As the film industry in the United Arab Emirates develops, Abu Dhabi and Dubai may seem more Hollywood with their glitz, glamour and towering skylines. But the quieter emirate of Fujairah holds a captivating allure for filmmakers looking to tell distinctly local stories.
Fujairah’s long coastline means that it has always been considered a gateway from the UAE to the East — Oman, Iran, India and Pakistan are all only a few hundred kilometres away. This proximity to other countries — and cultures — has influenced Fujairah and the UAE as a whole. The emirate has a long history of diversity as reflected in its traditions, its people and, of course, its food.
For Abdulla Al Kaabi, a 31-year-old film director born and raised in Fujairah, the scenery of his hometown helped launch his career, initially through shorts and commercials. To him, Fujairah possesses a star quality all its own. “Fujairah’s landscape is naturally dramatic,” says the director. “Whether you’re down at the Corniche or trekking through the mountains, everywhere you look there’s a striking view.”
Al Kaabi grew up in Al Faseel, a quiet suburb that edges on the Corniche, and he recalls a childhood spent fishing and visiting with family and friends in the narrow streets. When he returns from filming, he retreats to this quaint area. “One of the best things about Fujairah is the peacefulness — there is a calm that washes over the place that is so unlike the other emirates.”
Fujairah is blessed with 70 kilometres of curving coastline along the craggy Gulf of Oman, so when filmmakers point their cameras in its direction, they try to capture the striking contrast of the pale grey limestone Hajjar mountains against the sparkling indigo of the Gulf.
For film-making siblings, producer Amer Salmeen Al-Murry, and his brother, the director Saeed Salmeen Al-Murry, Fujairah is at the top of their location list. They primarily shot their 2015 film Sayer Al Jannah (Going to Heaven), which premiered at the 2015 Dubai International Film Festival, in Fujairah.
“We always start our stories from Fujairah,” says Amer Salmeen Al-Murry, who is presently working on another film set in the emirate. “It reminds us of Abu Dhabi back in the ’50s and ’60s. Fujairah is great for making films because you see two cultures — old and new. Set against the mountains it just has a natural cinematic look.”
Going to Heaven depicts an 11-year-old boy, Sultan, and his friend, Saud, taking a road trip across the UAE from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah in search of his grandmother. Its success on the festival circuit has helped introduce the emirate to a global audience. The film includes such locations as the historic mosque in Al Badiyah, the Al Hayl Fort and beaches and wide-open spaces. “Going to Heaven, has been seen at 35 film festivals around the world and — we’re proud to present the UAE and especially Fujairah with good light,” Al-Murry says. “We filmed so many different parts of Fujairah to depict Sultan’s search for his heritage.”
For both Al-Murry and Al Kaabi, it’s the people that make the place. As they share their memories of Fujairah, they speak of a larger story. “If I were making a film about Fujairah, it would have to show the local people playing football on the beaches, the teen age boys hanging out near the Indian shops — it’s not glamourous but that’s how life was there,” Al Kaabi says. “It’s a simpler, slower pace of life. I’m very nostalgic for Fujairah, and it’s those kinds of scenes that always remain with me.”
Undoubtedly Fujairah is known for its fresh catch, and natives, like Al Kaabi, insist that visitors sample the regional delicacy, Maleh, a salt fish dish made with the best locally caught kingfish. But Fujairah also helps to fill the UAE’s grocery basket with produce from locally owned farms. This rural element of life in Fujairah, where scattered among the wadis near Dibba in the north of the emirate, locals grow date palms, vegetables and mangoes, lends itself beautifully to film.
“I spent many of my childhood summers helping my grandmother on her farm, picking mangoes,” Al Kaabi says. “Mango season in Fujairah is during the summer — we grow a unique type of mango which is small and very sweet.”
For Al-Murry, it’s his role as a filmmaker to share the stories of Fujairah with the world. “There are parts of Fujairah that make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time – small winding roads leading toward the mountains, the mountain villages and farms. People live differently there, smaller houses, closer to their communities. The place just tells stories, and we’ve built our stories on Fujairah.”
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