What has Science Fiction meant to the UAE over the last few decades?
It’s difficult to put a finger on what constitutes science fiction in the United Arab Emirates. Difficult because the UAE has always been such an eclectic mix of nationalities that the culture has always consisted of a mix of Arab, Asian and European influences.
As a Pakistani growing up in the country, I never felt that there was a certain way of life that encompassed or dictated the form of entertainment that one would get accustomed to. In fact, one could say that it was the best of all worlds, being exposed to everything from European and American television shows, movies, and literature, to the more traditional forms of Arab entertainment.
Arab entertainment when it comes to science fiction came in the form of ‘Arabised’ forms of other cultures. People from the region have grown up with a love for giant robots and UFOs due to one simple animated series that surfaced in the early 80’s Grendizer, more commonly know as Goldarak in Europe and Canada where it was also loved.
Grendizer was a common Japanese Anime about UFOs and robots fighting for good against the forces of evil in many shapes and sizes with one important twist: it was dubbed extremely professionally into Arabic. What this meant for those of us growing up in the region is that we adopted it as our own. This wasn’t a Japanese show, no: it was an Arab show that touched the hearts of everyone who ever had the pleasure of growing up watching it.
And this was the kicker, the shot in the arm if you will that laid the groundwork for the dreams and inspirations of so many talented individuals in the region. Yes we had Doctor Who, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Stars Wars (to name a few) as well as a plethora of available literature including Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Ben Bova, and the res,t but I truly believe it was that short-lived animated show about robots and monsters that really planted the seed for what we are beginning to see in the region today.
It has taken a while, sure but the talent is starting to make itself heard. From the first fully animated CGI Science Fiction short Xero-Error (featured at Cannes), to an unnamed fantasy novel and the first original Arabic language Manga The Gold Ring, the seeds are starting to blossom. The UAE and the Middle East region as a whole is no longer content with importing their science fiction and genre entertainment, they are ready to take the world by storm!
The region has been fostering this with numerous film festivals such as the Dubai Film Festival and Gulf Film Festival, book fairs, and more hoping to find the next big name in science fiction, fantasy, and art.
The announcement of the first Middle East Film and Comic Con has done nothing but foster this nascent talent. April 29th and 30th of 2011 (www.mefilmandcomiccon.com) will be the time when the region will truly have a voice, a voice to shout about their love of science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between.
As one of the organisers of the event, it is with no exaggeration that I say it has been awe inspiring to witness the level of interest and talent that exists in this region. The show is set to feature the very first science fiction novel in Arabic, and the first stand alone Arabic language science fiction graphic novel to name a few. It will be the first time that the artists, authors, and fans in the Arab world will have a chance to meet some of the global legends in science fiction, comic books, and animation.
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