Global Cinema 13: Bahrain – Dead Sands (2013)

Bahrain is a small country, though it is a densely-populated one. Sadly, it hasn’t had much of a film industry so there aren’t many films to focus on for my regular feature. That is why I’ve gone to YouTube to find a student production, which has the weaknesses of that kind of output, but also, I think, has an energy to it that I rather like. It doesn’t look great, but it gives a little sense of what perhaps Bahrain is like to live in.

Kingdom of Bahrain (البحرين al-Bahrayn)
population 1,569,400 | capital Manama (411k) المنامة | largest cities Manama, Muharraq (177k), Riffa (111k), Hamad Town (57k), A’ali (51k) | area 780 km2 | religion Islam | official language Arabic (العربية) | major ethnicity Arab (51%), Asian (46%) | currency Bahraini Dinar (د.ب/BD) [BHD] | internet .bh

An flat, arid island nation in the Persian Gulf comprising an archipelago of around 40 islands (and some artificial ones), centred on the largest one, Bahrain Island. The name derives from the Arabic for “two seas”, though the island was originally called Awal and until the Middle Ages “Bahrain” referred to larger area of Eastern Arabia (including Kuwait and southern Iraq); the name was also often anglicised as Bahrein until the mid-20th century. It was first settled as the trade centre Dilmun from the 3rd millennium BCE, and later ruled by Assyrians, Babylonians, Achaemenids and Parthians. It was called Tylos by the ancient Greeks, and came under Alexander’s rule for a while. Christianity took hold by the 5th century CE, but converted to Islam in the 7th century, and went through a series of regional dynasties. The Portuguese ruled for much of the 16th century, before the area was taken by the Safavids under Persian rule for a few centuries. The British came in during the 19th century, but revolts started to take place towards the end of that century, continuing sporadically over the ensuing decades. Post-World War II, competing claims by Iran and Britain led to independence on 15 August 1971, and a popular uprising towards the end of the century led to the Emir instituting elections, and the country formally became a Kingdom in 2002. There are some elections but the Prime Minister is appointed by the King, and much of the government is drawn from the Al Khalifa ruling family.

The cinema industry in the country is very small, with a handful of shorts and only about five feature films in its history. The first cinema was established in 1937, and there are around 40-50 screens now.

رمال ميتة Rimal Mayta (Dead Sands, 2013)

I mean, sure, on a certain level this isn’t a great film, but if it looks and feels a little amateurish that’s because it appears to be a student production. It’s also a film made in a country that has, as far as I can tell, no real cinema industry. So if it doesn’t quite hit the polished marks we’re used to, even in a zombie flick — with some fairly unconvincing performances, scene set-ups that almost taunt us with the obviousness of what’s about to happen, and muddy cinematography — that’s because it never had the ability to do so in the first place. Instead, I like to see it as a noble attempt to learn by doing, an undaunted group of student friends banding together to make a movie (the credits roll over the blooper reel) and seeming to have a fair amount of fun with the gore and the effects. It also gives me a sense of what it’s like in Bahrain, which I think is a particular selling point, because how many other films are going to give you that, albeit in some rather indistinguishable malls and movie theatres and dusty outdoor spaces. I admired its willingness to try and make a Bahraini zombie flick.

Dead Sands film posterCREDITS
Director Ameera Al-Qaed أميرة القائد; Writer Ahmed Zayani أحمد الزياني; Cinematographers Al-Qaed and Zayani; Starring Şenay Dincsoy, Miraya Varma, Ahmed Zayani أحمد الزياني; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Saturday 1 August 2020.


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