Netflix producer launches search for disabled talent to develop Abu Dhabi-filmed drama

The show aims to give people with disabilities an opportunity to shine

Mansoor Al Dhaheri, right, chief executive and founder of Abu Dhabi company FilmGate Productions. Courtesy Al Kalema Productions
Mansoor Al Dhaheri, right, chief executive and founder of Abu Dhabi company FilmGate Productions. Courtesy Al Kalema Productions

The producer behind a hit Netflix TV series is on the lookout for an experienced disabled film director and executive producers.

Arabic series The Platform became an instant sensation when it premiered on the streaming service last September, with the second series proving equally popular when it dropped on April 1.

The show is produced by FilmGate Productions in collaboration with Al Kalema Productions and was shot in various locations around Abu Dhabi.

Emirati producer Mansoor Al Dhaheri, chief executive and founder of FilmGate, is now helping to produce a new drama that will be made by people with disabilities, referred to as "people of determination" by the UAE government.

The project, which will be funded and produced by FilmGate, aims to feature disabled people in the majority of its roles – including writing, acting, filming and production.

Emirati producer Mansoor Al Dhaheri is the CEO and founder of Filmgate productions, the company behind 'The Platform'. Filmgate
Emirati producer Mansoor Al Dhaheri is the CEO and founder of FilmGate productions, the company behind 'The Platform'. FilmGate

As part of the second phase in the production project, which was announced last year, Mr Al Dhaheri is on the lookout for experienced disabled film directors and executive producers, in collaboration with Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination.

ZHO is the official body in Abu Dhabi that provides education and job opportunities for disabled people.

Mr Al Dhaheri came up with the initiative after noticing a lack of disabled people in the film production industry.

“When he was working on a lot of productions, he realised that there are no people of determination in this field; not as editors, not as writers … because there were no opportunities,” Lama Zalat, executive producer at FilmGate, said.

Mr Al Dhaheri decided to create those opportunities and contacted the ZHO to help him find suitable people.

Ms Zalat said the goal of the production is “to show the world that people of determination are capable of doing such work on an international level”.

ZHO also saw a chance to offer disabled people wider opportunities.

“We want to target cinema on an international level for new perspectives. Why do people of determination only play the role of someone with a disability? They could play other roles too,” Maitha Al Mansouri, director of marketing and communication at ZHO, said.

The production will open the door for them to participate in many roles in the future, she added.

FilmGate has already recruited four disabled writers to draft the script.

Jourey Al Azmi from Kuwait, Ahmed bin Salem Al Hajji from Oman, Mouhannad AlAkous from Syria, and Shady Todary from Egypt, were selected from around 300 applicants.

Jourey Al Azmi, who was born blind, has been selected as one of four disabled writers to write the script of an Abu Dhabi produced drama. Courtesy: Jourey Al Azmi.
Jourey Al Azmi, who was born blind, has been selected as one of four disabled writers to write the script of an Abu Dhabi produced drama. Courtesy: Jourey Al Azmi.

The youngest of the writers, visually impaired Jourey Al Azmi, has been a writer since she was at school.

“I've read since I was in primary school, so from those experiences I started writing by default," Ms Al Azmi said.

“I used to participate in contests for short stories and took a course on writing novels.”

The 20-year-old Kuwait University student is also a volunteer writer for Al Amal digital newspaper, with a special interest in writing about people of determination.

“I am used to writing articles and novels, but I had never written a script for drama production before, so it was like an adventure for me to apply," Ms Al Azmi said.

Nonetheless, she felt intrigued to take part in the “the very beautiful initiative”.

“It felt nice to put my stamp on it.”

She also won first place in the Arab Reading Challenge for Kuwait in 2016, competing against 16,000 pupils from her country, and was ranked in the top 20 across the Arab region – which saw 3.5 million participants.

Ms Al Azmi has also won third place in a short story competition run by the Kuwait Ministry of Education.

Ahmed Al Hajji, who became handicapped in 1998, has been selected as one of four disabled writers to write the script of an Abu Dhabi produced drama. Courtesy: Ahmed Al Hajji
Ahmed Al Hajji, who was left paralysed by car crash in 1998, has been selected as one of four disabled writers to write the script of an Abu Dhabi produced drama. Courtesy: Ahmed Al Hajji

Ahmed Al Hajji has been writing since he was a child, but losing the ability to walk at age 28 encouraged him to write his first novel.

A severe car crash in 1998 left him paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.

“On November 30 of that year, I moved from the world of the physically healthy to a very different world," said Mr Al Hajji.

After a long journey seeking treatment abroad in vain, the 48-year-old Omani teacher wrote a novel For Pain There is Another Side about his experience.

While he started to write his novel in the early 2000s, Mr Al Hajji did not publish his story until 2015.

“In 2005 my computer crashed and I lost everything that I had written,” he said.

A few years later, he decided to start again “from zero” and it proved to be a success in the Muscat Book Fair.

He then saw an advert for the FilmGate casting on social media, and like Miss Al Azmi, he was intrigued to take part.

“It is a beautiful topic and my friends encouraged me to apply,” he said.

Last weekend, FilmGate started receiving applications for a director and an executive producer, with dozens coming from countries all over the world.

Casting for those roles is expected to continue for a few months, followed by the casting of actors.

Filming for the series is set to take place mainly in Abu Dhabi, with a plan to start shooting towards the end of 2021.

Those interested can apply on the Zayed Higher Organisation for People of Determination website.

Updated: May 2, 2021 04:53 PM

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