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14 Emirati faces to watch in 2018

From science and technology to sports, arts and charity, Emiratis have made their mark in every field. Ahead of the Year of Zayed, we profile young Emiratis who are carrying the UAE founding father's legacy forward

Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News
GN Focus

Lamia Tariq Al Farsi, Gymnast

Lamia Tariq Al Farsi Lamia Tariq Al Farsi represented the UAE at the recent International Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament RSG Bayer Leverkusen Winter Cup in Germany

Last weekend, six-year-old Lamia Tariq Al Farsi competed against girls older than she is at the International Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament RSG Bayer Leverkusen Winter Cup, where she won a silver medal for her country.

This is, however, not her first title. With two gold medals this year — at the 2017 Open GR Azur International Rhythmic Gymnastics Tournament in Nice, France, and at the inaugural 2017 Rhythmic Gymnastic Emirates Cup — she is also the youngest ambassador of the 2017 Dubai Women’s Run.

Rhythmic gymnastics combines elements of ballet, gymnastics, dance and apparatus manipulations. Each movement involves a high degree of athletic skill and therefore demands strength, power, flexibility, agility, dexterity and endurance — a hard task at any age. “Lamia is incredibly talented, she is very agile, light and has great physical potential. She started training with my academy last May and has shown such great potential that we have fast-tracked her training to Elite level,” says 32-year-old Ksenia Dzhalaganiya, Founder and Head Coach of the Dubai Youth Olympics School of Rhythmic Gymnastics (DYOSRG), herself an Olympic athlete for Russia. Gymnasts in China and Russia start training as young as three or four years of age.

In contrast, Lamia is late to the party but Ksenia’s immediate goals are to prepare her protégée to compete in the Junior World Championships as well as represent the UAE in the Youth Olympics. So how did a six-year-old stumble into the world of rhythmic gymnastics? “As parents, we enrolled Lamia into a few different classes to explore her potential. She liked horses and is a keen rider but we noticed she loved twirling around the house so my wife and I decided to take her for ballet classes,” says her father, Tariq Ali Abdullah AlFarsi, who is a Senior Regional Manager at Du.

Her mother, Malak Al Farsi, says Lamia loved ballet at first but soon lost interest. “It was around this time we heard about rhythmic gymnastics and thought of trying it out,” she says.

They subsequently took her to DYOSRG, where she was soon shortlisted. “Suddenly there was a whole new world that opened up to us,” the former HR manager says. Like her coach Ksenia, Lamia and her parents are determined to see her compete under the UAE’s colours. Malak picks her up from school and drives her to training near Dubai’s Safa Park, where she practices five days a week for at least four hours a day. So far, Lamia has never missed a single day of training.

The Al Farsis’ friends and family have much to say. Some question the wisdom of pushing a young child so far so early in life, while others applaud them for challenging existing stereotypes about what an Emirati woman can achieve or not. “My mother has still not accepted this, even now she tells me that all that stretching will hurt Lamia’s physical growth. Our families still struggle to accept her as a gymnast but this mindset is slowly changing,” Tariq says.

The rigorous schedule and disciplined approach means Lamia has very little time to spend with her family and friends. “It’s hard to practice every single day but I feel so proud to represent the UAE,” the shy and soft-spoken six-year-old says.

Some days she does not get to play with her friends, as she needs to do her homework or prepare for upcoming tests. So her parents try to strike a balance by retreating to their family home in Ajman, to allow Lamia to spend time with her grandparents and her beloved pets.

“My dream one day is to meet His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, represent the UAE in the Olympics and make the nation proud of my achievements,” Lamia says.

— Patricia Tellis

Bakhita Al Muhairi, Pilot

Bakhita Al Muhairi 24-year-old Bakhita Al Muhairi, one of the youngest Emirati women commercial pilots, accumulated more than 1,100 flying hours while concurrently pursuing a Master's in aviation science at Hamdan University

At 24, Emirates Boeing 777 First Officer Bakhita Al Muhairi is one of the youngest Emirati female commercial pilots in the country.

In her profile at Rocket Women, an organisation that celebrates women in science, technology, engineering and maths, Bakhita describes the foundation on which her career was built. On her first day in aviation college, she found it daunting to be the only female student.

