Fifteen budding filmmakers travel to the United States of America to show their talent. Reema Saffarini reports

Fifteen student filmmakers and actors from the American University of Sharjah embarked on a "once in a lifetime" adventure last week, when they travelled to the University of Southern California (USC) to show their films to major filmmakers, directors and producers.

The students received an invitation from Elizabeth Daley, dean of the School of Cinema and Television in Los Angeles.

Daley had heard about the quality of the students' films from Hollywood filmmaker Michelle Nickelson, president of the Nickelson Entertainment Group, who visited the Mass Communication Department at AUS.

During their one-week trip, the group attended the taping of the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, toured top studios, visited film locations and met award-winning filmmakers.

International language

"We wanted our young actors and filmmakers to meet major directors and producers and to present to American students, filmmakers and directors their viewpoints on issues in the Middle East," said Professor Kim Bigelow, director of the film programme at AUS.

He said: "The students saw the commitment and expertise needed to play in the big league of international film production.

"Certainly, Dubai is not there, but it is clear after the Hollywood experience that the students have the skills needed to lay the foundation for a credible feature film industry here."

Bigelow said students from the region are similar to their counterparts across the Atlantic. He said: "They have the same issues and problems, whether we are talking about work, classes or relationships. Movies now are an international language.

"Presenting the AUS students' films there showed American audiences a new point of view and positive cultural values from the Middle East, which need to happen if the gap of prejudice and misunderstanding that seems to exist is to be closed."

Movies with a message

The films shown in California were first screened and chosen by Nickelson and Bigelow.

Nickelson said the trip was an opportunity for students to be introduced to the world of Hollywood. She said the dean of the School of Cinema and Television at USC, Warner Brothers, which sponsored the screening of the students' films and the US Embassy came together to help make their dream come true.

Zaina Shihabi, a mass communication senior who has acted in many of the students' films, gave credit to the university's film programme.

"It is only two years old, however, we have been able to produce high-quality movies, tell beautiful stories and build a highly equipped studio," she said.

Ahmad Bolouki, a mass communication senior, is hoping to "be discovered".

"I was so excited. I never thought I'd ever get such a chance. This [trip to Hollywood] was a once in a lifetime experience," said Bolouki, who is described by Bigelow as "a very talented student who can one day become a major filmmaker in the Middle East".

Zaina added: "This visit taught us a lot, especially those of us who aspire to become professional directors and actors."

Susan Smith, who has a Masters of Arts in Visual Anthropology and teaches documentary production at AUS, said: "This was a platform for students to enter the film production industry. This was an excellent opportunity for students to make contacts and sell their talents."

The student team

  • Zaina Shihabi, Saman Hamadi, Reema Al Alieh, Saoud Al Kaabi, Ahmad Balouki, Omar Al Reyami, Sami Safadi, Munira Al Dosari, Khalid Al Subaihi, Nadia Hussain, Fawaz Aktar, Pranov Arya, Lina Ramzi, Haneen Dajani and Mihailo Tanasijevic.
  • The team comprises students from seven countries - Palestine, the United Kingdom, the UAE, Lebanon, Bahrain, India and Pakistan.

Films and me

Khalid Al Subaihi, multimedia senior: The story of my film provides a glimpse of how Bedouins looked over the past 100 years. My focus is on their customs and traditions. It also touches on the relationship between Bedouins and camels.

Ahmad Bolouki, senior mass communication student - He presented two movies. Close Your Eyes and Red. The first is for pure entertainment and is in the fiction suspense genre. Red, on the other hand, discusses AIDS. The movie, Bolouki says, aims to spread awareness.

Sami Safadi, senior advertising student - He showed an action movie about a "robbery gone bad". He says: "My movie is to entertain and for the audience to have fun."

Lina Ramzi, senior advertising student - Her film carries a message. "It focuses on problems in the UAE that are not spoken about such as rape. My message to women is not to be afraid to ask for help. It is not their fault," she says.

Reem Al Alieh, senior mass communication student; Saman Hammadi, senior mass communication student; Nadia Hussain, a senior mass communication student - "The movie is about what happens when you get stuck in an elevator," said Hammadi.

Reem who was the director, producer and actor created the movie with a group of students.

"The story is about a girl who gets trapped in an elevator with a guy she does not like. It is a comedy, especially when the girl finds out that the guy did it on purpose. It has a happy ending though," says Reem.