Good news for film fans – this year's Zayed University Middle East Film Festival will be open to the public and free to attend.
Billed as the biggest student-film festival in the region, the sixth edition of the annual event – on May 17 and 18 – will feature 65 films from 40 universities and film schools, offering unparalleled opportunity for raw, young talents to get their work in front of an audience for the first time.
Proudly organised "by students, for students”, last year's festival was open only to those registered at a university, but this year the doors are being thrown open to the general public.
In addition to an expanded programme, the festival will close with a free screening of Ali F Mostafa's From A to B – the hit comedy that opened last year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival – at 7pm on May 18. All screenings will be in the auditorium at the university's Khalifa City Campus.
In addition to the films, the festival will also include question-and-answer sessions and workshops, including one hosted by the Palestinian filmmaker Scandar Copti, who was nominated for an Oscar for his first film, 2009's Ajami.
While in previous years the festival has only been open to submissions from the Arab world, this year's edition has been opened up to invite entries from students with Arab heritage wherever they live, as well as foreign students studying in the region.
"The main goal is to showcase students' work and the really interesting thing is the differences you see in films from across the region,” says the university's faculty director, Sascha Ritter. "This is the first platform for many of these filmmakers to get their work screened.
"The quality gets better year on year – we see so many young, fresh ideas. You can already tell with some of them – you follow them and in a few years they are working as filmmakers or in film.
"These films give you a new perspective on things – what the students are feeling, the issues they are facing across the region.”
The 65 short films have been whittled down from more than 100 entries, to ensure the standards remain high. Fifteen films will compete for five awards – split into Animation, Documentary and Narration categories.
The films will be judged by Copti, Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the artistic director of the Dubai International Film Festival, and The National's film writer, Chris Newbould. Each judge will rate the movies based on the directing, editing, story and production.
But perhaps the most impressive thing about the festival is that the whole thing is put together by a team of 29 students at Zayed University. The Emirati women are students of related fields, including multimedia, tourism, journalism and public relations, and the pressure of organising the high-profile Zumeff gives the students a chance to put their classroom training into practice.
Reem Al Ali is head of the festival's advertising and social media committee and volunteered at the two most-recent editions.
"It's incredible,” says the 20-year-old. "We have the sense of what it's like to organise a festival. Nothing's gone wrong so far – but I'm nervous.
"The festival is important because there are a lot of filmmakers out there and they don't have the opportunity to show their films in front of a live audience. People should come to the festival for the opportunity to be ¬inspired.”
Nasreen Al Nadabi, 33, head of the festival's media and public relations committee, says: "The festival is organised by students for students – we really put some effort into this to see that it's a ¬success.
"We have some very talented filmmakers and people should see their work.”
"It's a touch of the real world,” says Ritter, a 37-year-old German expatriate. "The students learn how to do it – and then they have to go out and get it done.”
• The Zayed University Middle East Film Festival is on May 17 and 18. View the full schedule online at zajelzu.ae/zumeff.
Source: The National