However, when she called her mother for some sympathy, her mother simply shrugged it off. “That is how it all started,” Bakhita explains. “It started with tough love.” She credits her mum for the trust and confidence in her abilities, and allowing her to pursue her dreams without hesitation.

After completing Emirates’ four-year National Cadet Pilot programme in Spain and Dubai, Al Muhairi acquired her licence before training in a Boeing 777. By July, she had accumulated over 1,100 flying hours, while concurrently pursuing a Master’s in aviation science at Hamdan University.

The UAE’s booming aviation sector is expected to contribute $53 billion (Dh194.5 billion) to the economy by 2020, according to Boeing International, and in the next 20 years, will need more than 55,000 pilots. Bakhita certainly sets an inspiring example for her countrymen — and women.

— Iona Stanley

Sain, Musician

Sain Hussain 'Sain' Al Hashimi, 27, is a former cabin crew member

An Emirati musician has yet to break through internationally but 27-year old Hussain ‘Sain’ Al Hashimi hopes to change that. The Dubaian first hit the airwaves with the single Who’s Sain, but he took a hiatus recently to figure out what he really wanted to say.

“I’m back now, full time, in the studio almost every day working on new material, experimenting with new beats and developing storyboards for video releases,”
he tells GN Focus via email.

The time off has given him new material — he aims to drop a video every month, all of different genres, but with a unifying theme that should resonate universally.

“As an artist my music reflects everyday struggles,” says the former cabin crew member. And when he isn’t recording, he’s mentoring other young people.

“The UAE has built its foundation on thinking global and acting local,” he says. “I aim to take my music to out to the world and give them a chance to recognise new-age music talent coming out from the UAE.”

— GN Focus Report

Dr Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi, Biodiesel researcher

Dr Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi Dr Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi is driven to research biodiesel production to help the UAE meet its energy goals

If there were no challenges, then I would not have been an achiever,” says Dr Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi, 32, the Emirati woman scientist who is known for her research in designing a novel system for enzymatic biodiesel production, which is a green and cost-effective process.

She is a recipient of the L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Middle East Fellowship 2016 that honours Arab female scientists from the GCC whose findings have contributed to the advancement of scientific knowledge and helped change the world for the better.

Dr Hanifa was also honoured for her research on green technologies for biofuel production with an Innovation Award from the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in 2015.

Her firm conviction helped her become the first UAE national PhD graduate from the College of Engineering at UAE University. She is now an assistant professor in Masdar Institute’s (Khalifa University) Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department.

“If there is no challenge, life would be boring. Among the several challenges while completing my studies, the path to publishing research papers while I was a student has been crucial. For graduation, you are required to publish at least two journal papers. Because I am a person keen to take on challenges, I could publish more than five papers from my PhD research work even before my graduation.”

She feels even more motivated towards her biodiesel production study because
it is also in line with the nation’s energy goals. “The UAE is always looking to be
unique, and renewable energy is a priority sector as it will help the country to depend less on oil in the future. It has many clean energy initiatives by Masdar Projects that can be rolled out on a large scale. The International Renewable Energy Agency is also founded in Masdar City, the world’s first most sustainable eco-city.”

— Hina Navin

Mohammad Al Shamsi, Robotics expert

Mohammad Al Shamsi Mohammad Al Shamsi founded RoboHiTec, whose projects include a remotely operated unmanned ground vehicle ready for military operations

Mohammad Al Shamsi’s passion for robotics stretches back to childhood, when everywhere he went, a mechatronic toy went with him.

But the Emirati could not have imagined his hobby would ultimately result in him founding his own successful robotics company, RoboHiTec, and the Emirates Robotics Club, a group of forward-thinkers who see robots as the future for the UAE and the world. Now the 31-year-old aims to put his home nation firmly on the global robotics map.

Having started building educational robots as a teenager, Al Shamsi’s interest in robotics flourished while studying mechatronics at Dubai Men’s College. After competing in local and international competitions — earning him recognition from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces — his first true invention emerged in his early 20s.

“It was a robot you could video call and operate remotely from your phone, and see what was happening in your home.”

It earned him recognition at the GCC Scientific Forum and a place among the Arab world’s best innovators. But he wanted more. “I was looking for more Emiratis with an interest in robotics, but couldn’t find many with the skills and experience,” he says. “I felt it was the time to build a community for those interested in robots, where we can build while also learning from each other.”

