Shorts Helping Gulf Filmmakers Launch Feature Careers

Short films a great way for novice filmmakers to hone craft, gain exposure

Before Snowfall

Just like the cities of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, which have sprouted from the desert in a flurry of glass and steel, the film industry in the Persian Gulf has been built from scratch. But while the cities of this region are quite literally built on sand, their film fests are making a solid statement with attention to short films, which offer the burgeoning young filmmakers of the Gulf a solid foothold from which to launch their careers.

“Short films are accessible. It’s something you can do with friends on a weekend if you want to,” says Ben Caddy of ExtraCake, creator of the Middle East Film & Comic Con, which this summer joined forces with the Dubai Intl. Film Fest to launch a short film competition.

The winning script, “Serenity Now,” a sci-fi treatment set in a post-apocalyptic universe, was selected by screenwriter Max Landis and will be produced locally by Dubai’s Attitude Enterprises. The entry was plucked from more than 40 applicants, a turnout that pleases DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya.

“The level of creativity in the entries to this competition just shows the talent bubbling under the surface in this region,” she says.

DIFF, which this year runs from Dec. 6-14, has also teamed up with a Bahrain’s Naqsh Short Film Days to bring a selection of Emirati films to the festival of more than 85 shorts.

At the Abu Dhabi fest, which wrapped on Nov. 2, international short film competition programmer Alice Kharoubi says the short film competish has started to pay dividends, with helmers of past winning pics now returning to the fest with full-length features.

Hisham Zaman, the Kurdish-Norwegian filmmaker who picked up a Black Pearl for his short “Bawke” at Abu Dhabi’s inaugural fest in 2007, returned triumphant this year with his full-length “Before Snowfall,” which won the prize for best film from the Arab World. He was joined by his fellow short film alum Ayten Amin, who brought her feature “Villa 69” to the fest after competing in 2009 with her short “Spring 89.” Amin’s feature was made with the support of Sanad, the fest’s development fund, which provides $500,000 of grants to promising directors working on a full-length project.

Making a short film, Kharoubi says, is an opportunity for Gulf directors to prove themselves before diving into the deep end of feature filmmaking.

“There is a tradition of short films in the region,” Kharoubi says. “I’ve worked for the Abu Dhabi film fest for seven years and I can clearly see that there is an improvement in the way they are making short films. There’s great support here, thanks in a big part to the festivals in the region, who understand that these filmmakers need exposure.”

In Doha, which this year kicked off its inaugural Ajyal Film Festival for the Young on Nov. 26 and will bow the first edition of its more globally focused Qumra Film Fest in March, a short film can be enough to launch a career.

Such was the case for Ajyal topper Fatma Al Remaihi, who only made her first short in 2009. Ajyal’s centerpiece is the Made in Qatar showcase, a competition of 11 locally made shorts, a program that ties into Doha’s commitment to nurture young filmmakers and use its fests as a platform for launching local talent.

“It’s a great start for anyone who wants to get into the business,” says Al Remaihi.

(Pictured: “Before Snowfall” is shorts helmer Hisham Zaman’s first feature.)