- Furrows and Forks in Emirati Short Films:Sabeel and Dreams of Rice
Although the first known Emirati feature film, (The Wayfarer), dates back to 1988 (Yunis 55), there is still no established infrastructure for an actual film industry in the United Arab Emirates. In his extensive study of recent developments in the arts in the UAE, Salem Humaid observes that "movie-making movements [in Dubai] are still fresh and do not have sufficient experience and technology to reach the world's standards" (99). While those standards are indeed diverse and also continuously changing, the results of approximately three decades of filmmaking in Dubai and other parts of the country can be considered "fresh" when compared to the century's worth of output from Hollywood, Bollywood, or the Egyptian film industry.
Alia Yunis, co-founder of the UAE National Film Library and Archive, cautions in "Film as Nation Building: The UAE Goes into the Movie Business" that the short history of the country itself, which was founded in 1971, further complicates filmmaking efforts (Yunis 51). Cinemas did not become popular in the UAE until the mid-1990s, and Yunis notes that only three Emirati feature films had been screened in the multiplexes prior to 2013 (50): Ali F. Mostafa's City of Life (2010),1 Nawaf Al-Janahi's Sea Shadow (2011), and Saeed Al Murry's Sun Dress (2010). This list has grown steadily since 2013, with the theatrical releases of Ahmed Zain's Grandmother's Farm I and II (2013 and 2015), Mostafa's second feature From A to B (2014), and Majid Al Ansari's Zinzana (2015), among others that exhibit a great variety in production value.
With the exception of Zinzana, all the movies mentioned above depict various landscapes, urban and rural, throughout the United Arab Emirates, and feature characters who move through the country's terrains along forking roads and furrowed paths. The aim of this essay is to examine the theme of the path in Emirati short films, focusing on short rather than feature films because the former better emphasize [End Page 396] the poetic element of the theme and lay the groundwork for a movement that has the potential to grow into an industry. The path is particularly significant because it highlights representations of landscape and maps a new screen setting. This mapping further claims a presence for Emirati film within the discourse of World Cinema.
(Sabeel) is the Arabic word not only for "path," "road," "way," or "street," but also for "striving" or "aiming." Sabeel is also the title of one of the two films discussed in this article, and the road in this film symbolizes the striving of two brothers who commute on it daily. Fee sabeel () literally means "on the road/path," but is also used to mean "for the sake of." People build roads for the sake of convenient transportation, to reach previously remote regions, and to facilitate urbanization. In the United Arab Emirates, the best-developed roads are those connecting the large cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Al Ain; however, there are also wide arid areas completely devoid of any kind of construction. The short films analyzed here portray both the modern highways and the undeveloped paths in different parts of the country. In Emirati short films such as these, striving tends to be clearly defined, and it leads to a projected destination. In the process, various roads are mapping a landscape, which constitutes a new screen setting, and its exploration simultaneously celebrates and challenges the cultivation of this landscape.
The path as trope is ancient. Examples, which show the persistent popularity of the image across genres, include texts as diverse as Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" and the Beatles' song "The Long and Winding Road." Every epic hero has had to journey on a path and struggle with its development. The Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung cautions that "[w]e meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the path of life" (156). The "road of knowledge" is a related metaphor; in "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" (1748), the Scottish philosopher David Hume writes that "[t]he sweetest and most...