Arab Film Studio, the intensive training course for aspiring filmmakers sponsored by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, celebrated its fifth anniversary this month with an evening of screenings of selected short films produced by the programme.
It included films from the three main strands of AFS – the narrative programme that launched AFS in 2011, and the documentary and scriptwriting sections that were added later.
Most recently, AFS launched a summer-school programme for students in the UAE between the ages of 16 and 18, who can spend their break learning about the film industry to help them decide whether it is a career path they would like to follow.
AFS is one of the most intensive training options on offer to filmmakers in the UAE, with courses lasting up to six months and culminating in the production of a film. Since the demise of local funding awards such as Sanad, AFS also represents one of the few remaining routes for aspiring filmmakers to obtain government funding.
However, Image Nation chief Michael Garin is keen to draw a clear distinction between the AFS training initiative and grants programmes such as Sanad.
“I think this fulfils a very different role,” he says. “I’ve always been against giving grants without oversight.
“This is a very new industry in a region with very rich oral and written storytelling traditions, but very little in the way of a visual storytelling tradition, so I think there is that need to supervise people. That’s just the real world of film and TV making throughout the world, in countries with a mature industry as well as those that are still developing.
“I think it’s incumbent upon us not just to provide the opportunity, but also the discipline and the rigour required to build a mature, self-sustaining industry.”
The local industry is a relative newcomer on the international filmmaking scene, but after five years of watching students pass through the AFS, Garin is convinced there is no shortage of local talent.
“The talent pool is as rich as anywhere I’ve experienced in the world, so all we really lack here is experience and mentors, which is one of the fundamental reasons for our existence,” he says. “Now, training and development of talented young filmmakers is a crucial part of Image Nation’s mission to help build the foundations of a mature, self-sustaining film and TV industry, which is one of the fundamental reasons for our existence.”
Previous AFS students agree that the initiative seems to be having a positive effect. One of the most successful films to emerge from AFS to date is Omnia, by Amna Al Nowais. The documentary, which deals with the subject of female circumcision, has screened at more than 20 festivals worldwide, picking up five awards, including the Muhr Award for the Best Emirati Short at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival. The director is full of praise for AFS.
“The success of the film at festivals has been great exposure for me as well as for the film’s profile, as it is ultimately a film that can raise awareness,” she says. “But just to be given the opportunity to make a film in the first place and learn the process has been invaluable and something that I am extremely grateful for. I look forward to seeing what the next phase will bring after festivals.”
Fatima Al Dhahiri was the first winner of the AFS narrative course, in 2012, with her film Yadi Bardan. She now works at Image Nation in the narrative department, and credits AFS with helping her to achieve her career goals.
“Without AFS I never would have been able to realise my dreams of becoming a filmmaker,” she says. “Winning the overall prize provided me with the confidence and experience to turn my dreams into reality.”
With its four main strands, AFS is now a year-round event, and applications are being accepted for 2017’s narrative programme.
• Visit www.arabfilmstudio.ae to apply for AFS and for more details about the programmes