For the love of cinema: inside Cinema Akil

Cinema Akil is “an Independent cinema platform dedicated to showcasing the best of arthouse, independent, alternative and classic films”, says co-founder Butheina Kazim. So no pressure then.

Thinking about cinema: Butheina Kazim

In fact Cinema Akil is delivering the goods, putting on pop-up programmes around Dubai (especially Alserkal Avenue) but also Sharjah (twice) and Abu Dhabi (regularly at Warehouse421 and Umm Al Emarat Park) with an impressively eclectic mix of classics and contemporary from a variety of cultures.

Ms Kazim herself started in graphic design but in 2008 pitched a proposal to Arab Media Group to create “a mix of Sundance and IFC” (formerly Independent Film Channel, the cable network that claims to be “always on, slightly off”).

“I was fascinated by the idea of intersections between culture and media, and how exhibitions and showing film and stories as a way of opening horizons, capturing moments in time, allowing people to travel …”

But then the economic crisis hit and the project was cancelled. “I was left with all these films which I wanted to get to a larger audience but had no opportunity to do that”, says Butheina.

She went on to work in TV, eventually started organising independent film screenings in parallel with the day job, and a couple of years ago decided to revisit the project with her (business and life) partner.

Initially this meant planning an actual space, but Ms Kazim got impatient with the time that was taking; ”I wanted to test whether there was a legitimate audience with an appetite for a mix of alternative arthouse and classic films. So did our first popup.”

square-open-quote GREY[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”I became obsessed with the nomadic cinema idea …”[/perfectpullquote]

That was at the Third Line Gallery in Al Quoz on successive Wednesdays in June and July 2014. “We showed the whole gamut of the kind of films we wanted,” says Butheina – from classics like Hitchcock’s Dial ‘M’ for Murder and Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali to contemporary films like Lamma Shoftak (When I Saw You) Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir’s second feature film (2012) and Hirokazu Koreeda’s 2013 Japanese family drama Like Father, Like Son (Soshite chichi ni naru).

The audience was indeed there – “it was a packed house every time” – and the popup principle would clearly work: “I became obsessed with the nomadic cinema idea”.

So Cinema Akil started to get requests to put together film programmes for events, like Market Outside the Box in 2015 and again this year.

“We’ve now done everything from a basketball court to an island. We took over a courtyard in Al Fahidi for Sikka. And a regular partner for us is Alserkal Avenue, at A4 space and The Yard; around Galleries Night, when there are already other activations in the area, we’ll get 250 people.

Al fresco cinema at Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi
A full house for al fresco cinema at Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi

“Warehouse 421 screenings have been great too. Abu Dhabi was more of an unknown for us, but we really wanted to get to other parts of the UAE, to bring nomadic cinema everywhere. We also did a sci fi programme in Sharjah last year with Sharjah Arts Foundation. That location was great, right in the Heart of Sharjah area, with people stumbling on us.”

So Cinema Akil is itinerant cinema, without a permanent home? “We’re working hard on trying to get a permanent space up and running, but in parallel we will always have nomadic pop-ups. It’s part of the plan.”

Mushrif Park
Setting up for another popup outdoor show, this one in the Mother of the Nation Park (aka Mushrif Park) in Abu Dhabi

And will Cinema Akil make its own movies? Butheina Kazim says there’s always the temptation. “I have produced a short in the past, and there are always many stories that haven’t been told … But at this point I’m really interested in the first step, 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?”

Light work

The summer programme, running to 2 September 2016 in the A4 Space screening room, is the fourth collaboration between Alserkal Avenue and Cinema Akil. Under the title A Hard Day’s Night, it’s  a great illustration of Cinema Akil’s style of programming – a mixture of wit and world cinema. classics and contemporary, Arabic and Western; the range is broad in just about every dimension … and yet it doesn’t feel at all pretentious.

The theme is work in general and in particular. From that you could pick out all kinds of commentary on labour politics, the contrast between craft and technology or craft and mass production, the value or otherwise of rigorous work … and so on. It’s an open invitation for the audience to get stuck in.

One movie that isn’t there: A Hard Day’s Night. But then maybe that wasn’t about work at all.

Screenings are at 7pm (9pm during Ramadan) and are free. The A4 Space screening room is quite small, so get there early.


15, 16, 17 Jun

The Overnighters (Jesse Moss, 2014). Controversy in a small US town when a pastor opens his church to homeless workers seeking jobs. “A painful and poignant excoriation of the American dream” – Empire.overnighters

23, 24, 25 Jun

Castle In The Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986). Prizewinning animated adventure of loyalty, magic and just desserts in an alternative version of Earth. The director says it is based on his experience of the miners’ strike in Wales – “I wanted to reflect the strength of those communities in my film.”Castle In The Sky

29, 30 Jun,
1 Jul

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Epic German expressionist take on a dystopian sci-fi future with a gilded elite above ground surviving on the grinding toil of a worker class below ground. A candidate for ‘most influential film ever’.metropolis

13, 14, 15 Jul

Gesher (Vahid Vakilifar, 2010). This Iranian winner of a Black Pearl award from the long-lost ADFF is a naturalistic story about three men who take menial jobs at a gas refinery. The photographic quality and documentary-style approach puts things into real perspective. Showing with Handmade (short – Jamshid Bahmani, 2004).GESHER

20, 21, 22 Jul

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 2014). Marion Cotillard has just one weekend to convince her colleagues to sacrifice their bonuses so that she can keep her job. A powerful statement about community solidarity, both wise and compassionate.Two Days, One Night

27, 28, 29 Jul

Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936). The classic fable of the little man being overwhelmed by the inescapable and inevitable machinery in an automated factory. A rush of unforgettable gags with explicit commentary on class struggle during the Great Depression, this happened to be the last outing for Chaplin’s Little Tramp character.Modern-Times

3, 4, 5 Aug

Ayanda (Sara Blecher, 2015). This warm, witty and sometimes painful story of love, grief and self discovery for a bright young woman trying to keep her late father’s garage going is an unusual insight into modern day South Africa as well as a great coming-of-age story.ayanda

10, 11, 12 Aug

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971). The fabled golden ticket wins Charlie a tour of the magical factory under the direction of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. The unpleasant kids suffer, the deserving get their reward, and the oompa-loompahs seem happy enough doing the grunt work …wonka

17, 18, 19 Aug

Factory Boss (Wei Zhang, 2014). Global economics from a Chinese mass-producer’s viewpoint – caught between the ever-tightening demands of Western conglomerates and the rising demands of the workers in his factory, the boss inevitably winds up treating everyone unfairly.FactoryBoss

24, 25, 26 Aug

The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940). Successful translation to film of John Steinbeck’s searing novel; an Oklahoma family lose their farm in the Great Depression, become migrant workers, and travel across the States to end up in California in search of work and opportunities. A great human story of suffering, endurance and dignity.Grapes of Wrath

31 Aug,
1, 2 Sep

The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismäki, 1990). Deadpan almost-comedy of a girl with a dead-end job in a match factory and a grim social life. When she falls pregnant after a one-night stand with a man who thought she was a prostitute, she decides that enough is enough and plans her revenge … Meticulous, dour, unwavering – but riveting. With The Solitary Life of Cranes (short – Eva Weber, 2008).factory-girl



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