How Emirati psychological thriller '218' crowdsourced its cast and crew from the UAE

More than 2,000 aspiring filmmakers came together to make the film, the first of its kind in the region

'218: Behind the Wall of Silence' deals with issues of domestic violence, nostalgia and revenge. Shams
'218: Behind the Wall of Silence' deals with issues of domestic violence, nostalgia and revenge. Shams

An Emirati psychological thriller – the result of a two-year film initiative that involved more than 2,000 aspiring creatives from around the UAE – started showing across cinemas on Thursday.

Titled 218: Behind the Wall of Silence, the film tells the story of three young women from different backgrounds, whose fates become intertwined due to a mysterious event in apartment 218.

The film deals with issues of domestic violence, nostalgia and revenge. It is directed by The Tainted Veil filmmaker Nahla Al Fahad and stars several renowned Emirati actors including Habib Ghuloom, Merei El Halyan, Mansoor Alfeeli, Amal Mohamed, Abdulla bin Haidar and Haifa Al Ali.

'218: Behind the Wall of Silence' is available to watch across UAE cinemas. Shams
'218: Behind the Wall of Silence' is available to watch across UAE cinemas. Shams

218 is the first film to be produced under the UAE Entertainment Experience, an initiative launched in 2019 by Sharjah Media City (Shams) in collaboration with content developers Art Format Lab.

The campaign began by calling on fresh university graduates from around the UAE to enroll in a free filmmaking training programme.

“We had a team in every major city that actually met those interested in participating in the initiative,” Shihab Alhammadi, director of Shams, tells The National.

In its early stages, the programme had more than 2,000 participants taking part in the training courses, that were offered online and in person. The training focused on developing various skills in filmmaking, from scriptwriting to directing and post production to scoring.

The ultimate goal from the project was to train and empower national talents capable of advancing artistic and cinematic production, creating films that truly represent Emirati society, and drawing attention to important social issues

Shihab Alhammadi, director of Shams

Out of these participants, more than 32 teams advanced to work on the final film. “Those teams consisted of five to 10 members,” he says. “We did a lot of evaluations during that time and grouped people based on their interests as well as where they were based.”

A committee consisting of film professionals oversaw the training programme and offered mentorship to its participants.

“We have experts in directing, acting, scriptwriting and music production to name a few,” Alhammadi says. “They were all involved in the team as well as those who were involved in managing the program.”

The committee included Al Fahad, Ghuloom, scriptwriter Mohamed Hassan Ahmed and Abdulla bin Haidar.

More than 500 people worked on 218, Alhammadi says. The programme’s participants played an active role across various stages of the film’s overall production.

The initiative is not unique on a global level. Similar ones have been conducted in Europe and in South-East Asia, however, it is the first of its kind in the Gulf region.

“We saw this type of programme showed success in Europe and we wanted to bring it in the Arab world. We changed a lot of the programme’s rules and guidelines to better suit the culture here and did several amendments.”

However, the primary aim of the initiative was not to make only a single film but rather to train a new generation of creatives and provide the resources to sustain a growing local film economy.

“The ultimate goal from the project was to train and empower national talents capable of advancing artistic and cinematic production, creating films that truly represent Emirati society, and drawing attention to important social issues,” Alhammadi says. “We aim to lay the foundations for an integrated cinema and arts sector that not only draws inspiration from the public, but also engages the audience in the production process.”

There will be future iterations of the programme, even if they don’t end up looking exactly like the one that took place with 218. Alhammadi says the initiative helped Shams identify the skillsets that need to be developed.

“We have a plan to start a programme focusing on writing for cinema, which is one of the weakest points we found out throughout our studies and research in the UAE,” he says. “We’ve already selected a committee.”

Alhammadi also says Shams can help fill the gaps and provide a platform that will help foster local talent and create a burgeoning film economy.

“There are many talented people here that don’t have access to the movie industry or don’t know where to start,” he says. “Using this programme, we give them a platform for students to jump in without commitments or prerequisites. If you are interested in any of these fields, just select the one that you like and we’ll take it from there.”

Khalid Al Midfa, chairman of Shams, says 218 is the first of many productions under the UAE Entertainment Experience initiative. “We will continue to move forward with our journey, and present audiences with more made-in-the-UAE motion pictures that embody our values and principles in the country and the Arab World."

Updated: May 23, 2021 02:10 PM

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