Young film-maker gets debut in US capital

Documentary about UAE female riding team is first film from Emirates to screen at Washington DC Independent Film Festival.

Filmmaker, Hanan Al Muhair, at a screening of her film, "Arabyana: Our Right to Ride," at the United Arab Emirates' embassy, March 11, 2010, in Washington, D.C.
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WASHINGTON // A young film maker's documentary about the UAE's first all-female horse riding team has made its American debut. Our Right to Ride, by Hanan al Muhairi, 25, is the first film from the Emirates to screen at the Washington DC Independent Film Festival, which concludes today. The 60-minute documentary explores the challenges faced by women as they try to dismantle a view in the UAE that horse riding is exclusively for men.

The film, which took four years to make, was originally called Arabyana, after the riding team that al Muhairi helped to set up in 2006. Carol Bidault, the founder and executive director of the 12-year-old festival, said selecting al Muhairi's documentary to be among the more than 100 films screened was a "no-brainer". "We are here to help create and discover new talent," she said, adding that films were chosen based on 10 criteria, including the strength of its editing and "artistic expression".

"Since we had never really had a film from the UAE, this one stuck out," she said. "It was a window into a culture that I had just never seen before." The UAE has sought to cultivate its budding film industry. In 2008, the Abu Dhabi Government invested Dh3.67 billion (US$1bn) in its film subsidiary, Imagenation Abu Dhabi. In 2007, it launched the Middle East International Film Festival, which includes a section dedicated to Arab female directors.

Al Muhairi's film was made under the patronage of Princess Haya, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Princess Haya is a keen rider. Al Muhairi said the film had already made a difference, correcting long-standing misconceptions about female riders, such as one that they are "un-Islamic". "More females are now asking for the right to ride," she said.

Another Emirati film, Henna, which won the best director award at the 2008 Middle East International Film Festival, was screened this month at an Arab film festival in Minnesota. It was the first Emirati film to participate in the festival.