SHARJAH, Sharjah Government Media Bureau, May 29, 2018 - While thousands of filmmakers from around the world every year compete for the Oscars, the ultimate recognition in the world cinema, Arab filmmakers have largely been limited to the nomination stage, making everyone wonder about what really ails the Middle East cinema. Popular Arab filmmakers and actors put their heads together to examine the causes at the fifth Sharjah Ramadan Majlis titled ‘Oscars and the Future of Arab Cinema’ last night.
Hosted by the Sharjah Press Club of Sharjah Government Media Bureau in partnership with Sharjah Media Corporation at Al Majaz Amphitheatre, Sharjah Ramadan Majlis every year brings together top officials, opinion leaders, experts and influencers to debate a number of issues and topics in the spirit of dialogue and free exchange of views.
Opening the session, popular TV host and moderator Reem Saif noted that while most of us carry fond memories of our favourite Arabic films, many of them from Egypt, clearly Arab cinema has a long way to go to catch up with the best of the world cinema.
Popular Emirati filmmaker Abdullah Al Junaibi, known for films like ‘Camera’, argued that Arab cinema, just like Arabic language, has largely been neglected and this shows in the quality of cinema we have been producing all these years and the indifference it faces at forums like the Oscars. He also attributed the state of cinema in the region on the lack of a common market and a professional body to showcase the Arab cinema at the international level.
Al Junaibi noted that many Arab filmmakers do not take enough risks to make good, world-class cinema that not only has a message but it also entertains. He cited the example of UAE theatre and dramas, which are widely acknowledged for their universal professional quality thanks to the official patronage and support. ‘However, Arab cinema still remains an orphan,’ he emphasised.
The Emirati filmmaker cited the examples of classics like ‘The Message’ and ‘Omar Mukhtar, the Lion of Desert’, the films made by legendary Arab filmmaker Moustapha Akkad for an international audience with top Hollywood actors such as Anthony Quinn. These movies made both in Arabic and English were received well across the region and around the world for their world-class quality. He called for using the standard Arabic to make Arab films acceptable across the region and around the world.
Popular Egyptian actor Majed Al Masri agreed with him saying Arab cinema ironically suffers from a lack of common market and the number of languages and Arabic dialects the regional cinema uses. For instance, Egyptian cinema itself uses many dialects of the Arabic language, which is not easy to follow even for native Arabic speakers. However, more than anything it is the quality of cinema, creativity and a good story that really make for good, world-class cinema, he emphasised.
Al Masri said if the script is good, we can create a good film that would appeal to a global audience. “We have a great deal that we can really showcase to the world, provided we know how to tell a good story,” he emphasised. He cited the example of old black and white films that are still loved and cherished by many because they had great stories to tell and excellent performances. “They survive today because they were made to not just entertain but had a message,” he added.
Even today, there are so many films that do not cost much to make yet do good business because of their quality and healthy entertainment. Al Masri who has acted in Hollywood films like ‘Outcast’ said using a small crew, Hollywood produces blockbusters because of its production values and approach.
Jordanian actor and filmmaker, Hassan Mutlaq, whose film ‘Theeb’ has been nominated for Oscars besides winning 21 international awards, spoke about what goes into making a successful world-class film. In addition to a good story and right production values, the right atmospherics are critical to the success of a good film, he argued. It is important that actors represent the environment and milieu that a particular film is attempting to create. For instance, the Bedouin dialogue and environment are critical to the success of his film, ‘Theeb.’
Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Council, HE Mohammed Khalaf, Director General of Sharjah Media Corporation, HE Tariq Saeed Allay, Director of Sharjah Government Media Bureau, HE Hasan Yaqub Al Mansouri, Secretary General of Sharjah Media Council and a number of dignitaries, Emirati and Arab artistes and members of media attended the fifth Ramadan Majlis.