Film about Dubai music scene to help UAE-raised expats “love the city as their own”

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Two filmmakers are embarking on a project they hope will give expats raised in Dubai more of a sense of identity, and a place to call their own.

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Dxb-kids, their fledging documentary about the emirate’s underground music scene in the economic boom from 2001 to 2008, explores the lives of the 20-somethings raised in the United Arab Emirates who might not have held citizenship or permanent residence, but still forged a culture by building a creative scene in the now-bustling metropolis.

It circles around home footage of house parties organized by Egyptian-by-birth former accountant Shehab Hamad and others mixed in with contemporary interviews with the grown-up frequenters of the underground scene, some of whom have gone on to successful careers in the arts. The film raised $24,000 in its first 17 hours of going live on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.

Above all, Shehab and director Sameer Patel told Al Arabiya English, the film will tell the human stories of characters behind the lavish veneer that has come to be so associated with Dubai.

“One of the beautiful things about the film is it isn’t focused actually on what you might call the winners, the folks that ended up doing something magical that really caught fire and have now become really successful,” Shehab said.

“I think there’s a beautiful full spectrum of regrets and pain, and also joy and success that’s coming back when we look at that era. Personally, it’s been a very emotional journey… and it’s really driving home how much this place means to people.

“There are all these people that have these love affairs with Dubai, and some of them have ended up turning into beautiful marriages and others ended in heartbreak and breakups, where people have left Dubai and it’s painful for them to even look back, but for everybody we’ve spoken to, the city has meant something really deep.”

Briton Sameer, who has Indian heritage, met Shehab when the pair worked for the accounting firm KPMG in London in the early 2000s.

Over the next decade, he visited Dubai 12 times to DJ at Shehab’s parties. He describes his first visit in 2002, when he was picked up from the airport and driven to a house party in Jumeirah where Drum and Bass music was blasting through “massive” speakers.

“I was just really shocked because the Dubai that I’d heard of didn’t have Drum and Bass parties with MCs, local guys,” he said.

Sameer intends the film to explore deeper questions about what it means to have a home, and to feel a sense of belonging to a certain place.

“It’s a love affair about Dubai,” he said. “And everyone talks about Dubai and some people have had painful experiences, but Dubai created them and they acknowledge that it’s a special place. And they’re creative people so there’s a synergy between the fact that they created Dubai, and Dubai created them.”

Having the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up in the region, Sameer speaks about the identities formed by the so-called ‘third culture kids,’ who lived in the UAE but didn’t relate to either their parents’ home countries nor their host city.

“It was this kind of global self-identity that could stand on its own feet. By 2008, [Londoners] wanted to be in Dubai.

“Back in the day [third culture kids] probably looked at us thinking they wanted to be in London. So there was something forged that was uniquely of the region that had never happened before.”

Beginning with a 30-minute, proof-of-concept film that they aim to have finished in six to nine months, the pair plan to eventually produce a longer piece.

“I want people to watch it and acknowledge that their city is cool and exciting and has done more for the region than they really think,” Sameer added.

“I want people to be proud of their city, to really to be proud of the fact that these people existed, and to love the city as their own.”

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