Last Monday the lights went out for the start of the 10th edition of the Sharjah International Film Festival for Children and Young People (SIFF). Once again, these generations of the future became the main beneficiaries as this emirate continues its great commitment to culture.
But not only cinema. Every year for a decade now, this festival, directed by Sheikha Jawaher bin Abdullah al-Qasimi, has grown in the number of participants, films, spectators and also in its format. Children are seeing a wide range of films in terms of themes, genres, countries, customs..., and young people, in addition to watching the screenings, can reflect on many of the proposals from 37 countries and ask their directors questions after the screening, many of whom are also young. The big screen shows them other realities, stirs their curiosity and invites them to be creative.
The festival offers them more than cinema. It opens its doors for them to enter it and discover its intricacies. It gives them the chance to meet, have fun, talk and get closer to those who make and work in the world of film: Famous names such as Laila Eloui, Mahmoud Nasr, Hussein Fahmi, Albara, little Jan Ramez, Svetlana Levicheva or Yu Fai Suen walked the so-called green carpet, as well as many of the prestigious filmmakers, academics and scholars from different countries who make up the jury and whose decision will be known at the closing ceremony on 27 October.
But the "real stars are not the famous actors and actresses, but the children, the young people," Chadi Zeneddine, one of the festival's programmers and a lecturer, told Atalayar. "They are the heart of the festival, the raison d'être" since it began in 2013.
To meet their idols, yes, but also to learn through workshops that have provided tools and taught storytelling, cartoon animation, the art of speaking and voice effects, VFX tasks, filmmaking, and, of course, artificial intelligence, which is invading all fields... And cinema was not going to be any less.
Chadi Zeneddine, of Lebanese origin, who after a period in Argentina will soon move to Spain, has been involved in this activity in Sharjah for three years now, which is why he stresses its importance, especially, he added, in these difficult times we are living through worldwide, specifically with the situation in Gaza. "Cinema has a very strong and impacting power in our lives," said Zeneddine, who defends the power of the image and of culture in general as a way of respect and understanding, hence the need to instil it in children from an early age.
In fact, as stated on the official website, this festival "exposes the cultures of the world and promotes peace, tolerance and global understanding of how people of different cultures, religions and backgrounds live together in this world". These goals are coupled with the idea of encouraging local filmmakers to produce films for children and young people in the UAE.
Funding for film projects
But it's not enough just to be creative and want to shoot, you have to have the right funding. This was precisely one of the topics addressed by Zeneddine in one of his talks, together with the director and founder of the most important festival in the Arab world outside the region, Mohamed Keblawi, which is held in Sweden, and which dedicates a specific fund to help Arab creators. According to Zain, the talk was very interesting, as the existence of other funds was discussed: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon.
Keblawi also took part in another activity in which he spoke about the power of collaboration. Other speakers included Giulio Vita, who spoke about independent filmmaking, and Abdul Rahman al-Ghannam, who explained how to overcome fears in order to realise one's creative potential. This year's young jury member for one of the categories also shared his experience.
Distribution and the search for talent was the subject of the second talk by the Lebanese-born promoter. The idea, he said, is to set up a fund in the future for young Emirati directors who want to go into film, "not to train, but so that they can build their stories," said Zeneddine.
Other talks on the film industry for young audiences focused on sources of inspiration for screenplays, with Ayman al-Nemr and Medhat El Adl; and how to make films with the iPhone, by Dalia Hammooud and Ibrahim Humaid.
And so the days went by, between documentaries, cartoons, real and fictional stories... Minutes and more minutes of cinema shared with talks, workshops and meetings. And now, the countdown. It won't be long until the winners of this festival are announced and the doors close until the next edition. Children and young schoolchildren are enjoying the last moments, where there is no shortage of video games, make-up, photographs with special effects and the chance to paint their favourite characters. Meanwhile, the protagonists of the films presented comment on each other's work and exchange experiences. There are nerves. The level is very high, and they know it - may the best man win!