This week the country’s first full-length feature film goes on general release.
Its makers hope it will help strengthen Emiratis’ besieged sense of self in a land many worry is no longer their own.
Called Hilm (A Dream), it depicts a group of frustrated actors, writers and directors who take to the desert to make a film about themselves, then get lost in its vast empty spaces – a metaphor for Emiratis’ search for identity.
“We are defending our identity and our being in this place,” writer Yousef Ibrahim told Reuters after excerpts of the 72-minute film were aired to the media.
“This building, it’s a building in a UAE style. But if you walk inside maybe you will be the only UAE man walking there, and that’s very strange. After a while you will raise the question, who am I? Is it my country or am I a tourist?”
Emirati nationals form less than 20% of the UAE’s 4.3 million population and tend to live apart from the Europeans, Asians and other Arabs who people cities such as Dubai and Sharjah.
Dubai is a throbbing city of nightclubs, skyscrapers and open beaches, where street-walkers and women in black cloaks and veils mix freely in cafes and shops – a far cry from the Bedouin and fishing society older Emiratis knew as children.
Emiratis are concerned that they
Emiratis enjoy government benefits of free health, education and housing but fear that through intermarriage with foreigners they could simply melt into the mix.
There has been a national debate about whether to ban Emirati women in law from marrying foreigners.
Ibrahim, clad in the traditional Gulf Arab white robe and head-dress, said the film formed part of these debates.
“These questions are raising themselves, because of education and because society is getting more complicated every day,” he said.
“Inside closed rooms we are discussing this.”
In the film, which takes place in small neighbourhoods and the desert, Dubai is seen as an imposing line of dark highrises in the far distance.
“Dubai is a cosmopolitan society. But I think we lost a little bit, as locals, and through cinema we can find some of what we lost”Hani al-Shaibani,
“We are not people living in a big city, amazed and astonished by the big buildings (in the film). We are people in the desert, where the only thing we have to talk about is ourselves,” Ibrahim said.
Director Hani al-Shaibani said the film would give foreign residents more of an idea about their hosts.
“Dubai is a cosmopolitan society. But I think we lost a little bit, as locals, and through cinema we can find some of what we lost,” he said.
“Non-Emiratis live in Dubai but they don’t know us, so we have to reflect ourselves in a better way. We have to tell our stories, our reality, show our homes, how we live, react and deal with people.”