Ticket to Cannes. Salma Azzam and Natali Aji Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Two undergraduate students from Dubai are set to hobnob with A-list movie celebs at the 70th Cannes Film Festival this month. The duo have been invited to promote their short film How we lost what we found at the festival.

Nineteen-year-olds Salma Azzam, director, and Natalie Aji, producer, will showcase their 19-minute movie at the festival’s Short Film Corner section. The first year undergraduate students of SAE Institute in Knowledge Village are leaving on May 21 for the festival that runs from May 17-28.


The Short Film Corner is a place where filmmakers from all over the world get together. Directors and producers also get a chance to introduce their movies to a select audience. This year, the selection committee is said to have received 4,843 short films and How we lost what we found is one of them.

“It is a great opportunity for us. Our movie will be added to the Cannes’ digital film library and will be available on shortfilmcorner.com,” said Azzam whose other short film, Life’s Notes, made it to the festival last year too.

“As first-year under-graduates and budding filmmakers, this is very encouraging and motivating. It is a huge honour for us,” she said.

How we lost what we found tells the story of four people living different lives and a $10 bill that changes hands among them.

Hope is a teenager who uses the $10 to purchase a pregnancy kit. Alexander, a struggling model with an eating disorder, uses the note to buy a drug. Malcolm, an upper class entrepreneur gives the $10 to his gardener to supply him with a drug.

Finally the money reaches the hands of Sharon, who uses it to buy flowers to put in front of her dead husband’s photo.

Lights, camera, action

“Salma and I initially had eight characters in mind, but we narrowed it down to four. We had heard about the Cannes submission deadline and were determined to submit our entry this year. With less than a month in hand to complete the film, we managed to budget, shoot and edit the movie. Pre-production took a week, as did script-writing. Another week went in shooting. Editing was done in just a day. It feels surreal when we think how far we have reached as students,” said Aji.

The movie cost the girls Dh22,000.

“This includes salaries of the cast and crew, equipment rentals, location scouting, accommodation and food. The film was shot in two houses, a flower shop, café and laundry store in Dubai. We crossed our initial budget but have no regrets as it was worth it. The film is looking great and that is what matters at the end of the day,” said Aji.

Abu Dhabi resident Saad Aldin Al Karouf, director of photography for the movie who drove every day to Dubai to shoot the movie, said: “We had to make do with a less advanced camera and shot a major part of the film in daylight. I am so proud to be part of such a creative team and to think we are gaining international recognition is quite amazing.”

Sound engineer Saif Qassim said: “The subject of the story is very strong. Natalie and Salma have done a fantastic job conceptualising the film. It has been great working with them.”

Cast and crew

How we lost what we found

Director: Salma Azzam

Producer: Natalie Aji

Hope: Hiba Al Hamoui

Alexander: Daniel Freeman

Malcolm: Joseph Bob

Sharon: Mina Khattar

Director of Photography : Saad Aldin Al Karouf

Camera Assistant : Afendi Idris

Sound Engineer: Saif Qassim