In the broad landscape of international film festivals in the region, Sharjah's remains exceptional, particularly for its unwavering dedication to children and youth.
Now gearing up for its tenth year, the Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth (Siff) will be running at City Centre Al Zahia between October 22 and 28. Details of the upcoming event were revealed on Wednesday during a press conference held at the Beeah Group Headquarters in Sharjah.
An initiative of Fann, the festival will present 81 films from 37 countries this year. These include unprecedented representation from Bhutan and the republics of Montenegro, Malta, Togo and Vietnam. The festival will be marking three world premieres as well as the regional premiere of 43 films.
Headlining films will screen at the festival’s green carpet between October 23 and 26. The segment will highlight a different film each night and offer discussions with the creatives about the works.
Nezouh by Soudade Kaadan will be the first film in the series, followed by Little Nicholas by co-directors Amandine Fredon and Benjamin Massoubre; She’s From Another Planet by Baek Seo-Bin; and finally, Valley Road by Khalid Fahad.
Films competing in seven categories
For films screening in competition, a panel of 15 filmmakers and experts, including Mohamed Haji, Ahmed Shawqi, Cho Sung-koo, and Ghadeer Al-Sabti, will evaluate the works across seven categories. These include student films, GCC short films, international short films, animation films, animated feature films and feature films.
“The jury will look at a film’s script, direction and acting,” Haji says. “For the script, we look at what the film is trying to say, what its message is. In the directing aspect, we look at how well a filmmaker translated the script to screen. For the actors, we look at how effective the cast was at depicting their characters. And then we look at our own enjoyment of the film, whether it moved us, entertained or touched us in some way.”
Moreover, a panel of 20 junior jurors will review the works submitted for the films made by children and youth category. Organisers also appointed 17 festival ambassadors – youth who will be emphasising the power of cinema to children.
The growth and development of Siff
The festival has grown considerably since it was established in 2013. In its inaugural year, the event was solely centred around screening films, the festival’s director Sheikha Jawaher Abdullah Al Qasimi says it has since grown to feature panel discussions and workshops.
“As a film festival, we showcase but we’re also here to teach,” she says. “If a teenager walks in and says ‘I want to make a film one day’ then we have to make sure we’re there to teach them these skills. We work with people from Disney who have animated, big names who have worked on [projects such as] Game of Thrones. [The youth] learn about the whole process.”
The festival also has a robust outreach programme that caters to children in other areas in the UAE, from Al Dhaid and Khor Fakkan to Dubai and Ajman.
The programme, Sheikha Jawaher says, was developed in response to the interest expressed by schools and families from across the country. This year, the festival also received contact from Dalma Island, located 42km off the coast of Abu Dhabi.
“They’d call every single day asking if they could come,” she says. To attend the festival, the children would have to “go on a ferry and then drive six hours.
“I panicked as a mother, not even as a festival director. We told them: 'We will come to you. We will showcase some films,” Sheikha Jawaher says, adding that the festival is aiming to expand its outreach with every iteration. “We promise eventually we will open up in Abu Dhabi and other emirates.”
For this year’s run, organisers selected the participating films from a pool of more than 1,710 submissions. The selection process, the festival’s director Sheikha Jawaher says, was stringent but constructive, particularly where films made by children and youth in the UAE were involved.
“Because we're more about inspiring and learning and teaching, when we refuse any of the films made by children and youth, we then have a one-on-one meeting with them to explain to them why their films were refused, what they can do better and how they can resubmit.”
Sharjah Cinema Days
Sheikha Jawaher also revealed another upcoming film initiative from Fann: Sharjah Cinema Days.
While Siff focuses on offerings for children and youth, Sharjah Cinema Days – which is set to run next year – will aim to cater to a wider audience.
“People who love anime, people who love science-fiction, people who love classic films say, 'Why don’t you have a day for that?',” Sheikha Jawaher says, adding that the initiative was developed to appeal to these varied interests. “We can have a day for sci-fi fans, for classic films, for anime. We’re ticking the boxes.”
“We [also] want to include an artistic installation feature,” she says. “We want to collaborate with artists in the UAE to add installations about film and media [as part of Sharjah Cinema Days].”
More information is available at siff.ae