Thursday, February 02, 2023 | Rajab 10, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Wild Oman: Wonder of Arabia

Oman in Focus, last week at Royal Opera House Muscat in partnership with Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) and Oman International Development and Investment Company (Ominvest) hosted the premiere event for the release of their latest documentary project “Wild Oman: The Wonder of Arabia”. The event was held under the auspices of His Highness Sayyid Bilarab bin Haitham bin Tarik al Said, along with a number of their highnesses, ministers and prominent guests from both public and private sector institutions.


At the onset of the event, Masia al Hooti, founder of Oman in Focus spoke of the unique experiences that the team had during the production of the documentary, “Our team had the opportunity to capture some rare and unique footage, which makes this documentary so special. This project is the result of the combined efforts of government and corporate entities who have supported us.”


The audience were shown a shortened version of the documentary “Wild Oman: The Wonder of Arabia”, which offers an overview of the full two-hour film. The documentary explores the marvels of the Sultanate of Oman’s wildlife, which includes some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species such as the Arabian Leopard, Arabian Sea Humpback Whale, and several sea turtles, to name but a few. All the animals were filmed in their natural habitat over the course of a year by experienced and well-acclaimed local and international documentary film-makers.


Khalid bin Muhammad al Zubair, Chairman of Oman International Development and Investment Company (Ominvest) said in a statement, “By supporting Oman in Focus, we drive a corporate citizenship strategy that focuses on preserving the environment. Oman in Focus not only encourages environmental conservation but also the development of eco-tourism in Oman, showcasing its natural beauty to the world.”


Steven Lauver, President and General Manager of Oxy Oman added, “This documentary showcases many Omani features not known to the rest of the world. Oxy is very excited for the opportunity to be able to help showcase these treasures for the rest of the world to see.”


Maisa al Hooti, an Omani entrepreneur and photographer, began the Oman in Focus projects in 2014 with the purpose of promoting the Sultanate of Oman to the rest of the world through photography and film, thereby contributing to growth in the tourism sector, as well as raising awareness of environmental concerns in the region, goals aligning with Oman Vision 2040 as laid out by His Majesty, Sultan Haitham bin Tariq.


This is the third edition of the Oman in Focus Projects. The first project had a team of international photographers touring the Sultanate of Oman to capture the Faces and Landscapes of Oman. The second project was held in 2015, which had a group of international underwater photographers producing a work entitled “Oman’s Underwater Treasures in the World’s Spotlight.”


The latest project “Not Discovered Yet” started in 2020 already with pre-production. During the year 2021, a team of critically acclaimed film-makers documented the incredibly rich wildlife of the Sultanate. of Oman Travelling from Musandam all the way to Dhofar, the Oman in Focus team filmed some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species, ranging from the majestic Arabian Sea Humpback Whale to the elusive Arabian leopard.


The resulting documentary “Wild Oman: The Wonder of Arabia” is a two-part blue-chip programme taking viewers on an epic journey throughout the Sultanate of Oman. The film shows the remarkable biodiversity that can be found in Oman. Animals such as the Arabian Oryx, Egyptian Vulture, and several turtle species are all shown in their natural habitat. The documentary also features some unique, never-seen-before sequences.


The film is a co-production between Oman in Focus and South African based Obsessively Creative. The crew working on the film combined international talent with local expertise. Directors of Photography Darryl MacDonald and Willem van Heerden worked alongside local experts such as Mohammed al Mashani, Ahmed al Busaidy, Dr Hadi al Hikmani and Dr Andrew Spalton. The team was also supplemented by Lubabalo Mayaba, Lerlynn Landsman and Anel Rademeyer.


The documentary will be featured on various renowned channels across the globe, such as Arte France and ZDF. Additional broadcasters are still being added and will be announced upon confirmation.


“The aim of this documentary is to both promote Oman internationally as well as to encourage further conservation efforts locally” Maisa al Hooti, Founder and Managing Director of Oman In Focus. “My aim is to use Oman in Focus to show the world just how beautiful my home country is. The Sultanate of Oman has so much to offer in terms of its natural environment, and it is our responsibility to cherish it and keep it safe for future generations” she added.


Stefania Müller, director, producer, and writer for the documentary said “Oman is an incredibly beautiful country! It is truly a land of amazing diversity and surprising landscapes. Last year, my crew and I, had the privilege of being invited by Maisa al Hooti, to come and film this amazing country.”


Oman In Focus presents what is Not Discovered Yet, of Oman’s hidden treasures.


