The prestigious British director Marc Munden sensed on his arrival in Sharjah that something important must be happening at the Emirate's International Film Festival. "It's a pleasure to see so many young directors here," said the winner, among a long list of awards and accolades, of the International Emmy for best drama series in 2014. His latest production, The Secret Garden, was one of six films selected by the organisation to be screened for the first time in the Arab world. For Munden, it was "a fantastic opportunity to get to know another culture, to share the film with a new audience and test their reaction".
The Briton was right, something has happened in Sharjah. A cast of filmmakers from all corners of the world gathered here this week with a clear mission: to inspire the hundreds of Emirati children and young people who flocked to the cinemas. "By doing this we are creating film culture. It's a big step for children to have the opportunity to get closer to this world," Jordanian screenwriter and director Darin J. Sallam told Atalayar after the presentation of her film, Farha, one of the most promising films on the billboard.
Sallam, who has extensive experience in international events, is positive about the message that the Sharjah authorities are sending out by promoting this type of cultural event, focused on young people. "I'm sure that many will want to become filmmakers or go into any profession related to the industry after the festival," she said minutes after insistently answering questions from a group of young people about her film, set in the early days of the Nakba (catastrophe) that began the Palestinian diaspora in 1948.
Berlin-based Bolivian animator, illustrator and director Matisse González experienced something similar. "I've never seen so many children watching my films," she says excitedly, before explaining how the young girls came up to her to ask her questions. "They came to talk to you, to ask you technical details of the film and even to debate," she insists. As for most of the guests, this was her first experience in the Emirates. It was her premiere at the Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Young People (SIFF).
Giulio Vita has more shooting. This Italian-Venezuelan filmmaker created a film festival in Calabria that caught the attention of the Sharjah authorities. "We met at a festival in France. They are very curious, they want to know what is going on in the industry because they want the rest of the world to know them, but they also want to know the rest of the world," he explains in conversation with Atalayar. So I invited them to the festival and they liked it because we have a section for children with Unicef Italy. Thus began a collaboration that has been going on for two years now.
"I make a pre-selection of animated shorts for them, especially European ones. I suggest around 100 productions, I make them a list with the parameters that they give me, very clear and precise parameters. Without explicit content, of course, oriented towards children," says the Italian-Venezuelan, who is also asked for "variety". This element has been particularly visible throughout the festival, not only in the short film category, but also in the documentaries and animations. There have been productions of all kinds.
Vita underlines "the prestige" that comes with "working in the arts and being part of the creative class" in the Emirates. "There are plenty of opportunities for Emiratis who want to get started," she says. Sallam insists on something similar, and that for Sharjah "it is important" to hold this type of event and to promote cinema among young people in order to raise awareness. The Emirate has focused on developing culture by forging an International Film Festival that, over time, is gaining a following. "I would love to come back, of course. It's up to the task," says Munden.
The International Film Festival for Children and Young People (SIFF) held its closing ceremony on Saturday night with an awards ceremony at the Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre on the outskirts of Sharjah. It was the culmination of the ninth edition of the event. The jury, divided into two, one made up of professionals and the other of Emirati children, awarded prizes to the most outstanding productions in the categories of animation, short films, feature films and documentaries, both international and national. Thus closed this year's festival, which is growing by leaps and bounds.