Seen and heard

Emirati Voices showcases daring, UAE-based filmmakers

EXPANDING HORIZONS: Dubai fest builds UAE into major film player
MAN ON A MISSION: DIFF's Masoud Amralla Al Ali
DIALOGUE: DIFF managing director Shivani Pandy
LOCAL HEROES: Muhr Awards spotlight Arab cinema
SEEN AND HEARD: UAE filmmakers shine in Emirati Voices

Reflecting the belief of festival organizers that a budding film industry is coming into its own, a key element of DIFF has been renamed. "Emerging Emiratis," which was conceived to showcase the best and brightest contributions by UAE national filmmakers, has been renamed "Emirati Voices" for the 2007 edition of the fest.

"We changed the title," says DIFF artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali, "because the films we received were not films from 'emerging' talents, but rather fully developed voices that were pushing to be heard. They are sophisticated in storytelling and cinematography and offer a fascinating view into Emirati life."

The tense psychological thriller "100 Miles" is one of a handful of provocative films generating buzz as part of Emirati Voices. Mustafa Abbas's film is the violent story of a schizophrenic who finds himself holding captive an old rival accused of rape. "100 Miles" is the seventh film from Abbas, whose work was recognized earlier this year at the 2007 Emirates Film Competition, held in Abu Dhabi in March. Like many filmmakers in the region, Abbas studied his craft abroad, earning a diploma from the Hollywood Film Institute before returning home to make films.

A daring documentary in the section serves up a very different perspective on UAE life. "I'm a Man" takes a humorous look at the notion of Emirati manhood. Written, produced and directed by UAE filmmakers Shamma Abu Nawas and Sahar Al Khatib, the film received a special certificate of appreciation from this year's Emirates Film Competition.

As Al Ali points out, the history of Emirati filmmaking is barely out of its teens. "We have no cinematic history or pictorial history," he declares. "We are exploring the past and present issues through short film."

The film movement is helping to break deeply embedded notions of Emirati life held by the expatriate community and also by Emiratis themselves, Al Ali adds. "People know about the oil and the wealth, but now I feel they are finding their own voice, because the environment has changed so quickly."

Other short films of note include Rehab Omar Ateeq's documentary about class consciousness, "Between Two Suns" (the film won a prize for best student documentary at the Emirates Film Competition this year); Talal Mahmood and Saeed Salmeen Al-Murry's "Al Ghobna," which examines how hope is found among pain and despair; and the semisilent "The Birthday Gift," which looks at the effects a father's travels have on his young son.