The cream of local film making talent was out in force at Abu Dhabi’s Paris-Sorbonne University on Tuesday for the sixth annual Arab Film Studio Awards.
The event saw Nabil Chowdhury, a UK national, pick up the award for Best Film in the narrative category and long-term Dubai resident Swapna Kurup, originally from India, take the documentary prize.
The awards were judged by a panel of local industry names including Nahla Al Fahad (The Tainted Veil), Ali Mostafa (The Worthy) and Majid Al Ansari (Zinzana).
[ Hollywood producer Mark Gill shares tips and box-office tricks ]
[ Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan: Arab film makers should stop chasing Hollywood ]
[ Cate Blanchett to head jury panel at Diff 2017 ]
Arab Film Studio is a seven-month programme that takes participants on a journey mirroring the real process of developing and producing a film, with tuition and mentoring from some of the most experienced figures in the industry.
It was created by Image Nation in 2011, in partnership with TwoFour54, to develop UAE nationals’ and residents’ filmmaking skills. The programme now consists of four dedicated specialisms: AFS Narrative, AFS Documentary, AFS Scriptwriting and AFS Young Filmmakers.
This year's Young Filmmaker participants were also honoured at the awards, with screenings of 11 one-minute films made by Emirati school children over the course of the summer ahead of the main awards ceremony.
The winning film, Replacement, was a sci-fi short about a terminally ill man who plans to secretly replace himself with an identical cyborg.
Picking up his gong for Best Narrative Film, director Chowdhury was full of praise for the AFS experience: “I learnt so much, from the basics of film making to planning, pre-production, actually going through the process of making a film, through to the editing and post-production as well,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a newcomer or someone with a background in film making, the whole thing was really professional and really lets you into those nuances of film making. It’s a great initiative.”
His documentary counterpart, Kurup, whose winning film Ranapakhara tells the story of Indian classical dancer Vonita Singh, who uses her dancing skills to help sufferers fight the onset of Parkinson's disease in Dubai, was equally effusive about the programme:
“It was a wonderful experience,” she commented. “I thought I’d come out at the end with a film, but it was so much more. I’ve had three amazing mentors and been exposed to so many different kind of films and learnt to understand cinema in a different way. I’ve also met some amazing people, and one person in particular who I’m now collaborating with on an ongoing basis. It’s been amazing.”
Michael Garin, Image Nation CEO, added: “Arab Film Studio just goes from strength to strength, and I really think this is our best year yet. Maybe our biggest validation, though, is that every film made under the programme since we started has been selected for festivals internationally, and we’ve picked up plenty of awards along the way too.”
Garin was also keen to offer encouragement to the young Emirati schoolchildren who had taken part in the Young Filmmakers’ section, AFS’ newest arm: “All their films had to be under one minute. Do you know how hard it is to say something in one minute?” he asked.
“Winston Churchill once said at an engagement ‘I’m afraid I didn’t have time to prepare a 15-minute speech, so here’s a 45-minute speech,’ and that’s what they were up against. All these kids took time out over the summer, instead of travelling with their families or being with friends, and the results are amazing. I think we have a bright future ahead.”
AFS will be back in the public eye at Diff next month, when it selects the winner of the AFS scriptwriting competition in partnership with the Dubai Film Market, while submissions are still open for 2018's AFS Narrative programme, closing on December 2.
To find out more about Arab Film Studio and its programmes, visit www.arabfilmstudio.ae