Four dreams within reach with DIFF IWC Schaffhausen Award

The IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award is worth US$100,000 - and two of the shortlist are Emiratis. We preview the names in the running.

Ali F Mostafa: FRom A to B. Paulo Vecina / The National
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The Dubai International Film Festival hands out numerous grants to filmmakers to help them with their latest projects, with plenty of success stories along the way. But few are as lucrative as the US$100,000 (Dh367,000) that will be awarded tonight as part of the IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award. From hundreds of scripts submitted by GCC filmmakers young and old, established and emerging, four have been selected, and tonight it will be up to the jury – headed by Cate Blanchett – to pick an overall winner.

And with two of the nominees coming from the UAE, Blanchett could well be helping provide some solid financial support to the next Emirati feature film, and maybe even the opening screening at the festival next year.

“It’s been a dream of ours to open the festival with an Emirati film,” says DIFF’s artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali (also sitting on the jury). “I don’t have much longer doing this. Maybe with the IWC award, next year we’ll see it happen.”

Mohammed Rashed BuAli

About the filmmaker

The Bahraini filmmaker Rashed BuAli is already an accomplished writer and director, with nine short films to his name and screenings at several international film festivals. In fact, his charming short Huna London (This Is London), about a Bahraini couple trying to send a photo to their son in the UK, is screening at DIFF as part of the Gulf Voices category and is definitely worth a watch.

About the film

The Sleeping Tree will be Rashed BuAli's first feature. Touching on hope and despair, the story describes the breakdown of a couple's marriage due to the critical illness of their daughter, with their fate intertwined with the heritage and cultural surroundings of Bahrain. And the $100,000 IWC prize would arguably contribute to a greater proportion of its production than the other nominees. "The good thing about my project is that it's a micro-budget film," he says. "So the budget is only around $400,000-450,000 which, for a feature film, is very small. So if I was lucky and won the award, a huge part would already be covered, enough to help me through to the preproduction stage."

Maintaining strong cultural elements is a key element in Rashed BuAli’s filmmaking and he says it’s important when moving into the international arena. “I really believe you can show your reality and your identity in your film, talking about human stories, about cultural stories that can touch you and touch others, while at the same time show showing your identity as a filmmaker from that country.”

Abdulla Al Kaabi

About the filmmaker

Born in Fujairah, Al Kaabi was one of the talking points of DIFF 2010, when his lavishly produced short The Philosopher – starring Jean Reno, no less – was given its world premiere. At the time, it was announced that he would be teaming up with Reno again for his first feature, to be entitled Culture Shock. But this has since been sidelined, and the young filmmaker is hoping that Girls in the Know is now put into production.

About the film

The script for Girls in the Know was put together over the summer with the assistance of the Spanish screenwriting duo Félix Sabroso and Dunia Ayaso and is, claims Al Kaabi, a drama/dark comedy inspired by his home emirate of Fujairah. "It basically revolves around the death of a mother, a bourgeois Egyptian widow, who lives in Fujairah," he says. "She dies in a very ironic, comical way while explaining a secret to her daughters, who must then try to find it out through the visitors that come to pay their respects and go through mini revelations and disputes among themselves." And Al Kaabi says he's delighted with the IWC nomination for the film. "It gives credibility to what I'm working on and shows the industry personnel that I have something worthy of getting into production." The film grant, too, would help the film go into preproduction. "It's very difficult to raise finances for a feature, let alone your first feature, so we're excited to be a part of this."

Maysoon Pachachi

About the filmmaker

Born in Iraq but now living in London, Maysoon Pachachi has directed numerous politically charged documentaries in the Middle East and helped co-found the Baghdad Film School, which was itself the subject of a documentary that screened at DIFF two years ago. Despite having already edited a number of feature films and TV dramas, Nothing Doing in Baghdad will be her first time in the narrative director's chair.

About the film

Nothing Doing in Baghdad, based loosely on a true story, is set during one of the Iraqi capital's most volatile modern-day chapters. "It takes place in 2006, which was a time of very intense sectarian violence, where lives for ordinary people became very precarious," says Pachachi, who left Baghdad more than 30 years ago. "You could walk out of your house in the morning and not know if you'd be back at night, and if you were killed, you wouldn't know why or who was killing you."

The plot involves multiple intersecting stories of people in a mixed neighbourhood trying to live through this period. “But at the heart of it, there is the story of a novelist who, although having been prolific up to now, finds that she’s been stopped in her tracks by what’s going on around her.” The film follows this writer as she finds creative inspiration in her closest friend’s sudden departure. “It’s about resistance and the everyday struggle and fragile hope you have to have in a situation such as this.”

Pachachi says she hopes to use Iraqi actors and shoot within the country, and to train young Iraqi filmmakers who will be paid as assistants on the film. “I think every film that is made in Iraq should be something that aims to build the local film community and capabilities.”

Ali F Mostafa

About the filmmaker

Arguably the most recognised face in Emirati filmmaking, the Dubai-based Ali F Mostafa became the toast of DIFF 2009 when his locally shot feature film City of Life was given its world premiere. Since then, Mostafa has become the brand ambassador for several renowned fashion labels and last year saw his five-part action series Classified – made as part of his arrangement with the Range Rover Evoque – broadcast on MBC online.

About the film

Mostafa's second feature, From A to B, will follow a group of friends going on a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut (hence the name) in 2011. "Basically, five years earlier their friend had tried to convince them to go on this trip, but he ended up going on his own and, when he reached Beirut in 2006, was killed during the bombing," says Mostafa. On the anniversary of his birthday, the remaining group decide to honour their friend and reignite their lost friendship by embarking on the adventure they had turned down before. "It's quite a human story," says Mostafa, adding that while much of the filming will take place in Abu Dhabi, it will also be going on location in Jordan and Lebanon.

From A to B has been in the works for some time now, but Mostafa says he’s been working on the script. “After City of Life, there was a lot of pressure on the second film, so I really wanted to make sure the script was right,” he says. “I just kept on reworking it and working with quite a few different writers. I’m finally at a stage where I think it’s in the right direction. I thought it was going to be a lot quicker, but I was completely wrong.”