Emirati film-making comes of age

A local production company hopes to make the worldwide movie industry 'sit up and take notice of what we're doing here in the Emirates'.

From left, Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of Imagenation Abu Dhabi, Daniela Tully of Imagenation, Nawaf al Janahi, the Sea Shadow director, and Stefan Brunner, also of Imagenation, at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.
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CANNES // It is the story of two boys coming of age, learning about the men they will become as they make the journey from Ras al Khaimah to Abu Dhabi.

Sea Shadow also represents the coming of age of Emirati film-making in the capital. The film, announced yesterday at the Cannes Film Festival, will be the first by the Abu Dhabi production house Imagenation to be shot in the UAE by an Emirati director. It will be directed by Nawaf al Jahani, with shooting due to start in the autumn. It is the first of five Emirati-directed projects planned by the company, with news on the others expected in June. All will be based on original stories by Emiratis.

Sea Shadow is about first loves, family relationships and cultural values. It follows two 16-year-old boys, Mansour and Kaltham, on a journey of self-discovery after their home life is disrupted by misunderstandings, mix-ups and wrong decisions. The screenplay is by the award-winning writer Mohammed Hassan Ahmed, who also wrote 30 episodes of the television series Etr Aldar and the novel Lel Hozn Khamast.

Casting has started, according to Mr al Janahi. "We are in the process and have already seen some interesting actors and most of them will be from the UAE," he said. "We are looking to discover some new faces for the main roles and have done a casting call through a local company. They have approached some theatre festivals and associations." Mr Al Janahi, 33, lives in Abu Dhabi and has directed and produced several acclaimed films, including the short Mirrors of Silence and the full-length feature The Circle, which premiered at the Gulf Film Festival in 2009.

The Circle, shot in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, was the first feature narrative production by NBC Group. "We want the world's movie industry to sit up and take notice of what we are doing here in the Emirates," Mr Al Janahi said. "Sea Shadow will help us do that. It is a perfect showcase for our local acting and film-making talent and offers genuine cultural insights which should be at the heart of all good films."

He said of his ambitions for the film: "I want to introduce a feeling of nostalgia, a longing for when life was more about human relationships and interaction than about material possessions. "We examine how values are prioritised in our society, and how human connections are made." Mr Al Janahi was born in Abu Dhabi and studied cinema arts in the US. In 2001, he founded Emarat Films and the first website serving the domestic film movement.

He first read the script for Sea Shadow late last year and had already planned for it to be his second film when Imagenation approached him, after seeing The Circle at the Gulf Film Festival. "I'm thrilled to have this opportunity with Imagenation," he said. "It's a very interesting step towards building a valid film industry in the UAE. Imagenation have a complete strategy to develop films that has been lacking."

Launched in September 2008, Imagenation is committed to developing the film industry in the UAE by producing films with Emirati content and talent, encouraging the growth of Emirati film-makers. It is a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes The National. Daniela Tully, Imagenation's head of development, said: "The plan is to get international crew and get a good mix of Arab ones and international ones, and have a mentor programme, with young people who want to be active in the business.

"The idea is to have them develop. We need to bring that expertise into the country, as at the moment the infrastructure is not there. "The other day I had a guy in my office who said he wanted to be a director of photography. This was great - it showed an understanding that films were not just about writing and directing." So far the company has largely operated partnerships with international studios, including Warner Brothers, National Geographic Films and Hyde Park Media. Sea Shadow is the first in a series of Emirati films that the company is committed to producing in the UAE.

Ms Tully, whose background is as a creative producer, developing projects, said: "Imagenation is a production house in its own right, and working with our international partners was a great start to the company, enabling us to tap into industry like Hollywood and do films with them. "One of our co-productions, Fair Game, is in competition here. Now on a regional level, it has taken more time to move from original idea through to making the completed film.

"We will continue to work on international co-productions. All that has changed is that the Emirati films that we have always been working on will start to get made." Imagenation Abu Dhabi's feature films include the Bollywood hit My Name is Khan, The Crazies, Shorts, and Furry Vengeance. In the pipeline are films including Peter Weir's The Way Back, Doug Liman's Fair Game, and Jodie Foster's The Beaver.

Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of Imagenation, said: "It's our goal to be the media and entertainment group of choice in the Arab world. "Films like Sea Shadow help us advance that ambition and also help us to nurture and attract the home-grown talent, which is key to the future of the creative and media industry in the region." Mohamed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the chairman of Imagenation, called the film "a significant milestone in the evolution of the film industry in the UAE".

He said: "This film signals our determination to help grow a generation of film-makers whose work is of a quality and standard to appeal both to local and regional audiences, and which is powerful enough to resonate with discerning movie-goers internationally." @Email:newsdesk@thenational.ae