Murk Light's journey from UAE to New York's Tribeca Film Festival

The Iraqi director behind Murk Light, the UAE's first film to be screened at next month's Tribeca Film Festival in New York, talks about transforming Ras Al Khaimah back to the 1960s.

Shot in Ras Al Khaimah, Murk Light is set in the 1960s and is about two friends on a bus trip. Courtesy twofour54

There have been several stories of UAE-made films that began in local film festivals and have gone on to be screened at festivals all over the world. But so far, none have made it to the acclaimed Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

This is all set to change next month when Murk Light takes part in the festival’s Best Narrative Shorts competition. The film, which is the first from the UAE-based Iraqi director Yasir Al Yasiri, was supported and produced by the creative lab at twofour54 Abu Dhabi Media Zone and was selected to be among the 60 shorts from more than 2,800 submissions.

But while New York filmgoers might be watching Murk Light for the first time, Abu Dhabi got the first glimpse last year when the film screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where it won first prize in the Short Narrative Competition and claimed the Best Cinematography trophy.

Shot in Ras Al Khaimah, the 20-minute film is about two friends, Hassan and Ibrahim, on a bus trip. "It's a kind of fantasy, showing the meaning of friendship and the dreams of the two friends, who both have different purposes for the trip," explains Al Yasiri, who previously worked as a director of advertisements and music videos, as well as the television series So Hard To Tell. "There are many stops the bus will go through in the film, and each will tell something new about the story, the journey."

While a bus journey might not sound too complicated to put together, making things difficult for Al Yasiri was the fact the story was set in the 1960s.

“We had to find a location that looked like it was from the period,” he says. “We found a place called Al Jazirah Al Hamra, but also built a lot of the locations ourselves.”

Further complications came with the bus itself.

“Because of the rules here, there aren’t any buses from the 1960s unless it’s a classic bus,” says Al Yasiri. “But we wanted a normal looking one, so we had to just buy a new bus and build the shape of an old bus around it. It was very hard, but when you do a film or a project that you’ve wanted to do for a long time, you go all the way.”

Aside from his director of photography, Stijn Van der Veken, who came over from Belgium for the film, Al Yasiri says his entire crew were UAE residents, while the cast featured two prominent Emiratis.

“We have two huge actors from the UAE in Huda Alkhateeb and Mansoor Alfeeli, and two upcoming stars in Jassem Alkharraz and Abrar Al Hamad,” says Al Yasiri. “They were all very excited to work on the film and all came for free. They just wanted to show support and do this story.”

Murk Light may be among 59 other shorts at the Tribeca Film Festival, which starts on April 17, but should it emerge victorious, it could qualify for consideration in the Short Film category in next year’s Academy Awards.

Naturally, Al Yasiri will be heading to New York for the festival. “It’s a huge thing and a very important venue to be in,” he says.

In the meantime, he says he’s looking for scripts for a feature film, but he’s also planning to start shooting his next television project. “It’s a new comedy, which will be something totally new for the Arab world. It’s a style that has been shot in the States, where it’s been very successful.”


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