Women in Film and Television (UAE)

March 17, 2012

The UAE chapter of Women in Film & Television hosted our Festival for three consecutive days at the landmark Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi. Under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Sultan bin Zayed Culture and Media Centre, His Excellency Hanafi Gayel, Consular and Legal Advisor, opened the Festival with a great deal of support for our films and the Festival.

Day 1 (March 15, 2012)

Opening Night with Women in Film and Television - Abu Dhabi

Warrior program kicked off the event followed by a panel that included two WVN Festival filmmakers, Laila Hotait, director of “Basita” and Bijoyeta Das, director of “Saturday Mothers of Turkey.” Souad Al Habib of Arab Women’s Voices was scheduled to be on the panel but unfortunately couldn’t attend due to illness.

The audience was a wonderful mix of locals and expats but even better were the couples that brought their children to the event. Abu Dhabi encourages family participation in all appropriate cultural events so we had a range of young people from kids to teenagers at every screening. The most pertinent question we received was why there are no Arabic subtitles to any of our non-Arabic language films. Of course this is something WVN is working on and can be quite a post-production task as it will take time. We received the same question in Jordan. In the beginning stages of our Global Tour, we have come to find that audiences in Arabic-speaking countries tend to be engaged in the subject matter of films in their own mother tongue even when the other films speak to issues also happening in the Arab world. Among the other questions aimed at WVN staff were, “Why do your films date back more than five years?” and "Why weren’t there films about the recent revolutions in the Middle East?”

The questions asked of both filmmakers on the panel were, “Do you face any difficulties making these films as a woman in the industry?” and “Have you faced any discrimination?” They responded that the only discrimination they have faced was with the way they look, for example not being taken seriously due to their short stature, but that as women they felt they had access to stories that their male counterparts could not gain access to due to their gender.

Laila was asked why she chose to make an experimental film. The woman in audience felt that the more artistic films are hard to understand, marginalize people in the audience and are thereby elitist. Audience concern with understanding the experimental films in the Festival was also expressed by some attendees at the WVN screenings in Jordan last year. Bijoyeta, on the other hand, was asked if she felt any discrimination as an Indian woman journalist and filmmaker while in Turkey.

The Festival garnered wide spread coverage in the Abu Dhabi press. Check out some of the links below!

Abu Dhabi International Film Festival Magazine

The National Newspaper

Variety Arabia

Day 2 (March 16, 2012)

Our second Festival night with Women in Film & Television was a screening of the Women at Work program. The integration of women in the workplace is among the list of issues women face in the UAE. Our panelists for the night were Dr. Nezar Andary, a professor at Zayed University Abu Dhabi campus whose work has included studies on Iranian and French cinema, Nujoom Alghanem, an award-winning Emirati female filmmaker, and Laura Boushnak, a photojournalist and activist.

The most poignant remark made by the audience came from an Emirati man who claimed that conditions for modern women are better than they were 200 years ago, to which Nujoom responded that modern men have their rights now in addition to 200 years ago! The audience was amused. One audience member asked why people would choose to watch films about suffering when it is neither uplifting nor a solution to everyday sufferings. The response was that we connect as an audience with those things that are closest to our reality and everyday experience whether directly or indirectly (i.e., the suffering of others). There is also the factor of understanding the circumstances of people living in other parts of the world and possibly feeling compelled to change our own environment or to help them improve theirs. Film can serve as a call to action. Another audience member asked the panel which kinds of films they would like to see made.

A challenging question came from an expat man, “Since there were no Emirati films in this program, let’s say that if there were, what would those issues be?” I found his question so very important because broaching any discussion of problems within Emirati culture, life or government is a highly sensitive subject and risky to address in a public setting. Although we were unable to derive a direct answer, his candor was much appreciated. As a matter of fact, a local woman approached me after the screening to express her outrage at the man’s question. She felt that women living in the Emirates were well taken care of by their families and government. She did not feel it necessary to try and dredge up or exaggerate any difficulties women may have in the country let alone put them up to par with the problems facing the Iranian or Afghan women depicted in the films. Her reaction did not surprise me as we received related comments from some Jordanian women at our screenings last year. What most struck me is that she made these comments in the presence of three Emirati men that had come to both nights of our screenings so far and found the subject matter critical and the discussion of those issues to be pertinent and relevant to the women in their country. Even more so, their wives had left the first night’s screening early and didn’t join them for the second night of the Festival.

The same woman’s college-aged daughter approached me at the post-screening reception. She wanted to tell me that she enjoyed the films and films in general that address women’s issues. The reason, she told me, is that she is very conscious of how she looks in the niqab. She feels it is a disadvantage for her as it is an inaccurate interpretation of women in the faith she loves. I could identify with her feelings as a woman of faith even though we do not share the same religion. Between listening to this daughter and her mother, it was clear to me that at the very least, women’s rights will always face the hurdle of bridging the generational gap.

Day 3 (March 17, 2012)

The final night of the Festival wrapped up with our Girls in the Muslim World program. The panelists included Nujoom Alghanem, an award-winning Emirati female filmmaker and two WVN Festival filmmakers, Patricia Fermazi, director of “My Name is Pat” and alumni of the American University Sharjah, and Bijoyeta Das, director of “Saturday Mothers of Turkey.” The audience was interested in how the panelists developed their films from an idea into a full-fledged film. They asked, “How much time does it take to make a film?” and “In retrospect, what are things you’d change about your film?”

Bijoyeta felt there were many things she would change about her documentary especially in light of working on her new documentary dealing with female victims of acid attacks in Bangladesh. She expressed that she would have been more intimate with the subject matter and taken more risks in order to make the stories even more compelling than they already were.

Patricia responded to the question of the difficulty in making films that are so personal in nature such as aspects of family life and religion. She told the story of the making of her film which started as just a documentary as a Filipina expat student living in the Emirates. A professor at AUS encouraged her to develop the film more into her experience living in the UAE. Once she had determined what that would look like, she was afraid to screen her film to fellow students. She was pleasantly surprised to find support from her peers. She even found that it taught locals a few things they didn’t know about their own environment. This was especially true when some the other students were surprised to learn that there are several Christian churches in the UAE including a large practicing Filipino Catholic community. The panel of filmmakers unanimously agreed that film has the power to give insight and education into subjects that are not as well known or popular. They agreed that ultimately working with the medium of film has the power to change people’s perceptions of not only their immediate surroundings but of the world around them. This is really the drive behind their creative process. The evening ended with yet another incredible spread of refreshments and discussion around the films courtesy of our gracious hosts.

Suzie Abdou
Director of Global Programs

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