The Emirate redoubles its commitment to culture and opens the ninth edition of the International Film Festival for Children and Young People (SIFF)

Sharjah launches its international film festival: "The films to be screened will serve to break down barriers"

photo_camera PHOTO/SIFF - The Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Youth (SIFF) was launched in 2013. It is the first film festival for children and young people in the country and the region, and is a project of FUNN, an organisation set up by the Sharjah government (under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah)

Mujtaba Saaed was a teenager when he first visited Sharjah. That trip changed the young Saudi boy's life, and not just because of the distance. A mere 540 kilometres separated and still separate Dammam, his hometown, and the Emirate, also on the shores of the Gulf. The reason that opened up a new world before his eyes was another. In the then hermetic Saudi Arabia "it was unthinkable to go to the cinema", he recalls. He had barely been able to come into contact with what would eventually become his vocation. He would finally do so in Sharjah, where there was a small theatre festival where he had the opportunity to perform. He was never to be separated from that dream again. 

After four decades of prohibition, the Wahhabi kingdom lifted the ban four years ago. They reopened theatres en masse. By then, Mujtaba was already making a name for himself in the industry in Berlin. The Saudi director, however, has fond memories of his childhood and adolescence in Dammam, but points with some pride to the ambitious openness of recent years. However, Mujtaba did not find his way in the world until he set foot in Sharjah. Much time has passed since that trip, but the filmmaker will never forget those days in 2001.

Mujtaba Saeed

In all this time, the Emirate has also followed its own path. Always behind Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the country's main economic hubs, Sharjah has built its personality around the arts and knowledge. Despite having the largest natural reserves and the most thriving industrial sector in the state, the ruling family, especially under the leadership of Sheikh Sultan Al Qasimi, member of the Supreme Council and emir of Sharjah, has put all its eggs in the basket of culture. From there it has gone from strength to strength and has been able to attract a multitude of culture-hungry visitors over the past decade. 

The Emirate hosts a quarter of the country's museums and major cultural events, such as the Sharjah Biennial, a contemporary art fair, and the International Book Fair. Another jewel in the crown is the Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Young People (SIFF), which kicked off on Monday. Led by the president of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs, Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed al-Qasimi, the event kicked off its ninth edition after two years in dry dock and another, somewhat decaffeinated, held by videoconference as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The paths of Mujtaba Saeed and Sharjah meet again at this year's edition. The Saudi filmmaker presents at the festival "Zawal", a short film released in 2021 that tells the story of little Adam in a piece that mixes drama and thriller. The young protagonist, the director explains, "faces a mutated world" when he escapes from the quarantine zone designated for refugees where he lives with his mother. It is one of the most promising titles.

Hundreds of people flocked to the Al-Jawaher convention hall on the outskirts of Sharjah on Monday afternoon to witness the opening of SIFF, which this year was attended by some of the Middle East's film celebrities. It was a fitting occasion. The festival's signature green carpet was walked by Omani actress Buthaina al-Raisi, and Egyptian actors Rogina, Ashraf Zaki - also a director - the well-known Ahmed Zaher and his daughter, actress Laila Ahmed Zaher, among other prominent personalities.

Sheika Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi

Visitors and guests from all over the world gathered inside the venue to get closer to a promising event that will screen a total of 95 productions from 34 different countries this week in two shopping centres in the Emirate and "in selected schools in Sharjah", according to the organisers. The aim is to "awaken the imagination of the next generation of film lovers" and to encourage children to learn storytelling through audiovisual media. In short, to inspire young people and lay the first foundations for an industry. 

President Jawaher al-Qasimi took the opportunity to deliver opening remarks to a packed hall. "Film expands our horizons, it is an enriching tool," she said, before thanking the Emir of Sharjah for his work. For the founder of FUNN Sharjah Media Arts For Youth and Children, film "is a magical world that, among other things, makes us aware of the problems of our nation and the global situation".

Fadel al-Mheiri

Next to speak was Emirati filmmaker and writer Fadel al-Mheiri, who recounted his experience in the industry with the support of the Emirate. He started from scratch and, after training at the American University of Sharjah, produced dozens of short films, documentaries and feature films. He even started writing a trilogy of which he has already published the first work. "My origins are humble, but today I am in a position to help anyone who wants to start," he told the audience. 

Before screening the first film, "Kids are Fine" by South Korean director Ji Won-lee, the English actress Dixie Egericks closed the block of speeches. "Film is a universal language and the films that will be screened will serve to break down barriers," she concluded. The ambitious International Film Festival for Children and Young People has already kicked off.