Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced its first film programme, which will bring the museum's global scope to the silver screen.
Dubai-based artist and film enthusiast Hind Mezaina has curated Cinem'Art, a programme that ranges from silent film and cinematic experiments to short films made by young directors in the UAE. The selection provides a chance to see work that, as Mezaina says, "wouldn't normally get a theatrical release here. They're films that I think are important and interesting to see in the context of the museum." The aim, she says, "was to show films inspired by art pieces in the museum and to create a dialogue between cinema and art in the museum".
Inspiration in the museum
Inspired by the museum's collection of ornate Mughal paintings, Mezaina chose Shiraz: A Romance of India, one of only about 25 films that survive from the Indian silent-film era. Shot on location in Agra in 1928, the epic film brings to life the story behind the Taj Mahal – the devastation of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan over the death of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal, who in this telling was sold into slavery as a baby and was the childhood sweetheart of the man who later became the building's designer, Shiraz.
An 18th-century French painting of daily scenes in China is echoed in Cinem'Art's documentary Around China With a Movie Camera, which is made up of rare footage showing life in China from 1900 to 1948. Mezaina, who was raised in Dubai, remains alert to who is looking at who: the painting's scenes, two centuries later, are likewise captured by French and British filmmakers.
Other films are experimental. "* by Johann Lurf is a particular highlight," Mezaina says. "It's a 99-minute film that's a compilation of shots of the night sky from 550 films. The
film will keep growing in length – it will remain 'forever unfinished' as more clips will get added to it.
"It will be like a stargazing exercise inside the auditorium," she says, noting that the film should be written with the star symbol rather than the word "star". The film's selection was inspired by an astrolabe by 18th-century Moroccan explorer Muhammed ibn Ahmad Al-Batttuti, though, as the audience files out of the auditorium, Jean Nouvel's starry dome might put a strong case for new credit.
This is Mezaina's second film curation within as many months – in late May, she contributed an evening of films to NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery's show Permanent Temporariness. That programme included the fantastic video Introduction to the End of an Argument, by Jayce Salloum and Elia Suleiman, which collaged together representations of Arabs from early Hollywood films onwards, showing the level of Orientalism and even sheer racism in the way Arabs have been portrayed.
'Focusing on cinema as an art form'
Mezaina, a photographer and blogger, has the kind of multi-hyphenated existence that is more common in countries that have softer regulations for freelancers – something that Abu Dhabi has recently announced it is moving towards. Her love for the cinema surfaces in almost all her activities.
On Twitter and her blog The Culturist, which was one of the first to collate together and publicise the disparate cultural activities in the UAE, she regularly calls UAE cinemas to task for infractions large and small: from ignoring independent films at the expense of blockbusters to the audience’s tendency to offer comments rather than questions in Q&As (which is a true annoyance).
"Film is part of my daily life – I spend a lot of time watching films, on the big screen or at home," she says. "But I always prefer watching on the big screen in cinemas. The moving image, whether in mainstream cinema or experimental, is an art form that I am very drawn to, and film curation lately feels like a natural extension to what I do as an artist."
Cinem’Art is at once a screening and a bid for cinema to be taken seriously as an art form here: an argument that the museum already espouses, with its presentation of early films – such as Georges Melies’s extraordinary fantasies – in its 20th-century section, but which has not been codified yet into a set film-programming strand.
“I hope the museum plays a role in focusing on cinema as an art form, too, regardless of genre,” she says.
For this programme, she says, “we’re inviting people to come with a curious and open mind. It’s an opportunity to see a film they never heard of or wouldn’t have known about, or films not watched on the big screen. The aim is to engage intellectually and emotionally with an audience. As a cinephile, that’s how I want to feel when watching a film and after it.”
Cinem'Art runs from June 23 to July 28, every Saturday at 5pm. All screenings are free. The full timetable of films is available at www.louvreabudhabi.ae