A musical performance at the opening ceremony of The White Oryx International Short Film Festival Image Credit: Supplied

Lights, cameras and action awaited cinephiles at the third White Oryx International Short Film Festival (WOIS), an initiative by the School of Media and Communication at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) Dubai. The event, which ran from December 7-9, 2021, spotlighted the brightest filmmaking talent from across the region, wrapping up with a red-carpet award ceremony celebrating stand-out works by artists from the UAE, Middle East and beyond.

This year’s theme, ‘Sound in Cinema’, delivered a packed agenda over the three-day affair at Dubai Knowledge Park. The festival received a record-breaking 5,100 submissions from 118 countries, of which 80 were screened for viewers. Visitors and emerging creatives signed on for workshops led by industry professionals covering moviemaking, digital matte painting and audio mastering. On the last day, award-winning Indian filmmaker Shailendra Jha premiered the short Tumhare Bina, which has gone on to be selected for the 2021 Tokyo International Short Film Festival, alongside the documentary, Airgun.

A highly anticipated awards ceremony on December 9 honoured films hand-picked by the WOIS jury. Winning the Golden Oryx Award for best UAE Short was M1DAS, a film by American University in Emirates faculty Razan Takash about an android child designed to her parents’ preferences. Elders took home the prize for Best Middle East Short, exploring love and life at an old age home. Director and screenwriter Anita Thomas scored the prize for Best International Short for Srishti, a tale about an unmarried Indian couple faced with a major hurdle in their relationship. Finally, Tree took home the award for Best Music Video, chronicling the journey of a boy in search of a special tree in a colourless world.

The evening also recognised winners in the Individual Awards category, with The Mix Up winning Best Script, Answer Sheet winning Best Direction, Subliminal Messages winning Best Editing, Transit winning Best Production Design, Rubbish Robbers winning Best Sound Design and Everyday Except Sunday winning Best Cinematography.

WOIS Film Festival welcomed a number of notable figures, including award-winning Indian music composer and director Daniel B. George as chief guest. George, who is behind Bollywood blockbuster scores for Andhadhun, 3 Idiots, Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. and most recently Judgementall Hai Kya, also composed this year’s WOIS theme song.

Mohammad Abdullah, the managing director of Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), the world's largest ecosystem fully dedicated to higher education and home to MAHE’s Dubai campus, also spoke at the festival’s opening and closing ceremonies. He addressed the diversity of talent and technical skill brewing in the education hub’s ecosystem and the importance of providing a credible platform that enables talent to learn, inspire and grow.

Mohammad Abdullah said, “Dubai International Academic City is committed to expanding the UAE’s cultural exports and supporting the Dubai Creative Economy Strategy by providing an enabling platform where creatives from the UAE and beyond can experiment, collaborate and grow. Film is one of the most effective storytelling methods we have, and short films especially require the keen ability to explore dynamic stories in a limited time frame.

Mohammad Abdullah, Managing Director of Dubai International Academic City (DIAC), at the White Oryx International Short Film Festival at MAHE Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai is home to a myriad of cultures, ethnicities and talent that paint a vibrant tableau of the diversity of human experiences and emotions. Our academic community alone is an example of the eclectic talent available in the UAE, and I am delighted that events like WOIS expand the stage to make space for students and filmmakers from around the world to showcase their stories.”

Dr Percy Fernandez, Chairperson of the School of Media and Communication at MAHE Dubai, said, “This year was another spectacular success for the White Oryx International Short Film Festival. Our region is teeming with incredibly gifted filmmakers and creative minds, and we were grateful to provide a platform to showcase their originality and skill.

Since its inception, WOIS Film Festival has earned critical acclaim in the regional creative community. The fact that we received such an extraordinary number of submissions and were chosen to premiere two shorts demonstrates the increasing faith filmmakers have in our platform. It is an incredibly difficult challenge to comb through more than 5,100 submissions for 80 screenings and we hope to expand the festival to celebrate even more talent in coming years.”

Founded in 2018, WOIS provides a platform for aspiring and amateur filmmakers to showcase their skills over public screenings, workshops and awards. Participants, who include students from local universities and international talent, submit up to 20-minute films, which are selected by a jury to win the coveted Golden Oryx Awards and special prizes at the concluding ceremony.