When cinemagoers across the UAE debate what film to see this weekend, one of their options will be a homegrown offering. Champ of the Camp, Mahmoud Kaabour's uplifting feature film about a singing competition held in a Dubai labour camp, is not just a heartening account of talent shining through adversity but also marks the first time a homegrown film has been given a full UAE cinema release.
This is clearly good news for Mr Kaabour, a 34-year-old Beirut-born filmmaker who runs UAE-based Veritas Films, not least because ticket sales will mean the film is now likely to recoup its $350,000 (Dh1.3 million) budget. But it is equally good news for the fledgling film industry in the Emirates, for which the cinema release on seven screens in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Fujairah and Al Ain shows that significant progress is being made to create a genuine and sustainable industry.
As with most breakthroughs, the success of Champ of the Camp belies the skill, hard work, dedication and risk that led to this point. Mr Kaabour had previously earned both applause and awards for his 2004 film, Being Osama, in which he documents the experiences of six Montreal men with the same first name as the Al Qaeda leader. It was followed in 2010 by Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, a Thousand Times), a 50-minute film about a feisty Beiruti grandmother that was the first feature to be released by a company based in Twofour54, Abu Dhabi’s media content creation freezone. It too won plaudits and prizes.
But even after that success, he had to resort to Aflamnah, a UAE crowdsourcing site, to raise finance to publicise his latest film.
Champ of the Camp represents many of the reasons why a film industry is being fostered here: it gives experience to those who already have talent and enthusiasm, it helps create a centre of expertise in the UAE that aids the goal of establishing a knowledge economy and it tells our stories, rather than reflecting the mores of Hollywood, Bollywood or Pinewood.
Abu Dhabi has already successfully invested in films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel through The National’s sister company, Imagenation. But the real fruits of its investment in films will appear when local filmmakers like Mr Kaabour leverage this latest breakthrough into even greater success.