Q&A: AbdulHamid Juma


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AbdulHamid Juma was appointed the Chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival in 2006. In 2004, He was part of the initial team that established the festival, turning it into the world-class event it is today. Guided by a belief that the gaps between cultures could be narrowed through film and art, he developed an eclectic taste for varying genres of filmmaking and thrived on educating himself on the new trends in cinema on an international level. His passion then focused on the history of Arab cinema, specifically within in the UAE. He became active in supporting independent cinema, especially from the GCC region, and has a keen interest in nurturing thriving local talent. With his foresight and vision, he was the driving force behind the Gulf Film Festival, an annual event that showcases the best in regional cinema to a local and international audience. Being named the third most influential figure in Arab Cinema proved a defining moment in his life. AbdulHamid also holds the position of Deputy Director General of Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority. Here he tells the Gulf News' Kellie Whitehead of his vision and plans for the festival.

Q: How does it feel to be recognized so highly within the industry?

A: Abdulhamid Juma: It is less recognition for me and more a recognition of the festival itself. There can be no doubts now over the stature and size of this event. We are more than achieving our aim of helping filmmakers reach their aspirations and find an audience and distribution for their work. We give them a platform. With over 200 different nationalities in Dubai, we provide an Arab flavor to an international festival, with other festival directors from across the globe coming here to take away Arab films to showcase at their own events.

Q: As the "third most influential figure in Arab cinema" -- who are your own personal influences?

A: Kim Dong ho of the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea has been influencing me personally since he became director there 13 years ago. He has transformed the festival from a modest local event to one of true international standing. Over the years, we have become friends, I visit Korea and Mr. Kim will visit DIFF, he has helped me within this role and I would like to follow in his footsteps.

Q: What are the challenges faced by filmmakers in the UAE?

A: Within this industry there are industrial pillars that need to be in place. The Gulf, therefore, does not technically have an industry as it does not have the support of these pillars. The good news is that Dubai is building towards these, and we are getting there. The first challenge is the infrastructure required for shooting. We have many beautiful outdoor locations in the area, but necessarily the facilities for indoor shoots are needed. Secondly is funding. In many places there are agencies, or other organizations to go to in order to achieve this -- we hope to make this happen. Thirdly comes the "talent," actors, cameramen etc, the practical human resources necessary for production. Most do not have a permanent base in Dubai, therefore skills from outside are usually brought in.

With the development of Studio City, there will become a more stable 'base' for Gulf filmmaking, and we feel sure that we can broaden our range of home grown talent. Fourth is education. Again, Studio City will build a link to other educational establishments and the tools of filmmaking can be taught effectively and locally. Last but not least is distribution. We hope that the DIFF Film market will go toward solving this issue. There are 181 films this year and we are inviting 50 buyers. Within the region, all of these pillars are either in place, under construction or missing, we are learning as we go and changing the goalposts to fit. When we have it all, only then can we call it an industry.

Q: How do you see the future for filmmaking in the Gulf?

A: Arab filmmaking is the last frontier. Every other country or culture has experience in this field and a history that is evolving. This region has the education and the talent, but lacks funding. We see many short films but no features as yet. With funding, these will come and we will see our own film legacy and history on a global platform. For this, I am looking forward immensely.

Q: Can you give any advice to young filmmakers?

A: Filmmaking is not easy. It is always a struggle to be an achiever in a field that is both a business and a form of entertainment. You will have to appeal to many people with your work and you need to keep it simple in order not to confuse your audience. Stick with only one or two messages running through your piece. You must be true to your story. On this platform, local means global reach, tell the story of what you know and what you are passionate about. You must also know the value chain. Package your script in the appropriate way to achieve funding, and deliver the goods by using the best equipment and resources you can find. Come to DIFF and meet others who have struggled and made it, and hear their stories. Most important, have a passion, and make it happen.