Local artists on film: the quick-start option

A few weeks ago we were sent a link to a five-minute YouTube vid of a Dubai artist talking about their work, inspiration and techniques. When you come across art and artists, you don’t usually get the backstory. So we like this idea; it’s a clever (and economical) way of allowing a creative individual – especially artists from the region – to talk about what they do and why they do it. We tracked down the creator of Artists at Large to find out more …

magpie: Tell us about Artists at Large. Who’s involved? Where did the idea come from?

Salman A: Artists at Large is a non-profit initiative, aimed at promoting emerging artists through short documentary profile films. The initiative is led by me, Salman, and the films are created by my production house On the Yacht Films.

I’ve always been an avid viewer and creator of short films, and I also follow the work of many regional and international artists. The Artists at Large venture is a natural intersection of the two.

The first two Artists at Large episodes have been self-funded, and we now have a few high quality films to share with other artists – and sponsors. We’re already focused on reaching out to potential institutions to fund future films. In the meantime, we will continue producing films profiling selected artists.

As a non-profit, all funding raised will go towards the creation and promotion of future episodes.

What’s your own background?

My career has been in management consulting, but my heart is in the visual arts. I’ve been making one-off art prints for several years for private clients, hotels, and restaurants.

I’ve also been involved in film production for the last five years – something that started after I was selected to participate in the Arab Film Studio programme with Image Nation Abu Dhabi. I set up On the Yacht films in 2018, which now gives me the base to continue making films.

How do you select which artists to feature? Are you inviting artists to contact you (you’ll be inundated if yes!) or is it a personal selection made by you? How regularly do you intend to add new artists and new videos?

Selecting artists is a very subjective exercise. There are no specific benchmarks or criteria for selection; the art must appeal to me, and in my view fit into a specific niche. So the artist could have a unique story, process, or following.

The important thing to note is that there isn’t a blanket formula for selection: I want to do profile films on artists from a variety of backgrounds, with differing styles and interesting backstories.

George Rollo at work in the first Artists at Large vid

I look for what message we could collectively relay to our viewers so that they appreciate the artists and their work, but also get inspired as a result.

It usually takes six weeks to create a film ready for distribution, once everything is agreed and planned with the artist. Our target is to create 8 to 10 films a year.

How broad is your definition of an ‘artist’ – are you also going to be covering musicians or poets (or even other filmmakers)?

Artists at Large will only cover visual artists, primarily print, animation/interactive, and photography. I’d love to be making films on musicians too, but we need a well-defined scope for Artists at Large, and there are already so many visual artists we want to feature.

We’re not limiting ourselves geographically. But the best way to start and gain traction is to feature local artists first, which means those based in the UAE. Then we will move on to regional artists, and eventually have films on artists from around the world.

Your website talks about “pulling together the backstory” for your subjects. So what exactly is the basis of the content – are you interested in technique? In background and history? In ambitions and future development?

The goal of each Artists at Large film is to highlight the work of the artist, and leave the viewer inspired to create and chase their dreams. In each film we seek to address four main areas – the artist’s background, what inspires them and how they develop their ideas, the technical process of creation, and any advice they can offer to viewers and other emerging artists.

How about the actual content – are the artist profiles scripted? And do you let the artists decide on the content of the video?

Interviews are not scripted, but we do advise the artist to put their thoughts to paper beforehand to ensure we cover those four issues.

The Production team is responsible for the content. Artists do get to watch a near-complete edit, and they see the final film prior to release. We are not shooting paid promotional films, so there’s no explicit way artists get to dictate the direction of the film. But right from the start of the project we try and ensure that the artist and the Production team have a shared vision to create something that will inspire and stand on its own.

The second Artists at Large film has Clare Napper talking about life, art, work and Dubai

How are you promoting the videos – how will people get to hear about them?

Public exposure is extremely important for Artists at Large – the more awareness we can generate correlates directly to the amount of funds we can raise, and therefore the more films we can create. 

Films are distributed online via Vimeo and submitted to select film festivals. Both Artists at Large and the artists work together to promote the films on social media. We also reach out to other media (such as this wonderful publication!) and we’re already in discussion with local art institutions for exhibiting the films as part of larger art-focused events.

The website is here. Check out the first two Vimeo vids:


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