Cinema in Safa Park

Check out the free movie screenings in Safa Park, Dubai


Time Out meets an entrepreneur using creative cinema to bring the community together.

On a warm Saturday night in Safa Park, just as the sun is starting to dip, a small crowd heads towards The Archive, the park’s library and café, armed with picnic blankets, fold-up chairs and bags of popcorn. It’s a night at the movies, but not quite as you might visualise it.

Mums with prams, couples, families with kids, even a group that has just finished a yoga session in the park all pitch up in front of the screen as reggae music plays while we wait for the film to get going. The atmosphere as it starts to get dark is reminiscent of a small festival as people chatter and lie back on their blankets.

Most cinema experiences in the city take place in one of Dubai’s big screen complexes and are generally an impersonal affair. You walk into a dark room with an armful of snacks and drinks, unaware of who’s sat around you, unless they’re kicking the back of your seat. But the LOCO’MOTION Community Cinema screenings aim to not only change our film experiences but also to inspire and create a sense of community.

The founder of LOCO’MOTION is Vikas Punjabi, 35, who was born and raised in Dubai. Inspired by his travels around South America, he wanted to do something that had a positive effect here in the city he grew up in. ‘In Dubai you don’t really have a sense of community, some people don’t know who their neighbour is. That’s part of the reason why I started doing this, to build a sense of community soul and to help people realise there is more to life than living lavishly.’

LOCO’MOTION Community Cinema has been running since September 2013, with Punjabi putting on an uplifting and thought-provoking film twice a month. Punjabi decides which film to run, and often gets recommendations from regular attendees and the online Facebook community, too.

Punjabi is energetic and enthusiastic about film’s ability to reach people and has a philosophical approach to the screenings, seeing film as the best medium for entertaining and provoking positive thought. ‘In Dubai, there’s a lot of cinemas and screens but I didn’t want to focus on showing blockbusters. It’s okay in terms of entertainment but it doesn’t do anything to your life, so I came to community cinema.’

Steering well clear of the Hollywood big name and big-budget flicks, Punjabi keeps the films strictly independent, offering a platform for lesser-known films to be shown to an open and receptive audience. The last screening, Dreams, was a Japanese film by Akira Kurosawa and is a collection of surreal short stories based on the filmmaker’s actual vivid dreams.

The screenings attract a real mixed bag from the emirate’s community which, Punjabi says, is exactly what the events are all about. ‘I’d like to believe my audience are the people who are interested in film and people who come from all backgrounds. I have had emails from mums that have suggested films and they’ve said can you do something specifically for kids. The audience is everyone – people that like outdoors stuff and don’t want to be in the malls all the time or have been in Dubai for a while and have done the parties, clubs and want to try something new.’

Punjabi’s first screening saw up to 200 people turn out for the free event and numbers since then have been less but he remains characteristically upbeat about it. ‘There have been a lot of other events on and there are only so many people in Dubai’ he says. ‘But the response from people who attend has been very positive.’

The last outdoor screening of the season will be on May 17 and as much as the founder would love to continue with an outdoor series, the humidity might get a bit too much to bear in the evenings. Films will however continue inside for a special edition on June 5, which is World Environment Day, an event that is particularly close to his heart. ‘It’s all about consumption and saving water, which is just vital in this region, so I really want to be able to show a series of films on that. I want to get people to see some of the other perspectives on the world and film is ideal because it entertains people and gets a message out.’
So whether you happen to be strolling through the park or are a lover of indie film, go put down a blanket on the grass and be inspired.
Free. LOCO’MOTION Community Cinema. Next screening May 17. 7pm-9pm. Safa Park,

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