With last year's inaugural Tropfest Arabia, plus the continued expansion of the Emirates Film Competition and the ever-growing number of other stand-alone initiatives, the short film has become an integral part of the regional cinematic landscape.
This weekend comes another, slightly different, festival for short films. Women's Voices from the Muslim World, taking place at Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village, is a three-day event organised by the UAE chapter of Women in Film and TV, an organisation supporting women in the industry, in conjunction with Women's Voice Now, a US non-profit organisation that hosts an annual festival in Los Angeles.
"Women's Voices Now contacted us, asking if we'd be interested in taking a suite of films," explains Michelle Nickelson, co-chairwoman of Women in Film and TV UAE. "And we thought it'd be a great idea, so we picked several different programmes."
Taking place over three evenings, the line-up includes short films from Muslim women living in the western world as well as Muslim women living in the Muslim world. Most have come from the region, but there are also shorts from the US, China and Indonesia. Among the numerous films from Iran there's Feminin Masculin, which follows Tehran's first female bus driver, shown as part of Friday's selection, while in Saturday's programme The Path to Follow tells the story of young Afghan girls gaining confidence through Tae Kwon Do lessons. From the UAE, My Name Is Pat by Patricia Fermazi sees the director, a young Filipino expatriate, struggle to understand her own identity.
"And after the films have been shown, we're going to have about 30-45 minutes of panel discussions," says Nickelson. Among the guests are several of the filmmakers whose work is showing, including multi-award-winning Afghan filmmaker Alka Sadat and Bijoyeta Das from Turkey, whose short social documentary films have brought her wide acclaim. Also taking part in the panels will be one of the most prominent local filmmakers, Nujoom Al Ghanem, who won the first prize in the Muhr Emirati Competition at last year's Dubai International Film Festival for her short documentary Amal.
"Some of these films have already won competitions, but what Women's Voices Now is doing is giving them a platform to travel internationally, doing film screenings and raising awareness to what women are doing in film," says Nickelson.
The hope is that Women's Voices from the Muslim World becomes an annual event in Abu Dhabi. "We're going to see how it goes this year," says Nickelson. "But there seems to be a lot of interest because it's International Women's Month, and it's going to be outside, in stunning weather."
It's also something she hopes people will attend with their families. "It's very casual and free. We're going to have the whole Heritage Village set up. It's 90 minutes of films each night and 45 minutes of film discussion."