GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Creating a Film Culture and Identity: UAE Case Study
Paper Proposal Text :
In the mid-1990s, there was no movie-going culture in the UAE, particularly amongst the Emiratis. Today, the UAE has the largest box office in the Middle East. Most of the films playing at its ever-expanding multiplexes are Hollywood fare. However, since 2008 the UAE is pioneering at a national and governmental level the production of local films for the UAE multiplexes and beyond. In a society in which visual media production began in television rather than film, the UAE presents a unique approach in the building of a film industry.

What are the visual codes that are widely accepted among today’s Emirati filmmakers and their audiences? Is there a unique visual style emerging? How do young Emirati filmmakers feel about what they are expressing on the big screen or more commonly in film festivals like the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the Dubai International Film Festival and the Gulf Film Festival? Are these an accurate depiction of themselves, or as one young filmmaker suggested “a safe depiction of ourselves?” What visual stories are coming from this nationwide effort, which includes numerous financial and training initiatives? What stories still remain untold? In addition to cultural issue, what other infrastructure issues are these young filmmakers facing? How does the industry in the region and in the UAE in specific view the results of all the initiative programmes?

The UAE is a very young country that is eager to develop a solid scene for any form of arts, particularly for film, and there is so much room for growth. On the other hand, the novelty of the film scene means there is an absence of infrastructure and expertise essential for building an industry and necessary film criticism. One challenge is to build an audience with a certain taste, awareness and sensitivity. Another challenge for the film industry is to maintain a balance between creating common ground and a shared cultural experience for the local community and appealing to regional and international audiences to secure a well-respected place for the UAE on the global cultural map. In this context, one criticism is that the recent institutional efforts are aimed at creating volume rather than quality. How do the key players of UAE’s flourishing film industry approach this issue? How do they evaluate the way visual culture has grown in the past few decades? What are the possible alternatives they offer in order to encourage creativity, quality and a healthy platform for film criticism?

In this paper, we explore the ways in which this developing film culture is reproduced and consumed through interviews with UAE filmmakers and presidents and CEOs of local and regional media institutions.

Much of these interviews have been done recently, while others are ongoing. Both writers/researchers of this paper work regularly with filmmakers and media institutions in the region, as well as being involved in the training of young filmmakers. Each has published and presented both academic and mainstream articles on film and the film industry in the Middle East, including at conferences in the US, Japan, Turkey, Egypt.

Alia Yunis, assistant professor, Zayed University Abu Dhabi, teaches film and video production and film history and criticism. She has published frequently on Arab cinema and the film industry, most recently “Tramps vs. Sweethearts: Changing Images of Arab and American Women in Hollywood Films,” (Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Volume 4, Number 2, 2011 , pp. 225-243(19). Brill Publishing, UK. Prior to moving to Abu Dhabi, she served as a script analyst for Warner Brothers, Miramax, and several other production companies. Also in Los Angeles, she was a marketing and public relations director for Dennis Davidson and Associates, an international film marketing company. She is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel “The Night Counter” (Random House, 2010) and writes on Middle East culture for several consumer publications.
Özge Calafato is the programming manager of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, also working with SANAD, ADFF's Development and Post-Production Fund, and teaches cinema at the New York Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi. She studied Political Science at Bogazici University, Istanbul, and Journalism at the University of Westminster, London. Since 1999 she has worked a journalist, editor and translator for several magazines focusing mainly on photography, literature, film, jazz and travel. She has also worked as an interpreter and reporter for several international media establishments including the Wall Street Journal and the BBC World Service.
Her novella The Silent Man was published by Notos Kitap in 2007. In 2011 she published Women of Jazz, a compilation of articles on vocal jazz. She also contributed essays and short stories to several books and literary magazines. She has translated numerous books from English to Turkish, including Sons ofthe Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World by Hugh Pope, The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt and Seize The Day by Saul Bellow. 

Özge Calafato has also worked for several cultural events including the Istanbul Biennial of Photography.