar Productions can be the basis of a more comprehensive, Emirates-wide development model.
“The main problem is that this industry is very new here, which means you need a lot of time to get access to the right people and the right equipment,” Al Khaja told Arabian Business. “In the meantime, you need to give people incentives to come and operate out of here. That's something the U.A.E. government needs to look into. For instance, we need to sign some sort of a co-production treaty between European countries and Dubai.”