Stars Con Middle East organisers on why they want a community-driven event

Donia Salah and Waleed Hmidan hope Stars Con can be a meeting point for like-minded individuals

Waleed Hmidan, left and Donia Salah are the organisers behind StarsCon Middle East. Photo: Waleed Hmidan
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Tom Wlaschiha from Stranger Things, Money Heist’s Luka Peros and Dan Fogler from the Fantastic Beasts film franchise are some of the famous faces set to appear at the first Stars Con Middle East.

The two-day pop culture event will take place at Dubai World Trade Centre on November 26 and 27.

Although comic conventions are nothing new, with many different variations taking place over the years in the UAE, the organisers behind Stars Con say they hope to put on an event that is more community-driven.

“A lot of the activities, a lot of the fun stuff at Stars Con, is brought in by the same community that we want to provide this to, whether it was in board games, whether it was in cosplay, whether it was in SMEs and small businesses, and people starting their own arts and businesses that are related to pop culture,” says Waleed Hmidan, who has also helped to organise other similar events in the past.

“As opposed to it being an event that says ‘look at us and the big names’ and that kind of grand status, we want to focus on mostly the community itself. This field in Dubai harbours a lot of talent. The scene itself, the community itself, in Dubai has been growing.”

Hmidan works alongside Donia Salah, whose background is in organising celebrity meet-and-greets and events planning in Paris. In addition to familiar aspects such as cosplay, panels, workshops and meet-and-greets, they have tried to hone in on creating a more memorable experience.

Quote
As opposed to it being an event that says ‘look at us and the big names’ and that kind of grand status, we want to focus on mostly the community itself
Waleed Hmidan, organiser, Stars Con Middle East

He says the region has a big passion for pop culture conventions but because of the logistics of such events in which many things get crammed into a single day, it can sometimes make for a jarring experience. "People need to experience things, not just queue for a long line and leave," says Hmidan.

Salah says they don’t view other similar events as competitors, but hope to create something where they can gather everyone in a single space to network and be around like-minded individuals. She also hopes to create a safe space for women.

“We want everyone to feel safe. We are also organising workshops and panels for women in the industry. And it was very important because, as a woman myself in this business, I had a lot of challenges,” says Salah.

“For the themed conventions that I used to organise, 90 per cent of the participants were women, but in the comic con world, it's mostly men. And, you know, it always surprised me because I was always thinking, 'what's the difference?' So I want to show women that they have a safe space in the community.”

Stars Con was originally planned for March, but because so much was happening in the month — including the Middle East Film and Comic Con — they decided to reschedule for later in the year, which proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“We needed more time," says Salah. "We needed more time to focus, to think about new ideas, to think about our real goal."

These extra few months have allowed them to figure out how they want to present the event, especially considering how important first impressions can be. Salah admits that Stars Con probably won't be flawless, but knows that it means they'll have something to work towards for next year.

“When you work on something for more than a year, it's the achievement. At this point. I'm like, it won't be perfect. We don't want it to be perfect. Because if this one is perfect, what room do we have for the next one? We are both from the community, so we want the community to help us grow," she says.

As the date draws closer, the pair are becoming more excited about sharing what they’ve been working on. All the events planned for the convention are free, except the celebrity meet-and-greets. Visitors can expect activities such as Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, cosplay competitions, panels and workshops, and an artist alley where people can show off their skills.

So after all the hard work that's gone into organisation and planning, what are they most looking forward to?

“The door opening, that's my favourite part," says Salah. "When people come and start with the registration that's when the real excitement is.

"The day before you're still in the middle of build-ups and you're tired, but then even if you don't sleep for four days, the first people who entered the venue, you're like, ‘whoa, I did it.’ That's very personal.”

Early-bird tickets for one-day entry are now on sale for Dh69; regular one-day passes cost Dh99; family packs (four tickets) cost Dh350; and the Stars Pass for two days cost Dh1,200 (including meet-and-greets and a guaranteed space at celebrity Q&A sessions); more information is at starsconvention.com

Updated: November 07, 2022, 5:06 AM
EDITOR'S PICKS
MORE FROM THE NATIONAL