Catching up with Muhr Emirati winner Aisha Al Zaabi

Al Zaabi talks about her first feature The Other Dimension, for which she won the Muhr Emirati prize for Best film at Diff.
DIFF Muhr Award winner Ayesha Al Zaabi, who won the best short film category for her narrative The Other Dimension. Silvia Razgova / The National
DIFF Muhr Award winner Ayesha Al Zaabi, who won the best short film category for her narrative The Other Dimension. Silvia Razgova / The National

In December, Aisha Al Zaabi, a 21-year-old Emirati studying video production and filmmaking at Abu Dhabi Women’s College, scooped the Muhr Emirati prize for Best Film at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Her movie, The Other Dimension, is a thriller that tells the story of a 20-year-old troublemaker stuck between reality and imagination who, after causing an accident, finds himself in another dimension where he is forced to confront his past mistakes.

Al Zaabi was understandably delighted to win the award with her first film.

“Winning Best Short Film at a high-calibre event such as Diff is, without a doubt, the highlight of my career to date,” she says. “Other Dimension was the first movie I directed and receiving such an accolade at a young age has given me a great boost of confidence and sense of pride.”

Three months on, I wonder what, beyond the obvious personal pride, the award has meant for Al Zaabi professionally?

She is certain it has helped her burgeoning career as a filmmaker. “I have now left my footprint in the film industry,” she says. ”Local filmmakers recognise me at events and are aware of my capabilities as a rising film ­producer.”

The next step, says Al Zaabi, is to get the film seen by more people.

“I am working hard on promoting my film to organisations that can help raise awareness about it through their platforms,” she says. “My plan for Other Dimension is to secure more screenings at other film festivals, with the hope of crossing the borders of the Gulf and Mena region some day.”

While Diff was the first local organisation to recognise Al Zaabi’s talents with an award, she says that she has other local agencies to thank for her success so far, not least twofour54.

“I kicked off my filmmaking career by taking part in workshops and projects with twofour54 to learn more about the profession and the industry as a whole,” she says.

“Twofour54 places great emphasis on providing its creative community members with exposure to production projects, which is essential to exploring different techniques and perspectives. I am a strong believer in continuous learning and the filmmaking industry is an industry of constant change.

“To be successful, you need to keep your skills up-to-date, and being a member of twofour54’s creative community has helped me do that.

“For example, I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes on a variety of production projects produced by twofour54, including the series Dangaw.”

After gaining a grounding in the industry at twofour54, Al Zaabi’s first professional role came courtesy of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

“The next step in my career was when I assumed the role of director for three promotional adverts produced for the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and this inspired me to direct my own film,” she says.

“I am still a member of twofour54’s creative community, which has provided me with endless support and motivation to complete my project, starting with script writing, through to taking my film to major film ­festivals.

“They supported my project financially and gave me access to professional crew, writers and directors who gave me valuable feedback to make the film the best it could be.”

Twofour54 was a key supporter, but how well does she think other local events and organisations support local ­filmmakers?

“Festivals such as the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and Diff provide exceptional support to local filmmakers and young aspiring talents who are passionate about the industry,” she says. “The festivals are well established and have helped present young talents to a broad audience.”

There is, however, always room for improvement and Al Zaabi has a couple of suggestions that she thinks could help aspiring film makers.

“Workshops [at the festivals] led by experienced directors and professionals, targeting industry beginners, would help improve skills and knowledge,” she says. “Also, the industry needs more organisations to support its growth through investment, development of infrastructure and talent training.”

With the award glory behind her, for now, it’s back to school for Al Zaabi – but she still has one eye on the future.

“I am busy working on a short film for a college project,” she says. “My future plans include directing a full-length feature film and to screen more of my films at prominent platforms.”

Published: March 7, 2015 04:00 AM


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