ABU DHABI // The UAE’s eagerly anticipated first supernatural-thriller made it to the big screen on Friday night on day two of the capital’s film festival.
The world premiere of Djinn, an Emirati film directed by Hollywood horror expert Tobe Hooper and set entirely in the UAE, enjoyed a red carpet gala screening at Emirates Palace hotel.
Produced by Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation, which is owned by Abu Dhabi Media, the publisher of The National, the tale of evil spirits haunting a UAE apartment was announced in 2010 before production started the next year.
Three years later and the stars of the film, Razane Jammal, May El Calamawy and Milica Radunovic, dressed to impress and worked the carpet as they prepared to see the film for the first time.
“It was a long shoot, long hours,” said leading lady, Jammal. “It was a tough time for me and great working with Tobe Hooper but a lot of the scenes were emotional for my character. By the end of the two months I was literally exhausted. I was drained.”
Set in Al Jazirat Al Hamra, in Ras Al Khaimah, a fishing village that was abandoned years ago, Djinn is the world’s first supernatural-thriller to be delivered in English and Arabic.
The story revolves around an Emirati couple who return to the UAE and move into a lavish apartment. Little do they know their home was built on a haunted fishing village and are subsequently visited by Djinn, or genies.
Jammal and co-stars said the film was an experience they will never forget and that they were pleased to have worked with director Hooper, who is known for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 1982’s Poltergeist.
“We filmed for two months in Dubai, which was quite interesting,” said English-Lebanese actress Jammal.
“It was exciting to work with Tobe and I learnt a lot from him. He was definitely very knowledgeable about the Djinn.”
Radunovic plays the evil Djinn, a role which meant two hours a day of having prosthetic make-up applied.
“It’s amazing what it does to you,” she laughed. “When I was in character people would all of a sudden start moving away from me.
“It was like they became superstitious and didn’t want to risk anything. It helped keep me in character.”
Turning heads on the red carpet in a floor-length, electric blue gown, Jammal said she was not in a good place after filming.
The actress checked in to a specialist health clinic to deal with acute paranoia.
“I didn’t have any hauntings on set or anything happen to me while we were filming but, after the movie was done, I fell into depression for about a month,” she said.
“In order for me to play Salama I had to believe that everything existed and that this was really happening to her. Because it was very new for me, I didn’t know how to deal with it.
“I was so tired and drained and haunted that I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep and I was afraid of the dark. I don’t watch horror films and I had to watch a lot of horror to research.
“I became paranoid and had to go to LA to a healing centre for three days. I was on my own in LA as well, which didn’t help but it’s definitely an interesting thing and I wouldn’t change it if I could go back.
“It was a great experience as it made me stronger and showed me that I could hold the part as the lead.”
The story was written by the American screenwriter and former Dubai resident, David Tully, who came up with the idea after visiting the village in RAK.
The chief executive of Image Nation, Michael Garin, introduced the film to the film festival audience.
“This film represents Image Nation’s efforts to build a film industry in the UAE,” he said. “It gives our aspiring filmmakers the chance to gain world-class experience, which they will hopefully bring back here to work on other productions like Djinn.”
Mr Garin also hinted at a new, full Arabic-language film, which is due to start filming later this year.
“We aim to create more opportunities for audiences and filmmakers to develop their craft.”
* Abu Dhabi Film Festival runs until November 2. For more information visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae.