'Champ of the Camp' follows UAE workers as they compete in a Bollywood song and trivia competition. The narration is interspersed with their stories, some heartbreaking, told from their own perspective. Image Credit: Veritas Films

A film about UAE workers, which premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) last month, is going places.

Champ of the Camp, directed by award-winning Lebanese filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour, has been picked up by UAE distributors for general release on January 30.

“I can sigh relief, finally,” says Kaabour. “It has been a laborious project with difficulties in every step. Diff was an important milestone, and now this distribution deal. I think next month we can finally rest.”

Based on an annual Bollywood singing and trivia contest between worker camps from across the UAE, Champ of the Camp is a 75-minute film which follows the contestants as they progress through various stages of the reality show-style contest. The narration is interspersed with personal stories about the workers’ lives, some heartbreaking, told from their own perspective.

The film, which has received rave reviews from local and international media, will be distributed jointly by three UAE companies: Phars Film, Al Mansoor and Al Nisr.

“We started communicating with them a long time ago,” says Kaabour of the distributors. “We had a few screenings for them and they came to the premiere at Diff and saw the reaction of the audience and were quite moved by it. That’s when they decided the film deserved a shot.”

To make sure word gets out, the director has also cobbled together a crowd-funding initiative through aflamnah.com to raise funds for the film’s promotion.

“Every penny I have ever had is sitting in this film. We got the distribution commitment, however, distributors don’t pay for promotion and we couldn’t afford it,” says Kaabour, whose critically acclaimed 2010 film Grandma, A Thousand Times (Teta, Alf Marra), was released without any promotion.

“We couldn’t afford it then. But for a film to really succeed, you need print advertising, internet advertising. It’s not enough to read articles in newspapers, people need to see the film advertised,” he says.

“We also need to source money to create exhibition material. These things cost money and we’re out. Also, if this film doesn’t get an audience, it will quickly be replaced. It’s a cut-throat business. And our film is going to compete against Bollywood stars and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. It’s not going to be a fair competition. So we really need to get the word out.”

More than four years in the making, Kaabour says Champ of the Camp has taken a life of its own since its Diff premiere. And he couldn’t be happier.

“I was more keen to enter Diff and win an award or something, but Masoud Amr Allah Al Ali [the festival’s artistic director] convinced me that by doing it a certain way, we were going to reach further. He is definitely a brave man and really fought for the film,” he says.

Diff helped organise the film’s premiere last month at the foot of the Burj Khalifa — an iconic tower some workers featured in the film helped build. Cast members who attended the premiere were given a standing ovation after the screening.

And that’s why it’s so important the film gets its UAE general release, says Kaabour.

“No one needs to see it as much as the UAE public. We enjoy a lifestyle unmatched to anywhere else. And we all need to give thoughts to how these cities rise up,” he says. “Watching this film definitely enriches one’s understanding of the cities that we live in and is equally a symbolic tribute to the men who leave their families behind and make our lives and lifestyles possible.

“By helping us make this release a success people are contributing positively to this relationship which is getting better between society at large and the labour community. I hope people will pledge and pledge generously.”

*Champ of the Camp releases in the UAE on January 30. To support the film’s promotion, go to aflamnah.com and search for Champ of the Camp.