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Emirati walker Bin Thaneya’s journey on film

The fundraiser’s trek to Makkah is the subject of a new film premiering at the Gulf Film Festival

  • Caption: Jalal Bin Thaneya on his 2,000km journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in Saudi ArabiaCredit: Gulf News AImage Credit:
  • Caption: Jalal Bin Thaneya on his 2,000km journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in Saudi ArabiaCredit: Gulf News AImage Credit:
  • Caption: Jalal Bin Thaneya on his 2,000km journey from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in Saudi ArabiaCredit: Gulf News AImage Credit:
01 Tabloid

He’s walked across the Emirates, climbed multiple skyscrapers in Dubai and trekked all the way from Abu Dhabi to Makkah in Saudi Arabia, all in the name of charity.

Now, Jalal Bin Thaneya, the UAE’s most active fundraiser, is the subject of an short documentary film called Journeyman and the City of Pilgrims, which will premiere at the ongoing Gulf Film Festival.

Directed by Bin Thaneya himself, the film, screened in the Official Gulf Short Competition category, focuses on his 2,000km journey from Al Ruwais in west Abu Dhabi to Makkah last year, to raise funds for the Dubai Centre for Special Needs.

Presented by Gulf News’ GNTV, the 16 minutes film, cobbled together from footage filmed by Bin Thaneya’s travelling companion Yahya Al Hooti, follows the fundraiser through his gruelling journey and offers an intimate look at his convictions, his struggles and his inspirations and the lessons he learns along the way.

tabloid! caught up with the 25-year-old to talk about the film and his next project: 

Q: Tell us a little more about ‘Journeyman and the City of Pilgrims’. Why was this journey special?

A: The film revolves around my journey to Makkah on foot. It picks off where I left off as I had taken up causes for special needs in the past. This journey was special in that I performed a religious ritual as intention to perform Umrah but by walking from the outskirts of the UAE to Makkah. The film also outlines my personal perception on humanity’s destructive nature and some of my reflections in the beautiful desert of Saudi Arabia. 

Q: Why did you decide to make this film?

A: The film was unintended and the person following me shot all scenes as a diary for us to keep. I had no intention of making a film.

It was filmed by my companion on the journey, Yahya Al Hooti, who braved the journey with me. I’m thankful he believed in this challenge in its entirety as well as managing to handle my outlook on the task at hand. The film was co-produced by myself and the Gulf News team who were very supportive thanks to the wise vision and outlook of [Editor-in-Chief] Abdul Hamid Ahmed who knew that this project would yield results in the long term. I learnt a lot from his attitude. 

Q: How long did it take you to make this film and what were the challenges?

A: The film was challenging to make because it was my first documentary of this nature. Filming in Saudi Arabia is difficult due to the extremities of the terrain. Cities are dense and not pedestrian-friendly in this region as a whole. I also had to work with a basic camera and didn’t use anything professional.

Initially there was no script as there is no acting in the film, just a documentation of my difficult journey through the Arabian Peninsula.

Also, through the journey, we didn’t always have food and often slept in the desert waking up to insects, desert flora and fauna as well as some curious bedouins and security personnel. 

Q: What’s your next project?

A: I am planning another project but I have a habit of keeping quiet before saying anything too soon. I appreciate all the support I have received for special needs people and have made friends from all walks of life during my journeys. 


Fact Box

Journeyman and the City of Pilgrims will be screened on April 16, at 2pm at Grand Cinemas 6, Dubai Festival City and on April 17, at 3pm at Grand Cinemas 8.

All screenings at the Gulf Film Festival are free. For a full schedule, go to For more on Jalal Bin Thaneya, go to




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Latest Comment

I drove with my parents from Dubai to Makkah as a kid and remember Thelong harsh desert. Bravo brother Jalal, good on you. Will try to gethold of your video . All the best for your future endeavours.Ma'asalaam Amar


17 April 2013 16:31jump to comments