This led him to establish the Emirates Robotics Club, whose first product — an unmanned robot to help police remove dangerous materials such as chemicals or explosives — was created within a year.

After receiving requests from people wanting to source robotics parts locally and companies wanting to commission robots for specific work, Al Shamsi set up RoboHiTec, whose projects include a remote-operated unmanned ground vehicle for military operations and a drone for delivering medical supplies.

Al Shamsi says his dream is to develop and sell a UAE-made robot worldwide.

— Jennifer Bell

Mada Al Suwaidi, Philanthropy manager

Mada Al Suwaidi In her role as Senior Programme Manager at Dubai Cares, Mada Al Suwaidi oversees 12 initiatives in ten countries

Don’t let the fear of failure stop you; it can be the biggest hindrance to the success of the UAE’s youth,” says Mada Al Suwaidi, a young Emirati who believes young people must respond to a government call to leadership roles across the country.

Mada, 27, has been with Dubai Cares since 2013 but her love for helping others began ten years ago. As a degree student in Canada and the UK, she volunteered with refugees, special needs children and the elderly. The experience prompted her to seek a career in humanitarian services.

“When I saw a video of Dubai Cares helping communities and children around the world at the Dubai International Film Festival, I felt automatically connected to its activities.”

Promoted within two years of joining to Senior Programme Manager, she now looks after 12 initiatives in ten countries. These vary in scale from building schools to training teachers and focusing on girls’ schools but all centre around improving access to quality education.

Mada’s job requires her to travel alone to developing nations. In four years, she’s been to more than 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Nepal, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. She typically leads meetings with children, parents, programme partners and government officials to evaluate the challenges a country is facing before helping create a customised education plan.

One project in the Philippines, for example, was to reduce school dropout rates caused by early pregnancy by talking to girls about subjects such as sexual abuse and home violence. “I feel very honoured to represent my country, which is helping to improve the lives of the children across the globe,” she says.

“The UAE is among the largest donors of foreign aid globally. This has been possible only with the leadership and far-sighted vision of our rulers.”

— Hina Navin

Essa Al Ansari, Motivational speaker

Essa Al Ansari Essa Al Ansari attended 60 different events at last month's Dubai Fitness Challenge

It’s a big job, but someone’s got to do it. As the UAE reels from the weighty impact of being among the most obese nations on the planet, Essa Al Ansari has stepped up to help change attitudes and behaviours.

The 26-year-old has been there, worn the T-shirt and dropped the ballast — losing 70 kilos in two years. “If I can do it, anyone can do it,” he tells GN Focus.

In his day job, Al Ansari is Director of Operations at Al Ansari Hospitality. The rest of the time he doubles up as a motivational speaker, spreading the message at companies, schools and events.

At last month’s Dubai Fitness Challenge, he says he attended 60 different events. Now he wants to spread the message through books and TV shows, both of which are in the works. “Being an Emirati, coming from the UAE, I want to inspire people — particularly the young — to lead healthy lives. Diabetes and obesity are a tremendous problem across the Middle East.”

Sedentary lifestyles and a culture that revolves around food may be to blame, but anyone can rise above. “You need to commit to 20 minutes four days a week, and make sure you’ve got support systems in place — family, friends or people who push you to be your best.”

— GN Focus Report

Ismail Al Hammadi, Realtor

Ismail Al Hammadi With an aim to redefine the UAE's property management service sector, Ismail Al Hammadi believes in big ambitions

For a country synonymous with shiny skyscrapers and extravagant real property developments, it’s perhaps strange Emiratis are not known for pursuing a career on the ground level in real estate.

However, that may be changing with the new generation of entrepreneurs. Al Ruwad Real Estate is a young UAE national company with big ambitions. The company’s owner and CEO, Ismail Al Hammadi, says he aims to redefine the country’s property management service sector, and with an unwavering focus on excellence he is confident in achieving all growth objectives.

Al Hammadi started out studying public relations, communications and advertising, and says this enabled him to become well versed in building strong relationships with governmental bodies. He has an impressive record of successfully guiding local, national and multinational clients with their real estate acquisitions.

“The real breakthrough in my career came in 2010 when I set sail towards a new venture in the real estate industry, accepting a sales position with Tecom Investments,” he said. “This offered me a superior professional knowledge of the market and the ability to uncover existing and potential opportunities for land sales and acquisitions. I acquired a full breadth of experience, including transactions, production, residential and commercial development, planning and entitlement, valuation and consulting.”

