Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 October 2020

Waleed Al Shehhi’s Dolphins project gets boost after winning IWC Filmmaker Award at DIFF

We chat with the 38-year-old Ras Al Khaimah film fanatic who won the IWC Filmmaker Award at the Dubai International Film Festival.
Waleed Al Shehhi is presented with the IWC Filmmaker Award by Georges Kern and Cate Blanchett. Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for DIFF
Waleed Al Shehhi is presented with the IWC Filmmaker Award by Georges Kern and Cate Blanchett. Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images for DIFF

Waleed Al Shehhi looked every bit the celebrity nestled between Cate Blanchett and Martin Sheen, even though theirs is not a world the Emirati filmmaker aspires to.

“It’s not about selling movies and it’s not about fame,” says the soft-spoken director. “It’s about the culture of film and an expression of art.”

Since collecting a cheque for US$100,000 (Dh367,300) and the IWC Filmmaker Award at a private gala event during last week’s Dubai International Film Festival, the 38-year-old Ras Al Khaimah film fanatic has seen his proposed feature Dolphins catapulted ­forward.

“It’s the same script I sent out to companies and production houses 12 months ago and had no response,” he says. “Now I have the same people knocking and calling and are very interested.”

The Hollywood heavyweight Blanchett headed up the panel that picked Al Shehhi’s project out of a shortlist of submissions from across the Arab region for the award.

When Al Shehhi arrived at the December 7 IWC gala, he and his team were anticipating spending 14 months on the hunt for partners and funding. When he left, his project looked to be full steam ahead on casting as early as next month.

“It is quite crazy, really. It makes my mind go...” Al Shehhi pauses before launching into action-movie explosion-type noises.

“It’s also the recognition though,” he adds. “It reminds you to keep going and believe in your project, even when others don’t.”

Dolphins, a script telling three separate but intertwined stories and inspired almost entirely by three locations in Al Shehhi’s “favourite” emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, has been in the making for a number of years now.

The story, written by Al Shehhi’s long-time collaborator, Ahmad Salmeen, was initially meant to be a short film. “We have written and rewritten the script a number of times now,” he said. “When we felt we had it almost right we went to RAK and tried to finish it on location. This helps add whatever you can and allows you to be inspired by the landscape around you.”

Set on the beaches of Sham and in the mountains, Dolphins follows Saud, an only child who is forced to deal with the struggle and uncertainty of his parents’ separation. Isolation leads him to find Hilal and the pair set off on an unusual adventure with an extraordinary outcome.

“I don’t think there should be one,” he says of the film’s ultimate message. “As long as you’re given a story the audience can live in it. It’s an art form. I keep insisting I don’t have to tell a story; it’s also art.”

A determined Al Shehhi, who is also a media supervisor at the Higher Colleges of Technology, had already secured Dh200,000 from the Dubai International Film Festival’s post-production fund Enjaaz before winning the IWC award.

Now, he says, it’s time “to get to work”. Most of the cast and crew will come from the UAE, he says, with the project serving as a “learning-by-doing” initiative.

He already started the Villa Cinema project in RAK, which helps students with an interest in film get real movie experience. At the most recent Gulf Film Festival, the Best Director and Best Film categories were won by students of Al Shehhi’s.

“When I started filmmaking we had very little but now, those interested have many options and I plan to take that further,” he said.

Shehhi has already set an ambitious goal for Dolphins and that is having its premiere just one year from now at the next Dubai film festival.

“I’ll make it happen,” he says.

artslife@thenational.ae

Updated: December 16, 2013 04:00 AM

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