Cameras are rolling in several parts of Oman: from Mutrah, Barka, to Sur, Musandam and Jebel Akhdar. Oman is officially positioning itself as a top filming destination — not just for Hollywood but also Arab and Bollywood producers. Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart, from the ‘Twilight’, came to Oman to shoot scenes for ‘Personal Shopper’, a ghost story set in the fashion underworld, which had scenes shot in Nizwa and Bahla.
Offering ‘spectacular deserts, pristine beaches, clear blue seas, wadis and even snow-capped mountain scenery’, Oman is promoting the country’s diverse topography as an ideal location to shoot films. The country has already signed several agreements with production companies to give a push to the national cinema endeavour.
Cinema in Oman is an uncharted research field not only for the film industry and audience behaviour, but also as an activity that provides jobs. The literature on cinema in the country is from sparse to non-existent. Information is fragmented, sometimes not updated, or unverified.
Omani cinema industry is still in its infancy despite efforts from cinematic enthusiasts for at least two decades. Nonetheless, the love Omanis have for film-making is remarkable — there are a number of prominent film-makers, but many of these talents are abroad or end up working overseas due to limitations at home.
Omani film enthusiasts are producing short documentaries focusing on social issues, such as the most recent production ‘Dear News Editor’, a seven-minute film shot in Muttrah on propaganda, terrorism and Islamophobia. The film won four awards at the recent Bahrain Film Festival, including Best Film and Best Actor (starring journalist Kabeer Yousuf). The benefits of short movie productions are to gain experience, to develop a network, and showcase in international film festivals. An opportunity might fall into one’s lap.
Since the first Omani film ‘AL-BOOM’ debut in 2006 — as a first step towards the cinematic industry- filmmaking is yet to establish itself, successfully. The best film-making reference in Oman is Salim Bahwan. The actor and director, Salim left a legacy with his productions: Kissah Mahra (Mahra Story), Baht an Mushtaheel (Search for Impossible); Maraah FI Alomer (Once in a Lifetime).
As part of the 2018 Muscat International Film Festival (MIFF), the organisers are honouring the actor and director for his contribution to film-making and cinema culture in the country.
Oman has a very small local pool of directors, directors of photography, and still photographers. There were occasions when the leading actress and cinematographers had to be hired from neighbouring countries, such as the UAE actress Rania al Ali and Atish Verma, a cinematographer who performed in Salim’s film such as the ‘Mahra Story’.
Several movies have already been fully or partly filmed in Oman, which has helped raise Oman’s global profile. For example, the Malayalam movie ‘Vellivelichathil’ (Silverlight) is the first Indian movie shot on locations in Oman (2014). ‘Operation Oman’ (2015, UK- Oman), had scenes shot in Salalah; ‘Pirate’s Blood’ (2010, USA –India), a horror thriller with Salim Bahwan acting, was filmed in Sur. These films engaged local actors.
So, what? While it is true that the local cinema industry is still an amateur experience, it is also true that the history of cinema in Oman is relatively new.
There is plenty of room for improvement. Film-making enthusiasts and movie-goers believe that without a cinematic culture, there is a lack of film education, and therefore, movies are distorted under the scissors.
Without a homegrown film industry, the country lacks skilled film crew and post-production facilities; plus, it misses the potential to create jobs.
As the curtains come down on the Film Festival, a post-event soul- searching examination should hinge on the benefit of the nation’s film industry, and education. After all, cinema is the first electronic medium that created mass media audience in history.