The time spent there served him well. In 2013, he established Al Ruwad — coincidently or not, right after UAE National Day — with the aim of offering innovative real estate solutions and providing accurate and up-to-date information, skilled analysis and sound real estate advice.

The company is doing very nicely indeed, says Al Hammadi. When it comes to the government’s Emiratisation scheme, Al Hammadi says it has been crucial in allowing UAE nationals to find the best fit for their individual talents in a country that has changed so rapidly over a few short decades.

“I personally believe that given the current socio-economic developments, the initiative to increase the number of UAE nationals in the country’s workforce was a necessary step that will help drive the economy to further peaks,” he says.

For himself, he is happy to dispel the myths of working in his industry. “Though a lot of people think the real estate business is easy money, there is a lot more to it than that. It can be a very rewarding career choice for just about anyone. Those entering the field have quite varied backgrounds and skill sets. You don’t need to be a salesman; this is primarily a service business, and serving your clients well will contribute to your success.”

Al Hammadi believes the future is very bright for the UAE. “In my opinion, the UAE does not only prepare itself for a bright and innovative future, but will stand at the forefront of a fourth industrial revolution as a leader and a pioneer of change that will help to shape the future of the whole world,” he says.

— Emma Procter

Abdulrahman Essa Al Ateek, Energy industry professional

Abdulrahman Essa Al Ateek Abdulrahman Essa Al Ateek has plans to make Borouge, a joint venture between Adnoc and Borealis, even more globally competitive through a series of initiatives

Abdulrahman Essa Al Ateek, 33, is a driven man. He sets clear goals for himself and achieves these with determination, self-discipline and effort.

“When I was in the 11th grade, I made up my mind that I would go to the US to study for my bachelor’s degree,” he says. “I worked and studied hard in order to achieve that goal, ensuring that I sat for all the required external exams and additional exams that would help get me accepted to a top university. And I did.” He later pursued a programme in Mechanical Engineering from the prestigious University of Texas at Austin.

“My family and parents deeply value education, clear goal-setting and the drive to achieve the goals. Looking back, I recognise that these values have been instrumental in all that I have achieved so far in life, both personally and professionally.”

Al Ateek joined Borouge, a joint venture between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and the polyethylene producer Borealis in 2005 as a product handling engineer. Currently vice-president of quality, he directs the end-to-end quality control process of its laboratories and the quality of customer service.

“I design and manage the processes, procedures and systems that monitor and report on manufacturing quality and service levels,” says Al Ateek, adding, “It is an exciting time to work at Borouge. We are aiming to nearly triple petrochemical production to reach 11.4 million tonnes, in line with Adnoc’s integrated 2030 strategy. We are creating a more valuable downstream business and expanding the group’s high-value product portfolio. Borouge is playing a vital role in meeting the company’s long-term goals and in pushing the industrial diversification of Abu Dhabi and the UAE.”

His most significant achievement to date? “I led a multilocation team in Singapore, Mumbai, Melbourne and Auckland towards a common strategy that focused on enhancing the performance of our logistics service providers.”

It is clear that achieving and enhancing global competitiveness for Borouge is critical for Al Ateek. He has rolled out many initiatives, including the establishment of Borouge’s I 5 Process, to make this a more competitive and resilient organisation.

“I 5 is our in-house-developed, continuous-improvement process that follows five sequential steps. The program applies to all our business processes and allows us to analyse better quality data related to customer service delivery, and identify and solve technical or production issues.”

Growing up in the UAE and studying in an international school, Al Ateek is proud of his Emirati heritage and is grateful for all the opportunities that the country has offered its youth. “Nationhood, for me, is the sacrifice for theprosperity of a nation, today and tomorrow.”

— Chiranti Sengupta

Mariam Al Ali, Banker

Mariam Al Ali As Head of Emiratisation and Government Relations at Mashreq, Mariam Al Ali aims to equip Emiratis with the right tools to develop themselves at the bank

Human resources managers in the UAE must undertake multiple responsibilities: recruit the right Emiratis for the right roles, identify and harness their potential, and provide them with support and training to help them hold key positions,” says Mariam Al Ali, the Head of Emiratisation and Government Relations at Mashreq.

