Two locally-produced short films are screening at the Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai on Friday, March 6.
M1das by Razan Takash explores the world of artificial intelligence and motherhood, while Amber by Faisal Hashmi is a thriller set in a Sharjah barbershop with no dialogue.
The National caught up with the films' directors to find out how the projects were realised.
“Casting took some time,” says Takash. “The entire film takes place in one space and is dialogue-driven. So we wanted to be sure we had just the right cast.”
The short film tells the story of Midas, an android that is a robotics company's most sophisticated attempt at artificial intelligence (AI). It starts life as an asexual blank-slate before quickly adapting its sex, appearance and personality traits to parental preferences. It is, by design, the perfect child.
In the film, the developing company plans to unveil Midas at a world expo on AI, but on the eve of the event, Cybele – a company employee – finds out that the tech team won't make it in time and she is tasked with testing the child android herself.
And that's where M1das takes off.
The film stars Dana Dajani – who won Tropfest Arabia's best actress award in 2011 for her role in At First Sight – and Sara AlKhatib as the titular android.
"She [Dajani] was a bit hesitant at being part of an independent film at first, but after reading the script, she was convinced."
As Takash developed the script with screenwriter Nidal Morra, the film also became an exploration of motherhood.
“With this film, I wanted to address my own fear of motherhood and how I feel like it's coded within me like a programme that will take over no matter how many blockers are placed before it,” Takash, who is an assistant professor of Mass Communication at the American University in the Emirates, says.
But making a science fiction film proved to have its own challenges.
"As a woman from the Middle East who loves fantasy and sci-fi cinema, it is almost impossible to find any kind of support or platform for myself," she says.
"We didn't seek funding for the film, and its budget came out of our own pockets," the film's producer, Nechteh Apelian, says. "We called in a lot of favours from other professionals in the field, promising to help with their projects in return for their help on M1das."
Apelian says that as independent filmmakers they had to think on their feet, confronting problems with solutions that didn't require a lot of money.
“We rented out a hotel room and fitted it with LED lights to make it more futuristic. They were a number of issues that came up during the day of the shoot. We had to improvise a lot and stress levels were high. But, in the end, we pulled through and made a film we are all proud of.”
Amber tells the story of a barber who is caught in a deadly situation when he learns that his first customer of the day isn't whom he seems to be.
"It's a short film entirely without dialogue and follows just two characters in one contained location by mining the premise for tension and an unexpected conclusion," writer and director Hashmi tells The National.
But the film has been off to a good start. It won the Best Film award in the short film category at Al Ain Film Festival. The film local stars Joaquim Gonsalves and Rik Aby, both of whom have acted in a number of locally-produced films.
"We scheduled a two day shoot at an actual small town barbershop in Sharjah," he says. "Shooting at the barbershop was a real challenge. We didn't have control of the road or cars outside so that was a minefield to work around. The amount of mirrors in the shop was a nightmare for cinematographer Elias Trad. But limitations breed creativity, so we were able to get through our shoot anyway and I'm proud of the final film. After Comic Con, we'll be screening it at the Emirates Short Film Festival later this month."
Friday's screening won't be the first time Hashmi presents his work at the Middle East Film and Comic Con. He screened his short film Sleight at the event in 2015 and last year he presented his horror short Wicken.
"Amber is a thriller that goes into unexpected places so I'm sure audiences will dig what it brings to the table," says Hashmi, who has been making films for the past decade.
"A lot of my recent films have dabbled in horror, but Amber is a bit of a departure as it's a dramatic thriller. I've always tried to make films in a lean manner before, but Amber is the first time I had more financial resources to play with thanks to my friends who helped produce the film alongside me."
Both films screen on Friday, March 6 at the Middle East Film and Comic Con. Amber is 4pm while M1das is at 8.30pm