New Sheikh Zayed documentary at Cairo Book Fair is an affectionate ode to UAE founder

Film features plenty of archival footage and interviews with Al Ain residents

History Project 2010, "The First Day". Image from Al Itihad Union day collection . Abu Dhabi UAE. November 28 1971. 9.45am-1.30pm "Accession Day" Day 1. Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan and dignitaries watch a parade from a 'celebration platform on Corniche Street near the ministry of education building' (Source Accession Celebration programme)
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A new documentary about the life of the UAEFounding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, has had its premiere in Cairo.

Running as part of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre’s programme at the Cairo International Book Fair, The Millstone: Al Ain 'The Eye' is the first to see dreams was screened at a red carpet event on Tuesday at Cinema El Hanager in the Zamalek district.

The feature-length documentary provides an expansive look at the life of Sheikh Zayed.

It describes some of the turbulent political context which marked the beginning of his leadership, and the pioneering achievements that transformed the UAE into the economic powerhouse it is today.

Making use of historic footage from the National Archives and interviews with former royal courtiers, political advisers and Al Ain residents, the work attempts to showcase different aspects of Sheikh Zayed’s personality, from his enduring optimism to being a staunch environmentalist.

A message for the world

Emirati director Nasser Al Dhaheri says his new documentary is an affectionate look at the life of Sheikh Zayed. Photo: Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre

With the UAE regularly marking and celebrating his legacy, Emirati director Nasser Al Dhaheri says there are those outside of the region unaware of Sheikh Zayed’s story.

“These are the people that I am trying to reach with this film,” he tells The National in Cairo. “I created the film with that in mind, as well as the new generation within the UAE, because I do feel the lessons that we can learn are timeless.”

To spread that message far and wide, Al Dhaheri says the film will be screened in 20 international cities throughout the year, including film festivals in London and New York.

He confirms the documentary will also screen in Al Ain Film Festival, running from February 6 to 11, as well as at an event in Dubai in March.

The Millstone is also a follow-up to his 2015 epic documentary A Tale of Water, Palm Trees and Family, which, at over two and a half hours long, is a soulful meditation of UAE history and how the country's character is shaped by landscape and people.

The film was officially selected to screen in both the London and Auckland film festivals.

The Millstone was screened at Cinema El Hanager in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo: Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre

When it comes to The Millstone, Al Dhaheri says the production took two years to finish.

A lot of that period was spent in the National Archives trawling through hundreds of hours of historical footage of the UAE.

These include Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Hosn and a British military base in Sharjah in the 1950s, and one of the first public schools to open in Al Ain in 1959.

While the film loosely follows the UAE’s development chronologically, it features plenty of first-hand anecdotes about Sheikh Zayed's dynamic personality.

“It is these stories that are really at the heart of the film,” Al Dhaheri says.

“If there is one major theme, it is one of his love and kindness for his fellow man and nature that courses throughout the film."

When it comes to his relationship with the late ruler, Al Ain-born Al Dhaheri says he remains eternally grateful.

“Sheikh Zayed saved my life twice. When I was young I fell into a well and broke my bones and through the hospitals he provided, I survived,” he says.

“The second time was when he gave me a pencil and book and encouraged me to write and express myself.”

Books, music and poetry in Cairo

The Millstone kicks off Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre’s expansive programme at the Cairo International Book Fair, opening to the public on Wednesday and running until February 6.

Held under the auspices of DCT Abu Dhabi, highlights of the centre’s offerings include a Friday book launch of a new biography on the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum titled Umm Kulthum: Poetry and Singing, by Ahmed Youssef Ali, followed by a concert by Egyptian soprano Marwa Nagy.

On the following day, Emirati author and Sheikh Zayed Book Award winner Maisoon Saqer will discuss her novel set in Cairo, Cafe Riche: An Eye on Egypt, as a reading by one of UAE’s leading poets Kholoud Al Mualla.

Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre chairman Ali bin Tamim says the programme aims to attract a diverse crowd with the aim of showcasing the dynamism of the Arabic language.

“The Cairo International Book Fair is a distinguished cultural event in the region, bringing together renowned intellectuals, authors, experts, and publishing industry leaders to present innovative ideas for developing the sector," he says.

"The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre strives to play an active role in that regard, and is participating in the fair with a rich selection of events and discussion panels that align with the Centre’s objectives to promote the Arabic language in cultural and creative fields, as well as to support Emirati and Arab creators and publishers.”

More information on the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre's programme at the Cairo International Book Fair is available on the official Instagram account. Tickets to the Cairo International Book Fair start at 5 Egyptian pounds;

Updated: January 27, 2023, 10:47 AM