I love what Quentin Tarantino says, "When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them, no, I went to films." It's so true, just as art is only learned by looking at paintings and then drawing, doing, so filmmaking can only be achieved by watching the masters at work, and then trying to capture their essence.
Personally, films are the way I connect, to other cultures, distant lands and begin to understand the world, this chaotic place that may just find preservation through conversations.
So when I heard that the Italian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates and the European Delegation to the UAE were presenting a series of films from Europe to Gulf audiences, I knew this tapped right into my constant -- and I mean sometimes I do sound like a broken record, I'm sure -- leitmotif of bridging cultures through cinema.
It turns out I'm in really great company. The European Film Screenings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are organized by one cool woman, Professor Alessandra Priante, the envoy of the Italian Government from the Italian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, who has been responsible for promoting Italian culture and education in the Gulf Region for the last four years. They are further supported by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Twofour54, the Dubai International Film Festival, Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Classic FM, VOX Cinemas and Front Row Filmed Entertainment. All in all, score one giant point for the great power of cinema.
When I asked Priante for her inspiration in helping to create this event, she answered perfectly, "I believe cinema is one of the most effective means of communications of the cultural identity of a country and its people."
Ever since my first days writing about cinema in the Gulf, I've noticed how my cultural awareness, my open-mindedness (innate in all of us, just lost along the way because of societal prejudices and media brain-washing) grow tenfold, hundredfold when I'm exposed to great world cinema. I can understand how close in thought I am to a woman in Iran, or figure out that my inner longings are the same as a girl in Saudi Arabia. And of course, this cultural training goes both ways. Italian films can teach about our culture to a man in Abu Dhabi, just as a film about Paris can show a boy in Dubai how close his culture is to the French joie-de-vivre. We all bleed the same blood after all.
Included in my own list of must-watch in Abu Dhabi (where the screenings run from the 18th to the 24th of September) and Dubai (where instead the screenings will be held from the 19th to the 25th of September) are Italian Oscar winner The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) by Paolo Sorrentino, the poetic omnibus on the "City of Lights" titled Paris, je t'aime and legendary filmmaker Julien Temple's ode to the "Big Smoke" titled London: The Modern Babylon. The features will be prefaced by shorts from Emirati filmmakers such as Ali F. Mostafa -- whose highly anticipated From A to B will be kicking off this year's ADFF in late October -- and Ahmed Zain. Zain screens his short Safi, a touching film that although only eight minutes long, has stayed with me all this time, since first viewing it in 2012.
For a full list of screenings times and venues, do check out their online program. Oh, and tickets are free for all films, thanks to the generosity of the organizations behind this event, which collectively believe in the healing power of cinema too.
Finally, there will also be a panel discussion on coproduction between the UAE and EU on September 20, at VOX Cinemas in Abu Dhabi, moderated by Priante herself and featuring leading figures from the film scene in the Gulf. Coproduction is something very close to my heart because gems such as Haifaa al-Mansour's Wadjda would have never come to light if this kind of give and take between the regions didn't exist. Priante herself feels strongly about the model, and says, "Co-productions have proven to be a very successful way of nurturing independent cinema in Europe. They not only enlarge financing possibilities for each film project but also expose it to incredibly important and valuable 'contamination' on an artistic, creative and financial point of view."
In the words of master filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, "Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second." I don't know about you, but I'd like my truth to be peace, understanding and a bridge built across different cultures -- not war and miscommunication.
All images courtesy of MAD Solutions, used with permission.