Cinema Akil gets a permanent home

Cinema Akil, for four years now the flagbearer for independent and arthouse cinema in the Emirates, is finally getting a permanent base – a small but fully equipped cinema in Alserkal Avenue.

It will be in warehouse 68, sharing an alley with the likes of The Flip Side, The Junction, Mirzam and The Third Line Gallery to name a few. This was the unit Cinema Akil used for its ten-week summer programme last year.

Cinema Akil’s co founder Butheina Kazim (left) told us the exact opening date has yet to be finalised, but “the space will be open in Q4 2018”. Nor has the opening programme been fixed yet – but “our focus is to continue to bring the best of indie, alternative and repertory cinema, as we have done with our pop ups”.

The plan is to run a seven-days-a-week 365-days-a-year operation (apart from some official holidays) with tickets at AED 50. That in itself won’t cover the bills; “the reality is that arthouse cinema is a very difficult commercial endeavour”, said Butheina. “While we will try and structure the business as a sustainable one, we will rely heavily on partners and sponsors to keep our programming alive and flourishing.”

magpie’s pick of
recent Cinema Akil presentations:


Meanwhile Cinema Akil’s pop-up programmes and especially the open-air seasons at Abu Dhabi’s Warehouse421 will continue – “our public-facing pop up programming and nomadic cinema programs will continue as they are an integral part of our mission to bring cinema to as wide-reaching audience bases as possible.

“Abu Dhabi has been an essential part of the Cinema Akil story and we hope to be there even more prominently as we progress in our journey.”

Cinema Akil has done more than 40 of these pop-up series, partnering with various bodies with film-friendly spaces and adding cinematic commentary to the likes of Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art.

“Our focus is to continue to bring the best of indie, alternative and repertory cinema, as we have done with our pop ups …”

Cinema Akil has never really been about film per se, though offering audiences an alternative to the Hollywood/Bollywood blockbuster has always been part of the ethos – as a medium, film comes in many more shapes and sizes than you’d guess from the multiplexes, and demonstrating the creative variety is always an important element for an indie programme.

But you could achieve with a Netflix-type service for people to watch at home. For Butheina Kazim, cinema also has a special value for creating and fostering communities, providing an environment where people can gather to share experiences that are nothing like those they’d get in their own living room (or indeed in the Novos, Voxes and Roxys).

As she said when we first interviewed her back in 2016: “I’m really interested in allowing people to access film and share those experiences in film.

“Film is a kind of teleporter. It allows you to live in different times, different places, different experiences – live a parallel life that you will never get to actually experience yourself. How could I not believe in that?”

And Cinema Akil really is very good at finding the interesting (sometimes even significant) films that might otherwise never be seen in the UAE.

This is particularly true of Arab cinema; Cinema Akil has found some real gems of Arab culture, and the Reel Palestine series has always featured some eye-opening contributions. But street culture, the US black experience, documentaries (like the Ramdocs series just finishing up in Alserkal Avenue), unexpected international collaborations … they’re all in Cinema Akil’s portfolio.

The bricks-and-mortar base for Cinema Akil also has a wider implication, another step in the UAE’s increasingly hectic transformation into a place where artistic and cultural endeavour happens from the ground up rather than being imposed from the top by institutional or commercial concerns.

This is the magpie argument, of course – the audience (young, articulate, energetic, educated) has always been here. It’s now getting the creative environment it deserves, and Cinema Akil’s progression is a key part of that.

Cinema Akil’s ongoing schedule is here.

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