Michael Garin has a bone to pick.
“I’m annoyed,” says the 67-year-old CEO of Image Nation, the Abu Dhabi film production company. “Journalists really need to exercise some independent judgement and not give credibility to stupidity. They need to stop giving credibility to lunacy.”
Garin is referring to Djinn, the keenly-awaited Emirati horror film that premiered at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) on Friday, which has been a delayed project. Directed by Hollywood horror master Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Poltergeist), the much publicised film’s long gestation – filming wrapped up in 2011 – has given rise to speculation.
“I’d really like to urge the people who wrote those articles to come watch the film, compare the original cut with the final cut. That will address all the questions that people have been asking.
“This is a nascent film community. A lot of people do not understand that the hard work only begins when the cameras stop rolling. We are not a distribution company, our job is to produce quality programming. So when they are done and ready to be released, that’s when you’ll see them. All this noise is just noise. We felt no pressure to get Djinn out until it was the best picture it could be.”
Djinn will release to the UAE public this weekend, just in time for Halloween. And going by the reaction at its ADFF premiere, Garin believes him and his team have been vindicated.
“[The reaction] has been overwhelmingly positive,” he says. “Hundreds of people were standing outside in the hopes of getting a ticket. But more importantly, the reaction from the people after the screening was positive ... the ratings were mostly 9s and 10s [out of 10]. People laughed in the right places, jumped in the right places. I would say it was an amazing success.”
The film, he says, breaks new ground by telling a story that’s been told many times in a place that it has never been set in.
“I think we’ve made a film that will entertain audiences. I am ecstatic, and I know the picture will speak for itself,” he says.
Djinn centres around a young Emirati man and his Lebanese wife, who reluctantly relocate from their home in America to the UAE after the mysterious death of their child, and take up residence in a desolate building in the middle of nowhere only to find themselves face-to-face with a few suspect neighbours.
To be distributed internationally by the Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films, Garin wouldn’t say when audiences around the world would be able to see it.
“We want to focus on the Arabic-speaking world first. We’ll test audience reactions here, to generate excitement elsewhere. Also, remember our film Life of Crime (starring Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins) closed Toronto International Film Festival and opened the ADFF but it’s only releasing in summer next year,” says Garin. “So it will take time.”
For now, he says, he wants to urge theatre owners to give the Made-in-UAE Djinn all the support they can.
“Because we do not have enough screens, films are quickly rotated out because there are so many pictures seeking screens. I’d like to urge theatre owners to leave this Emirati film open as long as there are people buying tickets to see it. I think they owe it to the country that has allowed them to come and flourish here,” he says.
“And I can assure you, you will be really impressed by the quality and be product and be proud of the fact that it is made in the UAE.”
But Image Nation, whose bouquet of films now includes the Oscar-nominated The Help (2011), the Bafta-nominated The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), the Bollywood mega hit My Name is Khan (2010) and last year’s Men in Black 3 among others, is now shifting focus, says Garin.
“We’ve changed the strategy totally to a UAE-centric strategy. The reasons we do Hollywood productions is to give young Emiratis the chance to work on major motion pictures and to build and film and television industry in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
“Our mission is to build up the industry in the UAE and to make it self-sustaining. That’s why all our projects, from television to Hollywood production, is with a private sector partner. That’s the only way we make a vibrant film industry.”
While Djinn marks a high point in the company, with its Emirati base and Hollywood director, its landmark film, Garin says, will be its next project – the sports comedy by Emirati director Mohammad Saeed Harib, the man behind the hugely successful animated series Freej.
“When that picture comes out, it will be a watershed moment for us. For the first time, we will be delivering a truly world-class Emirati film to a standard that has never been seen before,” he says.
Again, he says, patience is the key.
“Filmmaking, even when it’s done properly, takes time. It took us over two years to get Djinn out and now it’s taken us a year to take Mohammad’s script to a point where we are ready to start shooting,” he says.
“Making local films is like throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples spread but 10 minutes later, it’s calm again.”
*Djinn releases in the UAE on October 31.