Emirati filmmaker talks debut Only Men Go to the GraveCulture & Entertainment
- 07 August 2017
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Emirati filmmaker Abdulla Al Kaabi. Image: Digital Ink
Emirati family drama Only Men Go to the Grave will release to the public at Diff365@Vox on August 10 and screen until August 23.Tickets are available online and at the box office. Diff365@Vox is located at Vox Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.
The film written and directed by Emirati filmmaker Abdulla Al Kaabi had its world premiere at Dubai International Film Festival last year and went onto pickup Best Director in the Muhr Emirati Feature category in the Muhr Competition.
My Salaam writer Karim Mansour caught up with Abdulla for a chat over the phone after he won the award.
“Film is a kind of window to explore things in life that are personally important to me,” the 30-year-old says. “As millennials, these are questions facing us – what is gender? For example; what is its role in society? And film allows me to explore them.”
Al Kaabi’s movies are sensitive and insightful, and are likely to leave viewers thinking. His very first movie, ‘The Philosopher’, was a short film starring legendary French actor Jean Reno that looked at our addiction to material goods. In 2014, he put out ‘Koshk’, about an old woman who appears to have been abandoned. ‘Only Men Go to the Grave’, which took five years to make, reflects some of the conversations animating our society, from unwed pregnancy to alternative sexuality and the concept of gender.
Both tackle subjects that are close to Abdulla's heart.
Al Kaabi’s first brush with the visual arts was as a presenter on a reality show for Dubai TV while still a student at the American University of Sharjah. An admirer of filmmakers such as Beyzai and Christopher Nolan, he subsequently finished his masters in filmmaking in Paris, putting out ‘The Philosopher’ immediately afterwards.
He says, ‘Only Men Go to the Grave’ is about love in its purest form.
“It’s a love story about every kind of restriction we can find, and how a mother’s love can surpass these.”
The main character in this timeless, beautifully shot drama is an Arab woman who literally blinds herself to see her family as they truly are. When she dies, her children discover some home truths about themselves and each other, and must embrace the consequences – often at her grave.
“You can achieve anything if you open a dialogue. That’s all I want to do,” Al Kaabi says, bringing the issue back to his faith, which he grappled with in existential moments during the film’s gestation.
“The first word of the Quran is ‘iqra’ [read], a call to open our minds. Islam is not limiting, it should open your eyes. During its golden age, it was at the forefront of culture, of astronomy, of physics, of maths – it’s a peaceful, accepting religion. I don’t believe in the Fox News version of Islam.”
RECEPTION IN THE REGION
“DIFF, which is part of the Government of Dubai, has been created as an environment to express and explore our perspectives through cinema. The UAE is home to 200 nationalities and that makes me proud to be an Emirati – making people welcome is part of our heritage,” he says.
Acceptance also underpins another, largely unnoticed, achievement. The Khaleeji-dialect film is most likely the first joint production between Iranian and Iraqi film professionals since the war between the two nations. Set in the Arab-dominated Ahwaz region of Iran, with a local crew, the film also stars three Iraqi actresses.
“In cinema there are no differences,” Al Kaabi continues. “Our role is to build bridges; if we can actually do so, that’s fantastic.”
More prosaically, filming in Iran also allowed Al Kaabi to keep his budget under control. He won’t say how much the project cost, only allowing that it was largely self-funded, with a significant chunk of money from its producer, the Iranian art collector Farshad Mahoutforoush.
So has he learned anything over the course of making his first feature?
“Yes – not to take so long,” he laughs, explaining how he pulled ‘Only Men Go to the Grave’ from DIFF 2015 because he felt the sound editing could be improved. “I’m a perfectionist.”
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