After a whirlwind of international success on six continents, Mahmoud Kaabour’s Teta Alf Mara has now become the first locally-produced documentary ever to secure a UAE cinema release.
It’s been nine months since we covered the UAE premier of Mahmoud Kaabour’s Teta, Alf Mara in February’s edition, and what a nine months it’s been for the Abu Dhabi-based film maker.
The film’s international festival travels have seen it screened on six continents, taking in destinations as far flung as Buenos Aires, Sydney, Montreal and Krakow.
Along the way it has picked up the London International Documentary Festivals’ Best Film Award, the Audience Award at Dox Box, Damascas and screened as a special event at New York Tribeca, where Kaabour also hosted a panel on Arab cinema.
Now, the film has picked up a further honour – that of being the first locally-produced documentary to gain a UAE cinema release, which seemed an ideal excuse to catch up with the film maker and hear about its progress.
I ask Kaabour how he went about securing the release into the often Hollywood-obsessed local market, with the film showing at The Picture House in Dubai Mall and Vox Cinemas in Abu Dhabi Marina Mall. He explains: “It’s been down to purely a lot of personal effort that we’ve got the film into cinemas.
A lot of distributors in the region had heard of the film and knew it had been winning awards. Shooting Stars, one of the biggest Hollywood distributors in the UAE extended its hand to help clear the necessary paperwork to put the film in cinemas.”
Kaabour says he was pleased to find a distributor who agreed with his own philosophy that cinema need not always be a commercial consideration, and continues: “We don’t particularly expect any revenue out of it, but Shooting Stars agreed with something I’ve said again and again – that these films cannot be viewed as commercial products.
The minute you expect revenue and wealth out of them they’ll never be screened and consequently won’t get made. We cut a deal with The Picturehouse, which we’re very grateful for, and a similar deal with Vox in Abu Dhabi, and we’re really pleased that something this independent is screening here.
“What we’ve spent on the release – on PR, advertising, masters and press - will probably not be compensated even if we get a full house every night, but I really feel that it’s important that people are able to see the kind of films that are made in the region.”
Further to the film’s cinema release, the soundtrack is set to be commercially released through Virgin, which Kaabour is pleased about for very personal reasons: “The music of the film is my grandfather’s music from tapes, or reorchestrations made for the film, that will finally be released 25 years after his death.
We’re very excited that after all this time we can share it with more people, and Virgin will be distributing it in the UAE, Qatar and the Levant initially.”
One down side to the success of Teta, Alf Mara is that Kaabour has been forced to put his next project, Champ of the Camp, on hold.