Both the Dubai and Abu Dhabi film festivals do a great service in providing platforms for filmmakers from across the Arab world. An increasing proportion of their schedules are devoted to showcasing regional talent and films that might otherwise have fallen under the radar.
However, those events take up less than three weeks of the year, and a common complaint is that once the red carpets are rolled up the general public turns back to the big-budget Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters in the various multiplexes, ignoring local independent cinema for another 12 months.
There have been efforts to amend this. The Picturehouse in Dubai's Reel Cinemas has put on various regional films - such as the Palestinian drama Pomegranates and Myrrh - for short runs, and The Scene Club was also launched in the city to screen independent films, including the occasional Arab title. Now the organiser of The Scene Club is taking the idea to the capital and this time with the focus entirely on regional filmmaking. Called Aflam, this new film club will have monthly screenings of Arab titles at Vox Cinemas in Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall. In partnership with the media zone twofour54, Aflam kicks off on Wednesday with the acclaimed documentary, Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician, which was screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October.
"It makes sense, because January 25 is the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution," says Nayla Al Khaja, the Emirati director behind both The Scene Club and Aflam.
And coming with the film is its producer Mohammed Hefzy, who will hold a Q&A session after the screening. "I really believe this will be the highlight of the whole event, it's a big part of it," says Al Khaja.
While the full year's schedule has not yet been arranged, the second film for Aflam is already confirmed as Habibi, the Gaza-based drama by Susan Youssef that won numerous awards at the Dubai International Film Festival in December, including Best Film. Youssef will be returning to the UAE for the post-film discussion.
Adding an Emirati touch to the proceedings, every film after the first will be screened along with a UAE short. "I have The Philosopher, by Abdulla Al Kaabi, in mind, along with Sabeel by Khalid Al Mahmood, plus some new films from the Creative Lab division of twofour54," says Al Khaja. "It's really important."
For most of the films shown by Aflam, it'll be their first - and maybe even their only - cinematic outing in the UAE outside of a festival. In Dubai last year a new competition was launched to encourage distributors to pick up Arab titles for commercial release, but it is a slow process.
"The festivals are just six or nine days and it's over, so if you miss them, that's it," says Al Khaja. "I wish we could have more screenings with Aflam, it would be wonderful. But it's really expensive, and I'm not a government body."
Tickets for Aflam's screenings are free, but require pre-registration at www.aflamclub.com.
* Alex Ritman