She cites her own success story at the bank as an example. Immediately after graduating from the University of Dubai in 2011, with a major in business administration, Mariam joined Mashreq as a customer relations officer.

After joining the HR team, her prowess saw her heading up to her current position. Mariam says she has faced numerous challenges throughout her career, but they have only helped her grow. “I am able to overcome the many challenges that come my way because of the support I am offered by the bank’s senior management. Their confidence in me spurs me to take up and shoulder bigger responsibilities.”

Mashreq’s thriving Emiratisation programme has seen several initiatives come to fruition, and Mariam has her hands full with ongoing modules that address UAE national students, fresh college graduates, management trainees and mid-managerial positions within the bank.

Her goal mirrors that of the founding father of the nation: “We must ensure that Emiratis are equipped and empowered to actively contribute to the growth and development of the country,” she says. “In doing this successfully, we will achieve Shaikh Zayed’s vision of developing the UAE and the UAE national.”

— Iona Stanley

Hessa Al Falasi, Designer

Hessa Al Falasi Hessa Al Falasi opened her flagship UAE store last year

"A beautiful woman always inspires me,” says Hessa Al Falasi, designer, couture seamstress and founder of label Hessa Falasi.

She showed great passion for art as a child and loved to play with colours and fabrics. “My mother noticed this gift and she told me to design for my dolls,” says Hessa, who designed her first outfit at 18. “She used to take me to get fabrics and stitch for my dolls when I was seven, then I started to design my own clothes when I was 14.”

After graduating from Zayed University in Dubai she moved on to an intensive two-year programme in fashion studies where she learned everything about cuts, prints, fabrics and textures. Now Hessa is considered a pioneer in the fashion industry, known for elevating traditional abayas into classic and luxurious ensembles through her designs. Her label Hessa Falasi was launched in 2011 and her flagship store in 2016 in the UAE.

As with all other professions, Hessa too had to cross barriers to follow her passion, especially to control and manage her business. “I overcame these by learning to solve problems.”

So what kind of women does she design clothes for? “Stylish and elegant,” she says. Hessa’s designs are largely inspired by an Arabian culture — tradition with a modern twist through a variety of high-quality fabrics. Her personal experiences and ideologies reflect in her designs, which combine colours, simplicity and elegance. She names one of her best achievements as expanding the abaya’s appeal beyond the garment’s traditional audiences.

— Krita Coelho

Ali Al Sayed, Comedian

Ali Al Sayed Stand-up comic Ali Al Sayed enjoys poking fun at various stereotypes of people in the UAE

Who doesn’t know Ali Al Sayed? If you have any interest in stand-up comedy, you’ve probably come across his brand of humour, which has brilliant takes on everything from life in the UAE to the country’s various nationalities, their stereotypes and dialects.

“Stereotypes are funny but racism is not. It’s about what you say and how you say,” says the Emirati comedian, who has been writing, performing and producing comedy since 2008. “You can’t live in Dubai and stay closed to other cultures. If you do so, then you’re missing the beauty of this city. Growing up, I learned so much about the world simply by talking to people.”

When asked if he always wanted to be a comedian, he says, “If I hadn’t made it as a comedian, I would’ve been doing something important in the corporate world.” Apart from headlining shows in New York, Edinburgh and Greece, the comic was named among the funniest people by Rolling Stone and one of the most influential comedians in the world by Toastmasters International Magazine.

However, his ascent to fame has been far from easy. “Being a comedian is a very tough job. You have to be ready with telling the same joke a thousand times before it can be really that funny, leaving the crowd in splits. Writing a feature film is easier than writing a one-hour stand-up comedy set. You must have patience, discipline and dedication to make it big.”

Al Sayed, a big fan of American comedian Chris Rock, says the UAE has a growing appetite and demand for comedy, encouraging many newcomers to try their hand at this genre. “There are a lot more people now who are interested in taking the stage. Over the past couple of years, the public and private sectors have also been very supportive of comedy.”

He also did his bit by creating Dubomedy, along with his wife Mina Liccione, in 2008 to offer comedians in the region a platform, while taking this art to a new level.

“The UAE is like my older sibling, we grew up together,” he says. “I’m from that generation that witnessed the changes. Every time the country got bigger, I had to step up to the plate and get bigger.”

