If any individual's work can make a case for the existence of the Emirates Film Competition, it's Nawaf Al Janahi. After success with earlier feature The Circle, his latest film, Sea Shadow, was picked up for production by Abu Dhabi's Imagenation.
"I was contacted by Imagenation Abu Dhabi after they attended the premiere of my very first feature film, The Circle," says Al Janahi in an interview ahead of the premiere of Sea Shadow at ADFF Wednesday night. "They showed interest, which was incredible news to the writer and myself."
The film tells the story of two teenagers in a small Ras Al Khaimah neighbourhood, and explaing themes of Emirati identity and nostalgia.
But more remains to be done, says the Emirati filmmaker. "We do not have a film industry here yet, we have a film movement. I see progress definitely happening, although it's moving at a slow pace."
Excerpts from the interview.
What was it about Sea Shadow that attracted you?
It was definitely the script; it is the initial step in every film. Sea Shadow has a story which encompasses both beauty and depth. The characters are very human and realistic; the kind of characters audiences would be able to relate to regardless of the cultural or geographical context.
Why did you choose Ras Al Khaimah as a setting?
Although the story is set in the modern-day UAE, the screenplay called for a humble and modest neighbourhood near the sea. That particular environment was vital to reflect the characters' personalities and behaviour in the movie. We found Ras Al Khaimah to be the perfect location as it offers simple surroundings and easy access to the sea, both of which made the tranquil environment we needed to create the mood in the film.
How did you find your actors? Was it a difficult process to cast?
Because of my experience in this field, I knew some of them already and had worked with them on previous projects. It's always difficult to cast for a film, as you usually have an image in your mind of how this person needs to look, act and behave. Luckily though, we have a wealth of good acting talent in this country.
Are there any parallels you can draw from Mansour and Kaltham's lives with your own experiences?
Generally, there's always a part of yourself in every film you make. The story also has such universal threads running through it that I think most people will be able to identify with one or many of the characters in the movie, and their experiences.
You've been in the industry for many years. How has the film industry developed in the UAE over the years in your experience?
Firstly, we do not have a film industry here yet, we have a film movement. This movement began with the Emirates Film Competition, which was launched in 2002 at the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi. Subsequently, many measures have been taken in order to aid and support filmmaking in the UAE, additionally many filmmakers began to emerge and many films toured film festivals across the globe.
You started as an independent filmmaker and now your feature is backed by a major company, Imagenation. What would your advice be to other filmmakers just starting off?
I am still an independent filmmaker and perhaps the best advice I can give is to start independent and to stay true to the independent soul of filmmaking. I think it is important to find your own way, and develop an independent style to film making, until you find the appropriate support.
Are you glad to have the ADFF as your launch pad?
Certainly. With very steady steps and a thoughtful strategy, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival proved to be a very strong player in shaping and improving the cinematic field in the region. And I think with such a solid programme such as the one they have this year, the festival has established a great foundation for itself, regionally and internationally.
Where else would you like to take Sea Shadow?
We would love to see the film being screened in international film festivals. Nevertheless, the first significant step is that the film will be released in cinemas across the UAE and the GCC on November 17.
What other projects are you working on?
I'm appearing in a play as an actor and I'm also working on a new feature film as a director.
Don't miss it
Catch Sea Shadow Wednesday night at Abu Dhabi Theatre at 9.30pm and Thursday at 10pm, Vox 6, Marina Mall.