Undated handout image of Mahmoud Kaabour, a doc film-maker based in Dubai. Photo by Siddharth Siva

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"There is no shame in progress, but it's important to keep track of development," says Mahmoud Kaabour.

'I witnessed the huge changes here'



Mahmoud Kaabour is a Dubai-based filmmaker. He started Veritas Films, a film-production company, in 2008.

I come from an arts-orientated background. My grandfather was a violinist for the great diva Um Kulthum, and one of my uncles is a composer in Lebanon. I had very high grades at high school and was offered a scholarship to study medicine in the US, but art has always been the language of communication in my family, so it was the obvious path to choose. When I was six, one of my uncles, who was studying film in Lebanon, used me as an extra in one of his films and I knew then that film was what I wanted to do.

I grew up in the UAE, so my roots are here. Having studied film in Montreal, I showed my documentary film Being Osama at the Dubai Film Festival and the tickets sold out in two hours. I was humbled by its success; it was endearing and I wanted to take it further. I felt my talents were well-suited to Dubai because I had been here in the beginning and witnessed the huge changes.

I noticed that huge budgets were being spent on corporate films here but the results were always dry and boring. Western directors were being brought in who had a very orientalist and cliched view of the UAE - falcons and boys with their grandfathers - the UAE is now home to many interesting corporate entities and I felt they needed material with genuine sensibility to reflect the true culture here.

It is early days but I am sad to say that at the moment, all the investment is going in the wrong direction. Endless film festivals are being planned, which merely provide a platform for filmmakers to just show their films. We need to see funding going into education and training here to achieve a more grass-roots approach to filmmaking in the UAE. Anyone in the film industry will tell you that it isn't all glitz and glam; it requires careful investment in order to build an industry.

The UAE is home to a rapidly changing society with a big turnover of expats. Communities go up and come down, but there isn't always a record of what was there before. I felt it was necessary to create a form of celebratory archive before Satwa gets buried. There is no shame in progress, but it's important to keep track of the cycle of development, whether its through architecture or photographic records.

I am interested in communities that aren't necessarily old, but which have been left alone to grow organically. Satwa, with its mainly blue-collar and lower white-collar expat population, has developed its own micro-economy; when these Asian and Filipino populations moved in, they created businesses to service their needs. I wanted to take people who wouldn't normally go there into the cracks and crevices.

Demolition is already underway in Satwa, and who knows what plans are on the table for other areas like Deira. A cultural problem at the moment is that people across the city do not venture much into neighbourhoods besides their own. One of my current projects involves documenting each area of Dubai. Ideally, I would like to cover 13 areas in 13 separate episodes, which will familiarise people with the different areas of the city.

Coming from Lebanon, where there is no national film front, and living in the UAE, where priority is not given to film projects, it's difficult to get funding.

I am fascinated by the rise of Sufism in Europe and am currently conducting some research for a documentary on the subject. The modern day decadence of big European cities has resulted in a complete lack of spirituality and these people have turned to Sufism in order to rediscover their bond with society. At a time when the whole world is obsessed with building bridges between East and West, these people embody that bridge by balancing the philosophies of both cultures.
@email:kboucher@thenational.ae

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