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Sat 13 Jun 2009 04:00 AM

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In short

Vijaya Cherian talks to Amjad Abu Al ala, an up and coming Arab filmmaker.

In short
Filmmaker Al ala adopts two different film styles to depict reality and fantasy in Tina.
In short

Vijaya Cherian talks to Amjad Abu Al ala, an up and coming Arab filmmaker.

A 20-year old man returns to his village in the mountains in a nostalgic haze, recalling some of the stories his grandfather used to tell him as a young boy about a little girl called Tina. Ironically, when he visits his village, the young Tina does appear before him just as she lived in his memory. As the young man shifts gears between reality and fantasy, we are taken on a mystical journey, where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred and where, the characters are in search of their identity. This is the story of Tina, a plot that grabbed the attention of the jury two years ago at the Dubai International Film Festival and won US $11,000.

Directed by 27-year old filmmaker Amjad Abu Al ala and written and produced by Yousef Ibrahim, production of the film Tina only commenced last month, thanks to a fresh injection of funds from Abu Dhabi.

The crew shot at an old settlement atop a hill in Fujairah last month for this film.

"This is the perfect backdrop for my film because it looks really ancient and quiet mystical," explains Al ala. "It is a place called Al Hail, which has a lot of old houses built in stone. The site is a couple of centuries old and was recently unearthed in Fujairah. It is now being turned into a tourist attraction. We chanced upon it. We had some trouble securing permissions to shoot there but it was sorted out eventually thanks to the intervention of Dubai Studio City."

Tina became possible when the Emirates Foundation in Abu Dhabi extended support to the team with $27,200.

Seeing the potential of the script, Hollywood-based director and actor Bashar Atiyat, who conducts acting workshops regularly, flew down to the UAE during the production to train the cast for this film.

Well-known Arab actor and director Hani Al Shibani, who made a name for himself with the TV series Hob Fe Al Hyde Park undertook the role of the young man while the protagonist was played by a young girl in Fujairah.

Although the funding was still short of the $100,000 Al ala required to make the short, a few individual entities such as Dubai Sound TV & Cinema Production (DST) provided the kit free-of-charge while Muddville, a Dubai Studio City based entity offered its crew, additional systems and post facility for a heavily discounted price.

"There are many businessmen who are ready to invest in film in the Middle East," says Al ala. "Unfortunately, they don't see any value in short films. There is a misconception that there is no market for shorts. This is not true. In Europe, short films are distributed and channels pay to broadcast them. If you look at channels such as Arte German and Arte France, they screen many short films everyday."

As a young filmmaker who has preferred the works of Jean-Luc Godard, Deepa Mehta and Youssef Chahine to Hollywood kitsch, Al ala has tried to deal differently with this shorts.

For instance, in the first scene of the film, when the actor goes to the top of a mountain, where a big yellow moon crashes to the ground. This is how the actor makes his entry into the world of fantasy. The image urges the viewer to adopt a state of willing suspension of disbelief and enter into a fictitious world."When we were shooting, I was very focused on recreating the fantasy I wanted in each scene of the film," explains Al ala.

As the actor moves between fantasy and reality in the film, we also see the director effectively shifting between two styles - from a Walt Disney like approach with lots of rapid cuts to the quiet, long and arty shots that are reminiscent of Iranian cinema.

"When we film Tina in the real world, the pace slackens and it quickly picks up as she moves into fantasy again. There are several other fantastic elements in the film as well such as a dragon, which we modeled in Maya. We also needed to show a crack appearing on the ground and used a trick to create this," explains Al ala.

The sound tracks in the film have taken elements from the region's traditional Zar music and given it a global appeal, explains Al ala.

"This it the typical Arabic music but you will find variations of it depending on whether it's being played in Sudan, Morrocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Luckily, I found Abdul Razaque (better known as Q), a music composer who has provided music for musicians such as Karl Wolf and Snoop Dog. He is based in Ras Al Khaimah. He gave the music an international twist like A.R. Rehman does with his songs," explains Al Ala.

The 27-year-old Sudanese director is no novice to filmmaking. Besides having founded Group 4 Ever Films, a small support system aimed at bringing the local filmmaking community together, he has also bagged awards on both national and regional levels for his short films such as On the Pavement of the Soul, Café & Orange and The end of the Fall.

Al ala has also co-produced several documentaries and programmes for several local channels such as Shorooq TV, Sama Dubai and Al Majd TV network among several others.

With a clear understanding of what sells and what does not, the filmmaker has gradually revised what he brings to the table whether in terms of acting skills, music or storylines.

Al ala hopes to screen Tina at DIFF 2009, if accepted.