Buried in the sands of time across the Arab world is centuries of rich and fascinating history that not many of the current dwellers of the region have much knowledge about and the movie “Athel” brings us a brief glimpse into on such story, the fascinating life of the pre-Islamic poet Tarfa ibn Al-Abd.
“Athel”, a short film directed by Sheikha Alyazia Bint Nahyan Al Nahyan, has been taking the film world by storm across all the leading film festivals and will now be featured at the upcoming Al Ain Film Festival that takes place from 23rd to 27th January in Al Ain as part of the Falcon Emirati Short Film Competition.
The film is presented by Mad Solutions, “Athel”, and has been produced in collaboration with Anasy Media and Toaster Productions by Afra Almarar and Hayfa Al Haidary. It has been filmed by Alessandro Martella, which stars popular Egyptian actress Hala Sheha along with veteran Emirati actor Mansour Alfeeli and a host of interesting personalities.
In “Athel” Sheikha Alyazia seamlessly melds the story of this historic poet with that of a present-day presenter busy filming an episode of her poetry program.
Shot in the stunning deserts of Abu Dhabi, the film brings to life the story of Tarfa bin Al-Abd a famous 6th Century, pre-Islamic, Arabic poet who was tragically misunderstood and killed at the height of his success becoming known as the “murdered boy” ever after.
The name “Athel” actually refers to a tree that grows in the Arabian deserts and is used as a synonym for the poet Tarfa’s name which means, “kind of a tree”.
The film adopts a light and witty drama style template featuring Salma, a popular presenter who is filming a poetry show about Tarfa, when a sandstorm hits the shoot disrupting it causing chaos.
Salma, who is worried about her son missing for two days, is trying to reach him on her phone and in the ensuing confusion the film crew rushes off leaving her behind in the desert.
As Salma is on the phone trying to reach her son she comes across a magical pool of water in the desert and from the embers of a dying fire emerges a presence of the poet Tarfa who whispers, “I did not say that”, in an attempt to put an end to centuries of injustice and uncertainty.
Salma is mesmerized and the entire cast is gripped with an indescribable aura from this magical encounter with the mythical poet resulting in the production team’s car getting suddenly stuck in the sand who then realize they have left Salma behind.
Almost miraculously a car approaches with a few young men in it one of which is Zaid, Salma’s son, who helps them out of the sand and together they are drawn to where Salma is.
Later Zaid meets his professor, played by eminent Emirati actor, Mansoor Alfeeli, and narrates the encounter which puts a smile on the professor’s face as he acknowledges the record has been set straight and the spirit of Tarfa is finally free.
About Sheikha Alyzaia
Sheikha Alyazia, who is the daughter of the UAE Minister of Tolerance, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, is an accomplished artist who has exhibited her work across the region and internationally to wide acclaim. Her work highlights the history of the Arab region and its culture in a unique and modern manner.
“We began by reminiscing the time of the Arabic poetry and the desert, and with that the short movie came into production. Lucky to work with the best cast and team. For audiences to reminisce and enjoy, is mainly what will take the old story to newer places”Sheikha Alyazia – Director
Toaster Productions has brought together an excellent cast and crew who have done a brilliant job addressing this story.
Haydar Al Lami
Haydar Al Lami, a young and energetic Egyptian born long-term resident of the UAE plays the role of Salma’s son Zaid in the movie. Haydar, who has a keen interest in acting, having done short clips and videos, was casted by Toaster Productions and given his first movie role in Athel.
“The entire idea behind the movie and how it was presented as a short story, which people can see and enjoy, was just brilliant”Haydar Al Lami – Actor
“The entire idea behind the movie and how it was presented as a short story, which people can see and enjoy, was just brilliant”, says Haydar. “My dynamic and friendly personality paired perfectly with the character of Zaid in the movie who is an outgoing, fun character loved by all and I am honored to have been selected by the Sheikha for this role”, added Haydar.
The role of the director, Kerem, is played by Keith Dallison, a veteran British born actor who has been in front of the camera from the young age of seven. Based in the UAE Keith has worked on short films and feature length films with the likes of Jackie Chan and Yash Raj Films of Bollywood. He has been featured across numerous commercials and ad campaigns and is an avid musician as well.
“My biggest contribution was interpreting and developing the character of the Director. I believe my character reflected an emotional and relational aspect to the poet’s works, as did the other characters. It was down to me to interpret this element into my character and to stay true to that aspect throughout”, says Keith.
The director of photography, Alessandro Martella, has done a brilliant job of bringing this film to life, coming from an Italian family of film makers and having worked on numerous projects across the world he is a natural behind the camera.
His work spans commercials, music videos and stints in Hollywood working on blockbusters like the Exorcist and Dominion along with TV series. He is currently shooting something exciting for Netflix.
“As cinematographer I try to visualize the universe of the character in terms of colors and frames. In “Athel”, I tried to be, as much as I could, close to nature and the desert where the character came from.”, says Alessandro. “Using the beauty of the Abu Dhabi desert colors was for me the best choice.” adds Alessandro.
“I would like to thank Sheikha Alyazia and all the artistic team, production and everyone involved in this beautiful film. There are so many untold stories and culture here and I am glad and proud to have been part of one of them”Alessandro Martella – DOP
Awards & Nominations
Initially screened privately at the Nation Towers in Abu Dhabi in August 2020, the film has been on an extended tour across major film festivals garnering a huge number of awards and accolades.
- Gold Remi Awards @ the WorldFest – Houston International Film Festival, USA
- Outstanding Achievement Certificate @ the Berlin Flash Film Festival, Germany
- Finalist @ the ARFF Amsterdam 2020 International Awards, Netherlands
- Finalist & nominated for the Viewers Choice Award @ the Toronto International Nollywood Film Festival, Canada
- Officially Selected @ Corto Creativo Short Film Festival, Mexico
- Officially Selected @ Rome Independent Prisma Awards, Italy
- Officially Selected @ the Toronto Lift-Off Film Festival, Canada
- Officially Selected @ the Madrid Film Festival, Spain
- Officially Selected & nominated for the Best Short film and Best director award @ the VIFF Vienna Independent Film Festival, Austria
- Officially Selected @ the Tripoli Film Festival, Lebanon
- Officially Selected @ the Amsterdam Lift-Off Film Festival
Al Ain Film Festival
At the upcoming Al Ain Film Festival “Athel” features in the Falcon Emirati Short Film Competition, and as part of the “Honoring Artists’ Achievements” program, Sheikha Alyazia and a group of art professionals will be honored, for their artistic career full of numerous achievements in the world of film industry and their great contributions to the advancement of the “Seventh Art”.