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Nujoom Al Ganem's documentary, Nearby Sky, focuses on camel owner Fatima Ali Al Hameli, the first Emirati woman to enter her camel into the country’s camel beauty pageants and Abu Dhabi’s camel auctions. Image Credit:

A few short months after screening her documentary Sounds of the Sea at Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Emirati filmmaker Nujoom Al Ganem returns to the festival circuit with her latest documentary, Nearby Sky. It premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival on Saturday night.

Nearby Sky highlights the story of a camel owner, Fatima Ali Al Hameli, the first Emirati female to enter her camel into the country’s camel beauty pageants and Abu Dhabi’s camel auctions.

“She had decided early on that she wanted to challenge men,” said Nujoom.

“Although there were so many women who participated in the camel festivals or beauty pageant festivals, none of them appeared personally representing themselves in these festivals. So, Fatima decided to do that by herself and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the men who are dominating this field.”

Nujoom and her crew followed Fatima around the country, filming her in her home in Abu Dhabi, her farm on the road to Al Ain where she has around 40 to 50 camels, her childhood home in Dhafeer (one of the Liwa oases) and at various camel pageants.

“She represents another role model from this region — an extraordinary character. She’s a bedouin, she’s illiterate. However, she’s educated in terms of the relationship — the human relationship. That’s interesting,” said Nujoom.

“Fatima is a very patriotic person. She loves this country, and she always thinks that a part of her existence is to give back to her country. She hasn’t been able to get the education. However, she has her camels and she thinks she can serve the country with her camels.”

Nujoom’s previous documentary, Sounds of the Sea, chronicled five fishermen from Umm Al Quwain. It offered a look into a particularly conservative community, where women were absent in front of the camera lens. Nearby Sky offers the flip side of the coin as a woman between the age of 50 and 60 — Nujoom is unclear on the exact figure, saying that Fatima often changes her answer — steps to the forefront of a masculine field and goes against what society expects of her.

“Until today, some people think she has to be behind the scenes. Fatima says, ‘Men don’t have anything that I don’t have. If they have the stick, I have the stick. If they can herd their camels, I can herd my camels.’ She comes from this understanding and this theory,” said Nujoom.

The film, which is part of Diff’s Muhr Awards in the documentary category, received its initial funding from Enjaaz, as supported by Watani, followed by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and the company to which Nujoom belongs, Nahar Productions. The project took two years to complete. At the film’s premiere, Fatima was undeniably the star of the show.

“People, they were in love with Fatima. In the film, you see Fatima laughing, you see Fatima angry, you see Fatima cursing, you see Fatima running after her camels, you see her crying, so you see all aspects of Fatima from different dimensions, and people, they welcomed her warmly,” Nujoom said.