Abu Dhabi’s Image Nation is delving into documentary production with pics on strong societal topics, such as “Every Last Child,” pictured above, by U.K. director Tom Roberts, which examines efforts to fight the polio epidemic in Pakistan, where the Taliban have imposed a ban on the vaccine. “Child” is set to have its world premiere at the Doc NYC fest in November.
The first Image Nation doc out of the gate is “As One: The Autism Project,” a joint effort between Emirati director Hana Makki and Tricia Regan (“Autism: The Musical”), which will launch Saturday at the Abu Dhabi fest with a red carpet gala. It’s about how the UAE’s multi-ethnic society is contending with autism, which in the Arab world, is viewed by some as a shameful condition.
“The (documentary) division was started to tackle issue that are important locally and also globally,” said Image Nation’s Danielle Perissi, who is head of marketing and doc productions. “We really believe that there is no more powerful way than to show reality; there’s no better argument.”
Early this year, the UAE launched the Pakistan Assistance Program, which aimed to vaccinate 3.65 million Pakistani children over the course of three months, especially targeting remote areas of the country where the Taliban are most active.
“In 2012 the Taliban went against polio vaccinations for a number of reasons and began to attack polio workers; as a result there have been 59 deaths, 35 of which were women shot down straight off,” said Roberts.
The Taliban ban on the vaccine has meant nearly 300,000 children have not been vaccinated for two years. Security personnel escort workers as they administer the vaccine.
There are several reasons why the Taliban are against polio vaccinations. One of which, interestingly, has to do with director Kathryn Bigelow, Roberts maintains.
In “Zero Dark Thirty,” Bigelow depicted a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign being run by a CIA-aligned doctor called Shakil Afridi as being a polio vaccination campaign instead.
“She got it wrong. They went nuts. That was the trigger,” Roberts said.
The “Every Last Child” doc, with a musical score by British/Indian composer Nitin Sawhney, takes viewers into Pakistan’s anti-polio battle through five characters, one of whom if the chief of the vaccination program, while another is a very religious woman named Gilmaz who remains hellbent on eliminating polio despite her sister-in-law having been shot by the Taliban while working on the vaccination effort.
Also, as previously announced, Image Nation and Participant Media are co-financing the upcoming documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani student activist who survived a Taliban assassination attempt. Doc is being helmed by “Waiting for Superman” director Davis Guggenheim. The Malala doc is produced by Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, with whom Image Nation has a longstanding partnership.
Another yet-to-be-titled doc in a lighter vein in the Image Nation pipeline is about the UAE football team’s historic qualification for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, being directed by Egyptian/American helmer Karim El Hakim with Britain’s Steven Riley, whose doc “Fire in Babylon” looked at the rise of the West Indies cricket team during the ’70s serving as creative producer.
While the idea is to foster more documentary filmmakers in the region, Image Nation has yet to commission one done entirely by an Emirati helmer. However, these high-profile docs allow for a precious transfer of skills.