Özge Calafato 23 September 2017

Animal Perspectives in Science and Fiction in the UAE


Animal Perspectives in Science and Fiction in the UAE plunges into the world of the fascinating animals that have played an important role in shaping the cultural topography of the United Arab Emirates. Through their perspectives, we experiment with new ways of envisioning and understanding a society that has undergone an incredible urban transformation since the 1970s. These six films bring together multiple forms of narratives and genres, which offer alternative definitions as to what it is to be an inhabitant of this planet – as a human and an animal alike.


Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Shot in the desert of Dubai, Shaheen examines the relationship between bird and human and how humans have used technology to try to recreate wild hunting.

Shaheen follows the morning routine of the falcons of the Royal Shaheen group. The falconers Peter and Sarab attempt to use planes and drones to develop further the art of falconry, whilst also struggling to outmaneuver and entertain the falcons in artificial aerial combat. It’s as much falconer and falcon as it is falconer versus falcon. Let the aerial battle commence!

Sam Ridgeway lies in the sand to get the perfect shot of the falcons

"I hope that by transporting the audience into the aerial dual with the falcon there is an enhanced appreciation of the skill and agility of these flying machines. Production was incredibly enjoyable and it was a privilege to work with the Royal Shaheen team. The most memorable parts of the shoot were the morning sunrises over the desert and seeing the beauty of the falcons' form in the air and up close."

- Sam Ridgeway


Abu Dhabi

A curious girl documents the lives of a marginalized group of gazelles on the Saadiyaat Islans Golf Club in Abu Dhabi, a city who names translates into "rich in gazelles" in Arabic. 

The director Miraflor Santos filmed gazelles on the Golf Course of Sadiyaat Island. She says the most memorable moment during the production of this film was the day she woke up at dawn to film birds by the pond at the Saadiyat golf course. That was the day she knew she wanted filmmaking to be part of her life.

Mira hides behind the bushes to film the gazelles

"The word Abu Dhabi means "father of the gazelles" or "rich in gazelles" in Arabic. According to folklore, Abu Dhabi was found by hunters who followed a gazelle to a freshwater spring that became the first fort in Abu Dhabi. Gazelles are symbols of beauty and gazelle motifs can be found on taxis and murals around the city. They carry great historical and cultural significance to Abu Dhabi and yet they are displaced by the city's rapid expansion and development. This film is about a small group of gazelles that still live in Abu Dhabi on a golf course, an unnatural landscape that serves as a refuge for the gazelles but is also part of the urbanization that displaced the gazelles in the first place. I wanted to capture this irony on film. I wanted to shed light on this marginalized group of animals and explore their relationship to the city they were named after. "  

Miraflor Santos 

Article about nature and development on Saadiyat written for NYUAD Gazelle journal by Miraflor Santos


The Return

A colorful international team of zoologists, vets and games keepers work together to bring the Arabian Oryx, the symbol of Arabia, back to its native habitat in the Abu Dhabi desert after near extinction.

Zayed Students filming the workers at Deleika Center, Environment Abu Dhabi Agency

Shaima Al Ameri, Fatma Al Ghanem from Zayed University directed this film with their film professor Alia Yunis. The production took place at the Deleika Center in Abu Dhabi part of Environment Abu Dhabi Agency

"We were lucky our first day there. An Oryx gave birth to her baby, and we will never forget it struggling to its feet and walking for the first time. Baby Oryx are so cute—the look nothing like their parents, more like Golden Retrievers.

When we lose a species, like we almost lost the Arabian Oryx, we lose our heritage, our traditional source of food and shelter, and we disturb the balance of our natural environment, which has been protecting us since time immemorial, and which we still need to protect us when progress fails us."  

Alia Yunis, Producer and Film Professor at Zayed University


Lulu: Story of a Pearl

Pearls mean different things to different people. Once, pearls drove the Abu Dhabi economy. Now they're returning in cultured form with new technology and help from Japan.

​History of diving for pearls in the UAE​

"The most memorable time is not actually in the film—it was at the end of the day when all the workers shelling the pearls went out to collect dinner from the
sea—fish they put on the fire and we all sat down to eat with bread as the sun set. It was hot from the fire and the heat of May, but the cool breeze and our big appetites made up for it.

It’s hard to imagine this little white ball has meant so much to so many people—from the pearl divers that made a very difficult and dangerous living from it to wealthy, young women around the world who blushed at a gift of pearls to wear around their necks. It would be hard to imagine the pearl divers or the young ladies feeling comfortable in each other’s worlds, and yet we are all connected through the smallest of things."

Alia Yunis, Producer and Film Professor at Zayed University


Guardian of the Mangroves

Fatouh, the Guardian of the Mangroves, has not been seen for some time. Some say he left after disputes with local tribes while others claim that it was due to increasing destruction and pollution of these ecosystems in the Arabian Gulf.

Alexis Gambis directed this mockumentary as part of an exhibition "Mangroves from the Water" with Syrian artist Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

Between the Mangroves in Umm al-Quwain

"I experimented with ways of incorporating Emirati tales  into the conversations about deforestation, pollution and conservation in the face of urban expansion. I also wanted to play with the viewer's mind by blurring the lines between the real and the imaginary. "

Alexis Gambis

Remnants of the Hive

Remnants of the Hive is the story of a girl who is faced with the role of caregiver as her grandfather's memory deteriorates. By considering the parallels between the behaviors of bees and humans, this short narrative film explores the distinction between love and obligation, and the implications of sacrifice.

Remants of beekeeping in Jebel Hafeet

"The film features honey bees, so it involved significant research into the various types of bees present in the UAE. We met with numerous bee farmers from around the region and worked with them to determine the best way to incorporate the bees into the film. As a result , we did a separate "bee shoot" with the beekeeper, in which he held the bees with his own bare hands and carefully guided them. Watching this coordination was fascinating, as the bees and the beekeeper were incredibly calm with each other throughout the entire process. 

Since the story is semi-autobiographical, I found it challenging to delve into the emotions behind some of the characters' actions. By comparing their dynamics to those of honey bees, I gained a degree of objectivity that allowed me to see these relationships more clearly. In exploring bee behaviors, I not only expanded the story and unpacked apparent contradictions in human relationships, but I developed a greater understanding and appreciation for the ways in which these insects coordinate with their hives to protect each other and their queens. My hope is that by highlighting certain parallels between bee behaviors and our own, I might encourage others to take action and protect them from increasing loss around the world. "

Madison Moore

About the Author

Özge Calafato has worked for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) as Programming Manager and served as a selection committee member for the SANAD Development and Post-Production Fund. She has also worked as a programmer and consultant for a number film festivals and institutions including Documentarist, DOK Leipzig, Doha Film Institute, DokuFest, Oslo Arab Film Days, The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, Punto de Vista, Imagine Science Film Festival, Cinema Akil and Birds Eye View. She is a co-founder and project director of the UAE National Film Library and Archive and a member of the publications committee for the online literary magazine altZine.net and e-book publisher altKitap.net. She currently works as the Project Manager for the Akkasah: Center for Photography at NYU Abu Dhabi.

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