Filmmaker challenges taboo around autism

The Brain That Sings, from Emirati documentary maker Amal Al Agroobi, follows two autistic boys in Dubai as they learn how to overcome their condition through music therapy.

Mohammed Al Tamimi and music therapist Marion Tennant work together in The Brain That Sings. Courtesy Alagroobi Films
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DUBAI // An award-winning documentary about autism is to become part of a nationwide awareness campaign about the condition from next month.

The Brain That Sings, from Emirati documentary maker Amal Al Agroobi, follows two autistic boys in Dubai as they learn how to overcome their condition through music therapy.

The English-language film won the People’s Choice Award at Dubai Film Festival last year, and its maker is now using it in a UAE-wide campaign.

Ms Al Agroobi wants schools, community groups and businesses across the country to request a screening.

“The film is the first time that we have had people in the UAE speaking about autism,” she said. “It is an issue that doesn’t get much attention and one of the big issues is that many of the children affected with the condition get diagnoses at about two, but don’t get the specialised schooling they need until eight, so they miss the crucial ages.”

The film is about Mohammed Al Tamimi, 19, and six-year-old Khalifa Al Ali. It shows their everyday experiences with autism and the effect the condition has on their families.

“The documentary is about two autistic boys as they take part in music therapy and we follow them on their journey as the treatment helps them to feel more confident in social situations,” said Ms Al Agroobi.

“Mohammed, who was 18 at the time, had issues with being violent and [the film] shows the impact the therapy has had.”

Autism remains a huge taboo within the Emirati community, where people with the condition can feel isolated from society.

“We screened the documentary at the Dubai Film Festival last year but the audience for that was very much filmgoers and we want as many people to see it as possible,” she said.

Ms Al Agroobi is hoping to use the concept of pop-up cinemas to take the message to schools, universities and the wider community.

“As independent filmmakers we don’t have the huge resources that the big studios have to distribute and advertise their films,” she said.

“As a result, we have to do things like this.

“We have already given special private screenings to the KHDA, as well as the Jalila Foundation and other government departments, so it is an issue that the government is aware of.”

The campaign is expected to launch on November 8 and continue for about a year.

So far, five schools in Dubai have contacted Ms Al Agroobi to ask for the documentary to be screened and she is hopeful more will follow in other emirates.

“The plan is to show people the film and then have a panel of experts, including the parents of the children taking part, to discuss the issue in more detail,” she said.

“We are open to provide screenings to anyone, from universities to businesses or even a group of people who would like to see it,” she said.

Ideally the documentary would be screened to people aged 13 and over.

“One of the best things about showing the film at Dubai Film Festival was when we had the fathers of these children meet and talk about the experiences they had gone through,” she said.

“It was wonderful to see a real connection between people, who perhaps would never have met in normal circumstances.

“I hope that it is the beginning of changing attitudes in society and it will encourage other families to come forward.”

To request a screening of the documentary, email alagroobifilms@gmail.com.

nhanif@thenational.ae

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