Cinema Akil is Dubai’s home-grown arthouse movie concept (Photo: Cinema Akil)
For four years, Dubai’s home-grown arthouse movie concept, Cinema Akil, has shown Middle Eastern and world films, artistic documentaries and other arthouse offerings across Dubai. Now, Emirati co-founder and managing director, Butheina Kazim, is opening a permanent screening space in Alserkal Avenue, at the heart of the city’s burgeoning art scene. We talk to the passionate film enthusiast about the space and her mission to promote deeper cultural understanding through art’s most accessible medium…
How long has Cinema Akil been in the making, and how did the project come about?
We started the idea in 2014, as a nomadic cinema, bringing alternative films from the region to different locations across the city. Last summer, we took a space in Alserkal Avenue as a test ground for a permanent space. It was a great success. So, now we have decided to turn it into a permanent cinema. Multiplex cinemas showing Hollywood blockbuster movies have their place, and their audience. But there is room for films that offer alternative, more culturally-diverse perspectives.
So, where did it all begin?
My desire to start Cinema Akil came from childhood memories here in Dubai, when there wasn’t the same culture of visiting the multiplex. There were temporary screens, and it was a community experience. You had a far deeper sense of sharing a moment together. I also remember the smells – karak chai, samosas, popcorn. It’s these memories – and strong sense of community in sharing a film-going experience – we are trying to evoke.
How did you choose the permanent space in Alserkal?
Alserkal Avenue has always been a great friend to Cinema Akil. I think we’ve done 100 screenings together. The arts hub is our flagship home in the UAE, and home to an eclectic, creative group of people. There’s a beautiful symmetry in the fact that the space stands directly opposite where we showed our very first film back in 2014.
The permanent space is a chance for people to enjoy films they wouldn’t otherwise get to see. It’s also a chance for us to work with [regional] filmmakers to help them get their films shown, and to highlight more cultural offerings.
What can cinema-goers expect?
The space is unique, open and relaxed – it’s certainly different to the large cinemas you might be used to, but we also want it to be used as a community spot when we are not showing films. We have kept the windows to allow for natural light during the day – and use blackout curtains during performances. It was fantastic for us to be able to re-use the cinema seats from the old Golden Cinema in Bur Dubai, which we rescued before it was knocked down (it’s all free seating on a first-come, first-served basis). People are free to come and work at the venue – we have strong WiFi, and want it to be so much more than a dark space.
It does have an alternative vibe, and we’d be happy to see community groups use it for meetings, when we open for longer hours in the near future. Visitors can also sip on Project Chaiwalla’s tempting karak chai.
How do you decide which themes to pick and films to feature?
We work with curators, directors and regional film companies, and are driven by the desire to create a distinct voice. Our film choices will always be artistic, with a socially progressive, feminist leaning. Cinema Akil is a celebration of alternative voices, authenticity and art. Cinema is one of the most democratic and accessible art forms, and we want to keep it that way. We work closely with the authorities to ensure our films are culturally sensitive and acceptable, but we also want to be a part of the conversation in terms of redefining the understanding of film here. We won’t show a film if it must be edited.
What’s your favourite film?
There are too many, so many, and every film offers something different. It’s hard to say, as different films evoke different memories – so many films stay with me in a host of different ways. ‘Metropolis’ is one, for so many reasons; as is ‘Gangs of New York’; but the film that started my current thinking – to screen different films here – was ‘A Time for Drunken Horses.’ [The 2000 Iranian (Kurdish/Persian) film directed by Bahman Ghobadi and produced in Iran]. This was the film that changed the way I thought about film.
What are your thoughts on filmmaking in the UAE and the region?
Here in Dubai, we live so close to such a wide variety of different people, with different cultures. We need to reflect this. There’s a long history of film-making in the region, and it’s tragic that we only get commercial, limited blockbuster films here. Cinema Akil can help promote and spread awareness of local and regional filmmakers.
Finally, is this an end to pop-up cinemas?
Our pop-ups will still happen!We want to continue taking film to the people, and we will continue to do so.
Screenings launch September 28. Keep up to date with Cinema Akil’s screenings at www.dubaicalendar.com
Tickets are AED52.50 and available at the venue or via http://cinemaakil.com/films/