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08 June 2023

Investing in the future of film

By Rachel McArthur



An Emirati businessman/producer and director has revealed he has invested $1 million (Dh3.7m) in his latest movie, which was released in cinemas on Thursday.


Majid Abdul Razak’s Arabian Sands, a bilingual film in English and Arabic, is inspired by the story of the British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, whose passion was travelling through some of the most isolated places on earth.


The movie, which is Abdul Razak’s second full-length feature, is set in the Southern Arabian deserts of the late 1940s, and features Thesiger setting out to explore the world of the Arabs living in the desert – known as Bedus – along with his companions Bin Kabina and Bin Ghabaisha.


“My first film, Eqaab, was based on The Count of Monte Cristo, which is a story that completely fascinated me when I first started reading it,” Abdul Razak (pictured above, centre) tells Emirates Business.


“However, it was for a limited audience, because it was a contemporary modification of the story in Arabic, and so it appealed to a small number of cinemagoers. Arabian Sands, however, is the story of Wilfred Thesiger, which has never been adapted before, and I made the majority of the film in English, a language that nearly everyone understands. Even the Arabic parts are subtitled.”


Despite using  his own money to fund the project due to lack of investors, the director says his aim is to increase awareness of the slowly emerging Emirati film industry.


“Making a film is an expensive hobby, but I was determined to make it, so I had to use my money to do it. There aren’t many people out here who would be interested in investing in a movie, simply because it won’t be worth the investment,” he says.


“At the end of the day, I receive Dh10 out of each cinema ticket sold, so there’s no way I would cover the $1million I spent. But I just want to make everyone – from Europeans to Asians to Arabs – aware of local films.


“It’s fine to go watch the latest Tom Cruise or Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster, but it’d be nice if people took an interest in local productions as well.”


Besides not being able to find investors, finding a distributor was as challenging. Abdul Razak says he approached a major distribution company that was less than helpful, prompting him to find other distributors who would take notice.

“Again, distributors are only interested in the Tom Cruise or Shah Rukh Khan film, because it brings in the big money,” he says.


“The first distributor I contacted was very negative towards this film. However, the second distributor was more than happy to co-operate. Now I’m looking at also releasing the film outside the UAE.”


Arabian Sands was shot in the UAE over two months, and post-production started last May. As well as directing and producing the film, Abdul Razak also wrote the script.


“That process took a while as I had to apply for permission from the family of Thesiger in the United Kingdom. Plus, I had to apply for a licence from the UAE government to film over here.” But while many aspects of the filming of Arabian Sands have been challenging, he remains optimistic about the project’s success.


“We went through a lot of trouble making this film,” he says. “But this is a step in the right direction.


“I am the first Emirati to make two full-length feature films using 35mm. I think people coming to see the film will be beneficial for the future of the UAE’s film industry as time goes on. That’s what I hope to achieve.”