Yasir Al Yasri on Emirati cinema

Tribeca award-nominated director on how anyone can find funding and success

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Films buffs who kept tabs on all the winners at last year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival will no doubt have heard of Murk Light, an Emirati short that won two awards at the event. The tale of two luggage boys on a bus, set in what became the UAE in the late 1960s, has now been nominated for a gong at the Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place in New York on April 17-28.

The movie was made by director Yasir Al Yasiri, a Dubai-based Iraqi filmmaker who has lived in the UAE since 1999. Al Yasiri collaborated with Abu Dhabi’s twofour54 Creative Lab and some of the UAE’s leading actors, including Mansoor Al Feeli and Huda Al Khatib.

The resulting picture is the first Emirati film to be selected for Tribeca. Murk Light was chosen from more than 2,800 films, and victory in New York would mean the 20-minute flick is eligible for an Oscar next year, and would help put Emirati cinema on the map. ‘I was very excited – it’s a huge thing to be in,’ says Al Yasiri. ‘It’s an honour to be the first Emirati film at the festival. It’s a dream. All the crew and everyone involved is excited.’

If you’ve watched TV in the UAE the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Al Yasiri’s work – he directed the 2010 TV series So Hard to Tell. Incredibly, he’s only 28 years old, but has already been working in the media for 12 years. ‘I started working in 2002. Usually I’m more into music videos, TV commercials and TV series, but Murk Light was my first film.

‘I started very young – I was 16 when I did my first job. I started out as a student studying civil engineering, while at the same time working as an editor for a company in Dubai. Then I got more interested in the media, so switched my course from civil engineering to media.

I got a job on a music video in 2003 and then I started to get more jobs; I graduated in 2006, but I was already working.’

Al Yasiri came up with the idea for Murk Light while preparing to make a TV series. ‘Making a TV show takes a long time. It often takes more than three months to prepare: writing the episodes, choosing the actors and so on,’ he says. After initially being rejected funding by the Dubai International Film Festival’s Injaz programme, he secured funding for the project from twofour54.

Murk Light follows the journey of two bus boys from the desert to the big city and is set just before the oil revolution of 1971, before the forming of the UAE. ‘We wanted to capture the era just before the union of the emirates,’ explains Al Yasiri. ‘We thought this was a more interesting era – it was a different lifestyle. The story we came up with was two friends working on a bus helping with the luggage.’

The bus makes several stops during the short film. ‘Each stop reveals something about the story, which we will find out about at the end,’ he adds. ‘It’s a journey of changing from the simple life to the city life. It’s about the differences they will face when they get to the city. This is the main key of the story.’

Now, he’s dreaming of a win in New York and a potential Oscar. ‘I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it: I’ve dreamed about it. But getting into Tribeca is a huge step, so I have to be realistic about it.’ His success also gives hope to more of the region’s aspiring movie makers. ‘People always ask me how I got the chance to make this film. My advice? If you have a good story, and you believe in yourself and are determined enough, you will find funding; you will find good people to work with. For every young filmmaker, the chances are there.

I just sent a regular email and got a response. You don’t need connections. You need a good story and talent. Everything else will come after that.’
Murk Light screens at the Gulf Film Festival on Wednesday April 17. Watch the trailer at www.twofour54.com.

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