With Comedy Central bringing back its first local production Comedy Central Presents Season 2 and 3 in January, Al Sayed helped local performers hone their skills through workshops leading up to the live production and filming for the shows. “We worked with over 70 comedians for these seasons. We went on a comedy hunt in three countries to find and coach new talent. Viewers are in for a treat.”

While he is optimistic about the future of stand-up in the UAE, he takes a cautious approach when it comes to telling people how to make it on stage. “Don’t expect that you’ll be hilarious overnight. Don’t be happy with just one good show, making sure that your audience laughs every time you get up. And, don’t expect to see any money, at least in the first three years.”

— Chiranti Sengupta

Omar Al Awadhi, Hotelier

Omar Al Awadhi Omar Al Awadhi takes pride in Arabian values of hospitality

Omar Al Awadhi was wiping down a restaurant table in his first week on the job when a British tourist walked up to him and asked if he was really a UAE national. In 25 years of visiting the UAE, she said, she’d never seen an Emirati waiting tables.

“But we are Arab, we are hospitable people, so why not?” he tells GN Focus over the telephone. The 23-year-old is now the first food and beverage ambassador for Jumeirah Hotels, something he credits to his bosses — General Manager, Andy Cuthbert and F&B director, Jerome Barbeau.

His day job involves promoting the different restaurants across the company to visitors, working on government events and dealing with day-to-day guest requests and complaints. As such, he is the face of the Emirates for many visitors, and is often posed awkward questions but takes pleasure in busting misconceptions.

Another guest was apprehensive of talking to him because Muslims were associated with many acts of terror. “I tell them that these people are not Muslims, they are the fallen ones. If I change one person’s mindset, that person will tell their friends — that is how attitudes change.”

“It’s not an easy job, and I think that’s why I don’t have a lot of Emirati colleagues, but we need to be open and friendly. The biggest problem for many of us is that we stay in our comfort zone. At the end of the day, if I’ve made each and every guest happy, I sleep well at night.”

— GN Focus Report

Abdulla Al Kaabi, Film-maker

Abdulla Al Kaabi Film-maker Abdulla Al Kaabi's Only Men Go To The Grave was named best Emirati feature at last year's Dubai International Film Festival

At a time when the word tolerance has been bandied about a fair deal in the national discourse, Abdulla Al Kaabi exemplifies the UAE’s very adult approach to difficult subjects.

The director’s first full length film, Only Men Go To The Grave, was named the best Emirati feature at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival, and went on public release with a PG13 rating in August, and its initial one-week run being extended by public demand.

The family drama is set in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War and revolves around a matriarch whose secrets come tumbling out after her death. In the process, other stories are discovered in a wide-ranging arc tackling marital issues, gender, alternative relationships, even sectarianism with a sensitive, show-but-don’t-preach approach.

“I’m always surprised when I’m asked if it was difficult to secure a public release, because it wasn’t. My film went through the same process as any other. I don’t think the nationality of the filmmaker makes a difference to that process,” the 31-year-old director tells me over the phone from his family home in Fujairah.

“I’m lucky to be here in the UAE, which gives me the platform to address issues that aren’t commonly touched upon, and I’m lucky to be part of the artistic community here in the UAE at a time when we are setting the tone of what the community should be,” he adds. “People think there are too many restrictions here. These exist in their own minds.”

Al Kaabi has had his busiest year to date, as his independent film does the rounds of the festival circuit (most recently at Arab Cinema Week in New York), and he negotiates with distributors for the rest of the Arab world, North America and Europe, with airlines, and “a very famous online platform”, whose name he refuses to divulge.

Between all that, he’s found time to produce commercials for Dior and Piaget, and has begun work on his next feature, about an anonymous coma patient. Perhaps it’s fitting that a millennial filmmaker should explore ideas of self and identity. In The Philosopher, a student movie he made starring French legend Jean Reno, for instance, the title character attempts to reshape how people see him. “It’s very much the universe I like to explore,” Al Kaabi
says.

“My movies are very much a collaboration with the viewer. My films really happen in the mind of the viewer.” While he says the creation of a strong film industry in the UAE requires greater belief from stakeholders, he dreams of UAE directors becoming household names around the world.

“I want to make sure our voices as Emirati filmmakers go global and become a trend.” A few more path-breaking films and that aspiration may soon be more thana mere dream.

— Keith J. Fernandez

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