Abu Dhabi: Don't be fooled by Nawaf Al Janahi's disarming smile and easy-going demeanour. He is passionate about his work and the UAE's fledgling film industry.
"I started acting at the age of seven and by the age of 12 or 13, I had watched so many movies and become so attached to the way they visually told stories that at 14 I decided to make film-making my path," the actor-director said.
"I never doubted for even a second that this was what I wanted to do."
Although being part of the industry is in his blood, Al Janahi encountered resistance from unexpected quarters when he announced his chosen career path to his family.
"Even though my father was an actor, he tried to discourage me… he was thinking in terms of salary and stability, but I kept telling him that things would change… in the end I stayed home for 10 months because I refused to do any-thing else," he said.
"Finally, my father managed to get me a scholarship to study film in San Francisco."
Once he arrived at the university, Al Janahi's drive to learn about the industry and discard what he considered non-essential courses caused him to complete everything in only three years.
But when he came back, reality soon set in, and Al Janahi met with resistance in the industry.
"When I first came back, I thought it would be [a] rosy [situation] but it was the opposite. I felt as though I was the only one working in this field… there was no interest from people, entities… there were no doors, no windows, nothing. Now, there are more opportunities for interested people," he said.
However, as the film-making industry in the UAE and the region grew, greater awareness and more opportunities opened up to those who wanted to be part of the industry through events such as film festivals.
"Every film festival is a door. [It] helps to give exposure and make the culture of filmmaking a norm here. It's new for us now, but we're getting there," Al Janahi said.
"At the beginning, I had to finance everything myself… now there are grants, but we need more, it's not enough to show one film every two years. I hope to see in the future at least two Emirati films shown every week, alongside other films," the actor-director said. Al Janahi is enjoying moderate success these days with both his short and feature films receiving positive reviews whenever they are screened.
"I completed The Circle, my first feature film, which was financed by MBC last year. When it was shown in festivals, I was surprised by the level of positive reaction it received," Al Janahi said.
"I remember at one, the tickets were sold out seven hours before the screening and even though it was full, there were just as many people outside who wanted to see it!"
Al Janahi has no plans to slow down, and he is currently working on his second feature film, Sea Shadow, with screenplay writer Mohammad Hassan Ahmad, an Emirati based in Ras Al Khaimah.
"Sea Shadow was originally meant to be a short film. We were supposed to begin shooting last year but I always felt it had the potential to be of feature length," Al Janahi said.
"Finally, I approached Mohammad and told him what I thought. I was relieved when he agreed. We worked on the script and completed it in November 2009."
Despite all the ups and downs he has experienced, whenever Al Janahi gets together with his childhood friends, he is always reminded that he made the right choice.
"My friends didn't take me seriously when I told them about my ambition, but now when I meet them they have a different look in their eyes… they're proud I was able to make it," he said, smiling.
Sea shadow: Casting session for aspirants
Those interested in being part of Sea Shadow can attend the casting session that will take place in July. For more information, visit www.emiratifilmstar.com