The 48-hour film in Dubai

Two days, seven minutes and one film project captivating Dubai


Two days, seven minutes, one film. Benita Adesuyan reels in some details on the movie project captivating Dubai.

Making a film can be a long, arduous process, taking months or even years to see through from script to screen. Richard Linklater’s drama Boyhood took 12 years to make. James Cameron’s Avatar was a decade in the making and even The Simpsons Movie took a full nine years to animate. But filmmakers in Dubai are being put to the challenge to make a short film worthy of Cannes in just 48 hours.

The 48 Hour Film Project began in 2001 in Washington DC as a game among young film students, inspired by the 24 Hour Play, to find a new way of making fun films. The project requires teams to make a four- to seven-minute film in 48 hours, with no prior planning, armed with whatever equipment they can get their hands on. The idea grew in popularity and spread across the US. It was later picked up by film fans in Europe as well as in the Middle East.

This unique competition is now in its fourth year in Dubai and registration for entry is currently open, giving wannabe Woody Allens and budding Tim Burtons a chance to put their skills to the test.

Mo Rida, producer of the 48 Hour Film Project in the Middle East and a former entrant who launched the project in Oman, Cairo and Beirut, as well as here in Dubai, says that he hopes this year it will be even more popular. ‘Dubai has been by far the most popular city for the project and has seen the biggest response of the four Middle Eastern cities. In the first year we had 38 teams, which was good, and that’s increasing year on year. Last year we had more than 50 teams, so it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. There are a lot of independent filmmakers and film students in Dubai, and people who want to make movies just for fun rather than commercial purposes.’

The rules of the 48 Hour Film Project are simple, and that’s part of what makes it challenging. As well as being no more than seven minutes long, films must also include a given line of dialogue, a prop and a character’s name chosen by the organisers. The genre of the film is picked out at random at a kick-off meeting held just before the 48-hour countdown begins. Teams are then dispatched around the city to script, shoot and edit their movies. The only things that entrants can do in advance are pick their team, organise their equipment and scout possible locations.

Considering that films submitted so much as a minute late will be disqualified, Rida says time management is vital. ‘With only 48 hours you have to plan and designate work and get your schedule straight. Perhaps the most difficult aspect is the story. You get given a genre, and then you have to come up with a story and shoot it right away. You don’t have time to go back and rewrite it, and you can’t spend more than half a day writing the script, so basically that’s the most important part. [You have to figure out] what story you are trying to tell. Getting writer’s block would be the biggest challenge.’

Rida explains that there’s no limit to team numbers. One entrant in New York entered as a one-man team doing all the writing, acting and filming on his own. Another team in Paris was 100 strong. The competition is also open to professionals and amateurs and there’s no age limit.

Prizes include top-of-the-range cameras from Nikon with the winner getting a camera package worth around Dhs10,000, in addition to prizes from Dubai International Film Festival, Advanced Media and the honour of having their film screened at the 48 Hour Film Project Filmapalooza in Hollywood.

The international competition is being hosted in 130 cities this year. Winners from each country will be entered into a final where their films will be screened in Hollywood and the best 15 will be shown at the Cannes Short Film Corner at the international festival.

Dubai has seen success in this competition. Last year’s local winner, Pump It, was a silent comedy about a basketball referee who accidentally swallows a whistle, by Dubai-based filmmaker Patrick Fronda and his team of five going by the name Playback Films. They didn’t go as far as Cannes, but their film was screened in New Orleans.

Rida says seeing amateur filmmakers progress is hugely rewarding and he hopes this year’s winner can go even further. ‘The project holds a certain amount of prestige in the filmmaking community and even in some colleges – professional filmmakers from them come and see the screenings. I’ve seen amateur filmmakers go far and accomplish so much as a result of this project. It’s a big push for them.’
Dhs645 (early-bird registration until November 5), Dhs735 (regular registration). Shooting starts Thursday November 13, 6pm. Drop-off is Saturday November 15, 7.30pm. Register online at

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