What began as an assignment in Professor Savio's Sound, Image, and Story course is now an official selection of the 2011 Zayed University Middle East Film Festival (ZUMEFF). Besik Turazashvili, NYUAD Class of 2014, was one of approximately 70 filmmakers from universities around the region whose work was selected for this year's festival. And, in addition, his was one of just a few films chosen to be shown on the big screen. "I was really surprised," said Turazashvili. "As it was my first time in a film festival and it is my freshmen year, I never expected that my film would be screened for the big audience."
Now in its second year, ZUMEFF — which was created by Zayed University students Alyazyah Al-Falasi and Reema Majed as their graduation project in 2010 — aims to highlight students' talents, encourage them to produce films, and develop their skills in directing, filming, and production. It also aspires to encourage communication between different cultures in the Middle East. This year, with films from more than 15 universities in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Qatar, and the UAE, it is doing just that.
The cinematography is beautiful and well executed. And the story unfolds and tells itself without dialogue, using only gesture and movement.
Turazashvili's film, a short called "Janna," was made as a preliminary exercise leading to a character portrait shot on video for his Sound, Image, and Story course. "I required the students to reach beyond their NYUAD peers, and to engage with someone they care about, outside of our community," said Joanne Savio, NYUAD professor of Film Studies and director of Freshman Studies for the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at NYUNY's Tisch School of the Arts. "I emphasize the importance of craft and content, and the visual art of storytelling. For these initial exercises they could use anyone at all to practice their technique." Turazashvili chose Janna, a young woman who works in the University cafeteria. "I was just so inspired when I saw her working!" he exclaimed. "I realized how beautiful and gracious her ways of doing her job are." Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary is exactly what made Turazashvili make the film.
Despite being just 2 minutes and 21 seconds long, the film packs a punch. "The cinematography is beautiful and well executed. And the story unfolds and tells itself without dialogue, using only gesture and movement," explained Savio. "I felt it was like screening a small poem; it was understated, needed no effects to tell the tale, and was just beautifully seen. There was an emotional through line…not an easy thing to do in two minutes."
"Janna" was screened on day two of the three-day festival, which was sponsored in part by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and took place from April 19-21 at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Part of the Short Shorts program, it was shown with 12 other films that ranged from 1 minute to 8 minutes and 4 seconds long. Unfortunately, Turazashvili was unable to attend the screening of his own film, but received word that the audience liked it. "That is the biggest present for me," he said.