From stories about life as an Emirati with mixed parentage to a drama based on a real-life crime and the emancipation of women, directors at this year’s Muhr Emirati category at Dubai International Film Festival are taking on sensitive social issues.
Abu Dhabi director Juma Al Sahli’s abstract film ‘The Goat’s Head’, about a woman who feels suffocated under the shadow of her husband, father and brother, is an ode to women asserting their individuality, while Mansour Al Daheri’s stark film ‘Mirage.net’ is about young men who abuse the internet to blackmail gullible women. Both serve as a warning about the new dangers of the world we live in.
“I wanted to change perceptions and hold the mirror up to men in the Arab world who treat women as nothing,” says Al Sahli, whose protagonist, Hussa, never appears on screen. “Women are determining their place in society and I wanted to show it is a reality we must all accept.”
While the title of the film reflects the story in which Hussa begins to feel she is like a lamb, meekly following the men in her life to a slaughterhouse, the decision to never identify Hussa was a stylistic one, he says.
“We know she is Arab but it could be any woman anywhere in the world.”
In Mirage.net, Al Daheri dramatises a story he read in the newspaper, about a woman who finds love on the internet but ends up being a victim of blackmail — and tragically suffers the social consequences.
“It’s a serious issue not only in our community but worldwide and I felt we need to talk about it,” says the Abu Dhabi-based director who adds that he struggled at first to find his Emirati cast due to the sensitivity of the subject. “There are some daring scenes and the actors were hesitant at first. But in the end, they believed in the cause.”
That many women think they will find their dream man on the internet is the mirage, Al Daheri explains.
“In the end, if we can save even one girl or change the mind of one radical, then I think we’ve achieved something,” he says.
Another director who wants to demystify perceptions is Amal Al Agroobi, whose documentary ‘Half Emirati’ looks at the issues Emiratis of mixed parentage face in integrating with the larger Emirati community.
Born to an Emirati father and Syrian mother, Amal says she’s wanted to make this film for a very long time.
“The social implication of being half Emirati is very unique. From the issue of marriage, to appearances and the influences of the cultures of the non-Emirati side of the family, I wanted to explore what makes these people different, hear their stories and the challenges they have to overcome.”
Featuring mostly talking heads, Amal says she choose to let the stories unfold via personal accounts. The result, she adds, is a goldmine of interesting anecdotes — some funny, some deeply personal and some heartbreaking.
“Because some of the stories were so powerful, I let the people just speak, without any distractions, and focus on their uniqueness,” she says. “Some of them were bullied because they look different. The half Indian, for instance, says he looked a lot darker than his friends and so was made fun of growing up. The half Filipino tells us about how she wore lenses and dyed her hair to fit in.
“It was also interesting to see how, depending on which other half they came from, it was reflected in their personalities,” she adds.
But a lot of people who agreed to speak on camera developed cold feet on the day of filming, recalls Amal, an entrepreneur.
“Some of them were not comfortable to acknowledge their other half. And some, because their other half is non-Emirati, refused to even accept they were half Emirati.”
Despite the differences in cultures, Amal says she hopes people will see that we are, eventually, all the same.
“I want people to celebrate their uniqueness — and not see it as a disadvantage,” she says.
Both ‘The Goats Head’ and ‘Half Emirati’ will be screened on December 12 at 3.30pm and December 15 at 9.15pm along with other Muhr Emirati shorts. Mirage.net is on December 12 at 12:30pm. All screenings at Vox Cinema, Mall of the Emirates.