Abu Dhabi: For many, the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), conjures up images of glitz and glamour, celebrities walking down the red carpet, and of course, the movies themselves.
For Emirati and Gulf Cooperation Council filmmakers, the Emirates Film Competition, which is a part of MEIFF, offers them the opportunity to showcase not only their passion but also their talents to a much wider audience.
Two such filmmakers are Ahmad Zain and Ahmad Arshi, who participated last year and won the first prize for the film Seashells and the screenplay Undeserved Fate, respectively.
This year, they have teamed up to direct Al Hamra Island in the Eyes of Emirati Filmmakers.
"This is the first time that a proper film on Al Hamra Island has ever been done," Zain said. "Usually, material filmed there is used for tourism videos or television series but we wanted to highlight its importance, not only for Emiratis as a link to their past, but also for people in the region."
Arshi agreed, adding that in decades past, the area has witnessed a lot of filmmaking activities.
"We heard that they were planning on demolishing it and Ahmad [Zain] came up with the idea to film the Al Hamra as a documentary, highlighting the fact that it's a gathering point for filmmakers," Arshi said. "It took two weeks to complete, as we had to take various trips [to the location], shoot and edit the footage," he added.
One opportunity they both relished was being able to pick the brains of fellow Emirati filmmakers about various issues, including the common location of their films.
"We had the chance to ask them why they had chosen this particular location to shoot their film, and what it meant for them as well as ask what methods they were using to film their movies. For almost all of the filmmakers, Al Hamra Island is an important link to our past, our culture and heritage.
"So many want to preserve it in one way or another," Zain said.
"We were able to meet filmmakers from all over the Emirates; from Abu Dhabi, Dubai… it was interesting to get their views on different topics," Arshi added.
While common sense might dictate that too many directors may spoil a film, both Arshi and Zain said that it wasn't the case when it came to their collaboration.
"We had many similar ideas regarding how to go about doing the film, but we also had different opinions on how to best film a scene. It was a very interesting experience," Zain said.
"While we had different styles we were able to combine them into one, which turned out beautifully," Arshi said.
"While this is the first time we worked together as directors, Ahmad [Zain] had asked me to be his director of photography and camera man for his film Key last year. We began talking about different issues, which led to us becoming friends, and now here we are," he said.
Both are looking forward to this year's festival and seeing just what is in store, not only in terms of international films, but also regional and local ones.
"Emirati filmmakers are like a very small family. Because we don't do it for the money, we trust each other and whenever we need help, we don't hesitate to call up one another, whether it's for an opinion on a screenplay or to help with the more technical side of filmmaking," Arshi said.