In a candid chat with Vibhuti Arora, Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli talks about his journey so far and his plans for the future It is said that the best things in life are often unplanned. Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli couldnt agree more because filmmaking came to him quite by chance. While studying for […]
In a candid chat with Vibhuti Arora, Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli talks about his journey so far and his plans for the future
It is said that the best things in life are often unplanned. Emirati filmmaker Juma Al Sahli couldnt agree more because filmmaking came to him quite by chance. While studying for his Bachelors degree in Business, Al Sahli discovered that he did not have a head for numbers. His teachers advised him to opt for a Diploma course or change his line completely and choose another set of subjects for his degree. He opted for a course in media and production simply because it offered him a degree, only to realise later that it was the best thing to have happened to him.
“I did not know much about it at that point and decided to enroll because I was keen on getting a degree rather than a diploma,” says Al Sahli.
Something that he approached with great trepidation turned out to be his true calling and today, he is glad that things turned out the way they did because that opened the door to a whole new world of opportunities for him.
“I am glad I stumbled upon filmmaking. I loved the course, enjoyed every bit of it and was naturally good at it or I would like to believe so. In the first year itself, I made a short film that won me an award for best cinematography from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Education. That was a big encouragement for me. By the time I completed my degree, I had four films under my belt,” he adds.
Al Sahli continued to work in HR after completing his studies and pursued filmmaking as a part-time career until last year when he quit his job and took up filmmaking as a full-time profession. Al Sahli now works at Security Media Department at the Ministry of Interior as a Film Director in Abu Dhabi. His body of work comprises promotional videos about the armed forces, national day videos, patriotic videos and so on. He has directed 12 music videos for famous singers in the past three years.
He specialises in filming UAE National Day videos.
“People expect me to come up with something new every year for national day,” he says.
“I am doing short films but havent had the time to work on a full-length feature just yet. I would really like to do something for the country.”
Al Sahlis films have been screened at the local film festivals and also at international ones like Tehran Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival.
His recent music video for the UAE armed forces with DoP Franco Paroni has been showing on local channels as well as YouTube.
“The brief given to me was to show the army in a different light. Having to break the stereotype that the army is associated with, I immediately conjured up a visual which was then filmed with Hassan Al Jassimi as the key character. Al Jassimi turned the video around and brought to it a completely new look and feel. He is a very famous singer in the Arab world. In fact, it was not easy for me to rope him in but I managed to convince him to be a part of it.
“A crew of 60 worked on the video. Well-known DoP Franco Paroni brought his style and years of experience to the video. All in all, we managed to keep up to everyones expectations,” adds Al Sahli.
Al Sahli claims to be an incorrigible movie buff.
“I love to watch all kinds of films. Watching films from all genres and different parts of the world is a learning experience for me. The films that I have made so far are all different. I like to explore various genres and styles of filmmaking,” he explains.
He also uses his technical knowledge to explore a variety of styles. He says he is very comfortable with technology and doesnt shy away from using a new technique if it adds value to the film. He used the time slice effect in one of his videos recently.
“I introduced the time slice effect to one of my videos recently. We used 75 Canon still cameras in a rig with an ARRI Alexa at the beginning and one at the end of the trail. Specialists flew in from Australia and our DoP was from Spain with extensive experience in time slice,” says Al Sahli.
The team did three shots using the time slice effect, also known as frozen time effect. The technique was first introduced in the 1999 film Matrix.
“It took us six hours to prepare the rig and another five hours to set up the cameras but looking at the end result, I can safely say it was well worth the effort.
“I had already used horses in at least three of my previous videos. I wanted to do something different, so came up with this concept. The challenge for me was to use the same subjects, yet bring out a completely new and fresh film. I resorted to technology to bring a new approach to the video,” he explains.
Feature films in the offing
Nine short films and 12 music videos later, Al Sahli feels he is ready for a feature film. He hopes to direct a feature film very soon, which he says will have to be commercially viable.
“I have been considering some options quite seriously but am waiting for the right time and the right opportunity to direct my first feature film.
“I learnt how to operate the cameras and handle post production during my course. My stint at New York Film Academy helped me develop a knack for all things technical in filmmaking. On most of my projects, I am usually the Scriptwriter and the Director and sometimes, I also produce and direct.”
For his last film Goats Head, Al Sahli cast a young Emirati actor. It was his debut film and he worked perfectly, according to the director.
“He was a natural; I prepared him for two weeks for the role and the shoot then progressed like smoothly,” comments Al Sahli.
“I like to be involved in every stage of my projects. I am not very controlling or authoritarian but I like to go by the book. Filmmaking is teamwork and it thrives on a healthy give-and-take of ideas. I would do whatever it takes to make good film.
Commenting on his style of working, he says, “I hate to work under too many constraints. I need time and creative freedom and no constraints on budget to limit me.”
This year during Ramadan, Al Sahli shot three videos and one promotional video for Al Shara, a programme on Abu Dhabi TV. One of his videos was a tribute to HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who passed away on the 19th of Ramadan, in the year 2004.
The UAE film movement
The film movement in the UAE is on the right track. It has grown by leaps and bounds, according to Al Sahli.
“I have been associated with the film industry since 2002. Ten years ago, I was among the early entrants into the Emirates Film Competition in Abu Dhabi. We were ten directors, now there are ten times more. Our industry has seen a lot of growth and the government is playing a key role in this movement. New and upcoming filmmakers are encouraged to showcase their talent.
A growing list of film festivals held annually in the UAE and the region is also an impetus to the industrys growth,” comments Al Sahli.
It is his dream to make it big on the international film scene and he hopes to be at Cannes some day.