'Red, Blue, Yellow': Cairo Review

Red Blue Yellow Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Dubai Media and Entertainment Organization

Red Blue Yellow Still - H 2014

This highly personal doc provides a vivid portrait of its fascinating subject

Nujoom Al Ghanem's documentary chronicles the life and career of her aunt, Emirati artist Najat Makki

Emirati poet and filmmaker Nujoom Al Ghanem (Amal) pays loving tribute to her aunt, artist Najat Makki, in her documentary celebrating the accomplishments of that country's most prominent female artist. Chronicling Makki's long and successful career while delivering an uncommonly personal portrait, Red, Blue, Yellow will prove eye-opening to those whose knowledge of the United Arab Emirates is limited to its Sharia law and massive oil reserves. The film was recently showcased at the Cairo International Film Festival, where it received a warm reception.

Although not widely known in the United States, Makki's work is celebrated in such Western countries as France, where she has spent much time. Her venerable career dates back to 1967, when she received her first art exhibition. She was the first person, male or female, to obtain a PhD in art in her native country, and she founded its first national association for fine artists in 1980. A sculptor as well as a painter, her artworks are notable for their vibrant colors which reflect her affinity for nature.

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She's defied long odds along the way, from her mother's disapproval of her artistic pursuits—she dismissed her work as mere "drawings"—to her country's societal pressures which include disapproval of her single status. One local art critic says that she has no business being a sculptor, as "a sculptor's build should be masculine."

The filmmaker spends much time trailing her subject, including her frequent unsuccessful attempts at finding a parking spot near her home. After years of racking up tickets for the offense of parking in front of her own doorway, Makki considers it a personal triumph when she finally receives a special parking permit.

Although clearly indomitable in terms of achieving her goals, Makki is also seen as a highly emotional figure, unleashing a temper tantrum when faced with an unskilled worker moving her large pieces into an exhibition.

"He doesn't know how to carry a painting," she loudly complains. Later, when a water leak in her home results in irreversible damage to many of her paintings, she's too upset to face the camera.

"I don't want to be filmed today," she says tearfully.

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The film also depicts a notable triumph when her work is exhibited in her country's Sharjah Art Museum, the first time that a female artist has been so represented.

Although Red, Blue, Yellow proves slightly disappointing in its cursory examination of Makki's art—only fleeting glimpses are provided—it redeems itself with its rich portrayal of a brave woman surmounting formidable odds while pursuing her life's work.

Production: Dubai Media and Entertainment Organization
Director/screenwriter/producer: Nujoom Al Ghanem
Director of photography: Nick Davidson
Editor: Anne De Morant
Composer: Mohammed Haddad

No rating, 92 min.