Butheina Kazim, co-founder of Cinema Akil.

Independent cinema platforms are multiplying in the UAE — but each has something different to offer.

With Cinema Akil reopening in Warehouse 68 last week, and Diff365@Vox launching at Mall of the Emirates in April, UAE moviegoers have more say than ever when it comes to what films they can watch on the big screen.

Butheina Kazim, co-founder of Cinema Akil, told Gulf News tabloid! these spaces complement each other.

“They all serve different purposes and they’re all going to have their specialisation. If you go to Diff365, it’s great, because you’re getting the Vox, multiplex experience still intact,” said Kazim.

While Diff365@Vox screens indie films at a dedicated theatre, cinema nine, in Mall of the Emirates, Cinema Akil is more nomadic, using a ‘pop-up’ module so that every season of programming is held in a different location. Their focus extends beyond films to the creation of alternative spaces for viewers to connect with one another.

“We consciously decided not to put Wi-Fi in the space, so that people can talk to each other and talk about the film or what they’ve seen or experienced together,” said Kazim.

“We’ve never had an HQ, we’ve never had a home base, therefore, every time you come to a Cinema Akil programme, it’s a different thing... People in Dubai and the community in the UAE are craving something different — a different type of cinema and conversation.”

Their latest programme, for example, NowPlaying presented by Cinema Akil and Alserkal Avenue, has attracted a crowd interested in “the experiential idea of a cinema inside a warehouse and the impermanence of that. People want to see what that looks like,” said Kazim.


The phrase ‘independent cinema’ has long run the risk of scaring off the average moviegoer. It’s associated with highbrow, exclusive crowds, like art museums or posh exhibits. But Kazim is working to combat that ‘intimidating aspect’ attached to it.

“Something we’re trying to change, or reduce, is the elitism and inaccessibility of it. It shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

“Independent cinema is everything from repertory cinema, like Audrey Hepburn’s Funny Face, to a more intellectual conversations and essay films. There’s a huge range of what falls under alternative or art house cinema,” she added.

And though big-budget Hollywood flicks remain a box office success in the UAE, from Beauty and the Beast to The Fate of the Furious, anyone interested in a different experience can venture outside of their comfort zone with just the click of a button.

The Scene Club, which launched ten years ago by Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja, dropped its paid membership fee this year in favour of showing one independent film twice a month for free at Roxy Cinemas, and viewers can RSVP online to save their seat. Cinema Space in Abu Dhabi also provides free viewings via online RSVP. Diff365@VOX uses a standard cinema ticketing system and Cinema Akil ask for monetary contributions at the door.

“It’s never going to be something that is targeted to the masses. It’s never going to be droves and huge numbers. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s the beauty of it. It’s a niche type of cinema, and it will always be a niche audience — that niche is just growing now,” said Kazim.


‘Brigsby Bear’ will screen from Thursday at Diff365@Vox.


Cinema 9, Mall of the Emirates, Dubai

Dubai International Film Festival launched Diff365@Vox to support independent cinema all year long.

Cinema nine at Mall of the Emirates shows films that are not likely to appear in standard UAE theatres. Each title screens for two weeks before being replaced by another. Previous films include I, Daniel Blake, A Man Called Ove and Ali the Goat and Ibrahim.

Tickets are priced the same as standard tickets, and can be bought online or through the box office.

Upcoming screenings:

The First May in Monday (now until July 26)
Brigsby Bear (July 27-August 9)

The Inland Road’ plays today at The Scene Club.


The Scene Club
The Roxy, Boxpark; Roxy Cinemas, City Walk, Dubai

The Scene Club, which launched in 2007, screens one independent film twice per month as part of their programming.

In previous years, the Scene Club was a paid members-only service, but founder and Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja announced a partnership with Roxy Cinemas this year, which changed the club’s format.

The Scene Club screenings have included Oscar-winning Moonlight, Paterson and Land of Mine.

To attend upcoming screenings, viewers must RSVP by registering online.

Upcoming screenings:

The Inland Road (July 25 in The Roxy, Boxpark; July 26 in Roxy Cinemas, City Walk)

Catch ‘Barakah Meets Barakah’ at Cinema Akil until Thursday.


Cinema Akil
Warehouse 68, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai

Cinema Akil was cofounded in 2014 by Butheina Kazim. It aims to bring awareness to cinematic art forms from around the world. It shows films created throughout the decades, ranging from art house and independent titles to documentaries and locally created content. Monetary contributions are made at the door.

Upcoming screenings:

All Eyez On Me (now until July 27)
Barakah Meets Barakah (now until July 27)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me; Cult Classic Thriller Special (July 26)
Parisienne (Peur De Rien) (July 28-July 31)
Colossal (July 28-July 31)

‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang screens at Cinema Space on Saturday.


Cinema Space
Manarat Al Saadiyat Auditorium, Cultural District, Abu Dhabi

Cinema Space in Abu Dhabi is a voluntary, independent platform that screens restored classics and contemporary world cinema, as well as family-friendly titles. Film showings are free, but similar to The Scene Club, an online RSVP is mandatory for each screening.

Upcoming screenings:

The Classic (July 26, hosted at the Korean Cultural Centre)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (July 29)
Before the Revolution (July 29)
Trances (El Hal) (July 31)
The Way Home (July 31)

Various locations

Locomotion, launched by Vikas Punjabi, focuses on environmental films that do not receive a wide-release in the UAE. Their last screening was the Leonardo DiCaprio documentary Before the Flood. Upcoming screenings have yet to be announced.