It wasn’t such a long time ago when boutique cinemas and cinema clubs started showing up around Dubai. Not many survived, but those that did set the scene not just for indie film screenings but also for supporting local short and feature film productions.
"The growth of the independent cinema scene is a clear indication of an increasing demand for a richer cultural life in the city. It's an essential dimension that is now being fulfilled and nurtured by eager audiences yearning for alternative cinema and cinematic experiences," Butheina Kazim, co-founder of Cinema Akil, tells StepFeed.
"Alternative and art-house films play a crucial complementary role to other arts that are finding their homes and audiences in the city by informing their references, expanding their narratives and reaching into the consciousness of the audience," she continues.
Cultural venues that opened later, like Alserkal Avenue, have also played a critical role in the growth and development of this phenomenon in Dubai.
"We hope to always be here [at Alserkal Avenue] with great films every time because we're surrounded by people and minds who are interested in building a long term cultural landscape in the city and we share that commitment through and through," Kazim says.
As the cooler months approach, Dubai’s Indie films venues have begun to announce their programs for the winter season.
If, like me, you can’t wait to catch up, here is a list of where to watch Indie films around the UAE.
1. The Scene Club
Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja first launched The Scene Club in 2007, making it the country's first indie films initiative. At first, the club held screenings at Knowledge Village for paid members, but that has changed.
The Scene now holds two screenings per month, free of charge for those who RSVP online - usually announced through social media and newsletter emails.
The club also moved to Roxy Cinemas at BoxPark, the region’s first boutique cinema, with its unique interiors and hand-stitched, Italian leather-trimmed seats.
If you are looking for the best of what the world of independent cinema and foreign films has to offer in raw formats, this is the place for you.
2. Cinema Akil
Co-founded by Emirati Butheina Kazim and Mishaal Al Gergawi, who started the initiative out of a belief in the power of film and storytelling, Cinema Akil was launched in 2014 and started off at the Third Line in Al Quoz.
"As a nomadic, traveling cinema, we launched in 2014 with a program of screenings at The Third Line gallery, moving to other outdoor and indoor venues across the Emirates," cinema manager, Luz Salem Villamil, tells StepFeed.
"Three years on and we have now completed 35 pop ups across Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in 20 different locations and have shown more than 200 feature films in 50 different languages," Villamil continues.
Kazim also tells StepFeed that the team is working hard to make these films more accessible and intriguing to curious audiences who want something more than what is available at multiplex cinemas.
By the time Cinema Akil moved to Warehouse G59 in early August at Alserkal Avenue, it probably became one of the most popular cinema clubs in Dubai. Now, you can purchase their tickets at the new venue’s Box Office for 35dhs ($9.53.)
"Even before developing our plans for a permanent space for art-house cinema, while we grew our pop up or nomadic cinema activities, we've always come back to Alserkal Avenue – we think of it as our home base," Kazim adds.
The big name they've established for themselves enables them to stay ahead of others in town. When I approached them to request the screening of the recently released film, Loving Vincent, in late August, they had already been in talks with the producers and soon confirmed the film’s screening by late September.
Thanks to its collaboration with Alserkal Avenue and its active social media marketing, Akil is no longer just limited to indie film lovers, but for a wider audience. Featuring art house, foreign, and classic movies, the platform aims to raise awareness and interest in cinematic arts across the UAE.
3. Diff365 @ VOX
Diff365 @ VOX is an initiative Dubaians should be particularly proud of.
This saw the two commercial giants, Mall of the Emirates’ VOX Cinema and du - one of the country’s two telecom operators - stepping up to show support for Indie films.
Cinema 9 of the venue is entirely dedicated to Indie film screenings, with a new film every two weeks, using the standard cinema ticketing system.
The recently launched initiative was inspired by the success of the Dubai Film Festival screenings at VOX Cinema.
4. Loco'motion UAE
Loco'motion is a pop-up cinema with free screenings.
It specializes in screening films that support various social causes and foster a sense of community, setting it apart from others in town.
“We are focused on enriching residents through entertaining content on genres ranging from Environment to Health & Well Being, Love & Friendship to History & Culture, Sports & Adventure to Entrepreneurship & Inspiration,” says their website.