With more than 8,000 members, The Scene Club is Dubai’s biggest purveyor of independent films in the region. Benita Adesuyan meets the women behind it.
‘If you give people a certain type of food all their lives – they won’t try sushi you know,’ jokes Nayla Al Khaja as she talks about her film group, The Scene Club and its achievements in enticing the emirate’s fillm-loving community away from blockbusters and Hollywood rom-coms and towards the indie end of the spectrum. The monthly event feeds cinema lovers a menu of independent films, fresh from the festival circuit, which the founder believes there is an increasing appetite for in Dubai.
Nayla, an Emirati filmmaker founded the group in 2007 in direct response to what she saw as a lack of ‘meaningful cinema’ in the emirate and since its humble beginnings with a membership of 80, the club now has more than 8,000 members and rising.
Nayla, who grew up in Dubai, has been passionate about film from a young age and has long been keen to bring alternative screenings to her home town. ‘We don’t have art house theatres in Dubai, aside from the Dubai Film Festival, which only goes on for one week. If you miss it you have to wait a whole year to watch the latest independent films. I wish I could screen films every day but that would mean I’d need to own a cinema.What I can do is showcase a film every month.’
The Scene Club brings the latest independent films to the city at free monthly screenings held in Dubai Knowledge Village. It’s managed by Claudia Corbelli, who works closely with Nayla to scour the world film circuit and select films to screen.
The Scene Club has previously shown No Man’s Land, by Danis Tanovic, Wadjda by Haifaa Al Mansour, and When We Leave by Feo Aladag to a packed auditorium of film fans, proving that there is a healthy appetite for independent film in Dubai. ‘With Claudia’s amazing abilities we’re able to get the latest films from festivals and that’s what was missing.’
Claudia handles the main operations of the club and has witnessed its continued growth, which she says is all down to the quality of the films. ‘We have many people approach us and say, “why don’t you charge?” but it’s the fact that we show films you can cannot see in UAE cinemas that makes the club so attractive. Because they are international foreign independent films, we are able to screen them uncensored thanks to the support of the Dubai International Film Festival.’
So how do you decide which films to run with so many available at your disposal? Claudia explains. ‘I select them by going to festivals myself locally and regionally. We screen films that are thought-provoking and will stimulate dialogue among the community. We never show blockbusters. All the films we screen have a message and all of them have won international awards and been screened at international festivals.’
The club’s growth is largely down to word-of-mouth but because of the close links with the industry, it is also able to bring filmmakers and producers from around the world to host Q&A sessions after screenings, creating a dialogue between the audience and creators. ‘You always have an indication of how good the film was by how many people stay for the Q&A afterwards. And I see it when I go to festivals – you get about 30 per cent of people staying behind. Generally at The Scene Club we have about 60-70 per cent of people stay.’
The club receives about 200 new members every month, but its success hasn’t made the experience less personal or involving. ‘It really feels like a community club. There’s something about going to a film club rather than the cinema. A lot of people come as a group of friends and it’s a great way to meet other people who are passionate about the same things. In terms of industry there is the opportunity to mingle and strike up new projects.’
The venue at Dubai Knowledge Village has a capacity of 400 and tickets are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis and many people are turned away despite registering to attend. To combat the disappointment, Claudia and Nayla are considering running screenings over two nights so that more of their members will have the opportunity to see the films.
‘Once you see one or two films, you get hooked,’ says Nayla. ‘I remember one member told me once “I’ve never seen independent film, I’m only used to seeing commercial movies – I just discovered cinema now.”’
Next screening is Wednesday July 9. For more information, visit www.thesceneclub.com (04 391 0051)