After a gap of seven years from their last work, this year’s edition comes under the theme, “Not Discovered Yet” and features a comprehensive Wild Life documentary, with never seen before glimpses into Oman’s wild wonders.


“I have always wanted to capture the breathtaking beauty and its authentic culture and civilisation with my camera, wherever I go, and highlight its natural biodiversity and the uniqueness of its location on the Arabian Peninsula. However, more was needed to be done, to shed light on all dangers that loom over Oman’s fragile and unspoiled nature, and showcase all the efforts the Omani government is exerting to protect it and reserve its natural habitats for generations to come,” she explained.


This made her think of an initiative titled “Oman In Focus” that kicked off in 2014 with a photography exhibition depicting the authenticity of Omani way of life and its harmony with nature. “For that, we hosted 12 international photographers, who toured the Sultanate of Oman from north to south for two weeks and took hundreds of photos of Omani portraits and landscapes. These photos were displayed in a special exhibition held at the Royal Opera House Muscat, and attracted a huge crowd,” Masia reflected.


“According to her, due to the success they had in 2014, and as she is passionate about underwater photography, she thought of the idea to invite some world-class marine photographers and take them on a coastal tour from Musandam to Qurayat to capture Oman’s marine life, and the fascinating sea creatures that inhibit Omani waters, including the rare species. The result was overwhelmingly amazing, as hundreds of stunning photos were produced, that show creatures and marine flora and fauna, never seen before. We presented the best of these images in a special exhibition at the Royal Opera House Muscat, entitled “Oman’s sea treasures”. It was dazzling and intriguing at the same time, which motivated us to think of our next project; a mission to discover what hasn’t been discovered yet!”


With fruitful collaboration and generous sponsorship from the Omani government and private sector institutions, the team managed to produce a first of its kind natural history documentary about Oman’s wild life. An epic journey throughout the Sultanate of Oman, showing some of the world’s rarest and most extraordinary creatures.


“Frankly speaking, the idea initially was limited, as we wanted to explore the hidden world of turtle species, that visit the coasts of Oman to breed and lay eggs for example. However, with the expansion of our research and the desire we received from a bunch of international under-water photography companies, keen to work with us, we decided to go big and include all the elements of exclusive wild and marine life in the Sultanate of Oman. The rarest and most precious species from mountains, deserts, seas across Oman were put as a target of our work, and we were set.”


It was two years in the making, and a whole year in filming, a fascinating experience, challenging nevertheless.


“First, we had to select the best production company to entrust with a huge national project, and getting all the gear, cameras, equipment, etc. to Oman.


Another sensitive aspect we had to consider was picking the right time and season to film these animals, some of which are extremely rare and elusive and you cannot be easily spotted. Therefore, we had to climb mountains, camp and wait for hours and days, just to be able to photograph these amazing creatures.


We were lucky to be able to study, monitor and film rare kinds like the Arabian leopard, the Omani Caracal, The Arabian wolf and the Striped Hyena. to name a few, all in their natural habitat without human intervention.”


She asked, “Did you know that there are seven different types of sea turtles that visit Oman’s beaches every year?”


“They flock in hundreds, lay their eggs and leave. There are also very few numbers left of the Arabia Sea Humpback Whale, found nowhere else in the world. There are literally hundreds of indigenous species to Oman, some of them are on the brink of extension, and we all need to work hard to preserve them,” she noted.


The next step for the Oman In Focus team is to highlight the efforts of HM the Sultan’s and his wise leadership’s efforts protecting the Omani environment and its sustainability, as well as raise people’s awareness of the need to protect, preserve and sustain all forms of life in Oman, and work to increase numbers of all these animals in the wild.


“There is so much work still to be done. Our beloved Oman is rich in wonders and always arouses the passion of researchers to discover and explore its secrets,” she said.


Oman in Focus would like to thank their sponsors and partners for their generous support throughout the project. The main partners for the project are Occidental Petroleum and Oman International Development and Investment Company. Governmental entities include the Diwan of Royal Court, the Office of the Minister of State and Governor of Dhofar, the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, Environmental Authority, Ministry of Information, and Royal Opera House Muscat. Oman in Focus would also like to thank corporate sponsors Sohar International, Oman Air, Omran, OQ, Vale, Petroleum Development Oman, Mr Faisal bin Murtadha al Lawati, Omantel, Be’ah, Al Mouj, Mazoon Dairy, Duqm SEZAD and many others. Contributions were also made by Madayyan, Oman LNG, Omifco, Huawei, ESO, AhliBank, Barzman, Oman Oil and Lulu.


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