Reel Talks is a digital weekly series featuring regional industry figures, run in collaboration with in5 Media, ON.DXB and the National Media Council.
Dubai Studio City’s latest Instagram Live interactive Reel Talks session hosted Emirati filmmaker Amal Al-Agroobi on its platform on Saturday. During the session, the self-taught filmmaker, producer and scriptwriter – who switched her career in biomedical science for the silver screen in 2012 – shared her journey from starting out in cinema to rubbing shoulders with Hollywood celebrities such as Matt Damon at the Oscars.
Al-Agroobi advised aspiring filmmakers and content creators to attend as many film festivals as possible, crediting industry forums as a catalyst of her success that enabled her to mix with key people in Hollywood.
“If you want something in life you need to show up, you need to persevere and push on,” Al-Agroobi said. “It’s not easy and there is a lot of networking, reading and attending film festivals, but all of this is important to develop your skillset. The magical thing about the film is that it’s my form of expression – I use a visual medium to get my perspective across.”
One of these viewpoints is telling contemporary Arab-centric stories. Part of the growth of the UAE’s cinema industry is its ability to tell compelling stories from the region, Al-Agroobi said. The production facilities at Dubai Studio City provide opportunities for local filmmakers to create compelling stories of the highest quality.
Al-Agroobi gave up her job in the medical sector to work on her directorial debut: a short documentary titled Half Emirati reflecting her experiences of identity. It was screened at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2012. Her award-winning feature documentary The Brain That Sings was released a year late. It follows the lives of two boys living with autism in the UAE. It picked up the Emirates NBD People’s Choice Award in December 2013 at the DIFF.
She is currently working on a historical documentary about the UAE, using her own filming equipment, archival footage and interviews shot with senior figures present at the time of the UAE’s unification. Al-Agroobi had been due to fly to Los Angeles to secure funding for a horror film she is also working on before the coronavirus pandemic grounded international flights. She has currently been documenting her time in quarantine on Instagram.