Cinema Akil: An Individual Experience for the Masses

Pop some corns and watch how a nomadic pop-up cemented its place in the arts scene

Movie screening at Cinema Akil (2019)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Cinema Akil is the first arthouse cinema in the GCC. Starting as a nomadic pop-up concept in 2014, it opened a permanent space in Alserkal Avenue in September 2018. The aim, as Butheina Kazim, the concepts founder explains, was to reach as many communities as possible. It has done that through over 60 pop-up cinemas, attracting over 35,000 attendees across the UAE. 

Cinema Akil Entrance (2018) by Mohamed SomjiDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Since opening in Alserkal Avenue, Cinema Akil has shown over 150 films in over 50 different languages from over 80 countries and presented 15 festivals.  Throughout the year their diverse programming includes the Reel Palestine Film Festival and a host of others, recently Sudanese, Korean, Latin American and Spanish film weeks.  

Cinema Akil at The Yard (2019)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Cinema Akil Space (2018) by Mohamed SomjiDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Despite such diverse programming, Kazim is focussed most acutely on representing the immediate region, her motivation to create Cinema Akil came from the dearth of opportunities to watch Arab and North African films in Dubai apart from during the Dubai Film Festival each year.

Busy Nights at Cinema Akil (2019)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Audiences did not have access to films that had been produced close to home. She sits on the steering committee for NAAS, the Network of Arab Arthouse Screens and her vision extends across the entire sector. 

Founder of Cinema Akil, Butheina Kazim (2018)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

 Kazim did not want Cinema Akil to be exclusively a place for global cinema – her inventive programming includes much loved films from across all genres and she is aware of the necessary didactic nature of the choices she makes in what to show. 

Cinema Akil screening at The Yard, Alserkal Avenue (2016) by Jandri Angelo AguilorDubai Culture & Arts Authority

 Film plays a vital role in any creative eco-system, both in screening and supporting production. Cinema Akil has stepped in to and provide curated selections of films for partner events in the city such as Art Dubai, Sole DXB, Alserkal Avenue and Jameel Arts Centre.

Cinema Akil at SIKKA Art Fair (2016)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Kazim believes that ultimately the creative sector in Dubai should allow for such events and organisations to be autonomous and directly focused on their primary goals and objectives, with strong enough entities surrounding them to fulfil and present all elements in the cultural environment with quality content.    

A wall of vintage movie posters at Cinema Akil by Farel Bisotto @farelbisottoDubai Culture & Arts Authority

There is a clear romanticism and sense of nostalgia in all of Cinema Akil’s activities. The very act of visiting a cinema to watch a film that you could stream in the comfort of your own home is an archaic one, but an experience to be savoured.  It is also an experience to be shared, a cultural moment that you can enjoy collectively within a community 

Cinema Akil Nostalgic sofa seatings by Farel Bisotto @farelbisottoDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Cinema Akil’s interior features hark back to the golden age of cinema, with cinema posters adorned on dark red walls and its single-screen space has seats which were taken from the Plaza Cinema in Bur Dubai, the oldest single standalone cinema in Dubai which was knocked down in 2016 for a hotel development. 

Project Chaiwala Cafe in Cinema Akil (2018) by Mohamed SomjiDubai Culture & Arts Authority

Refreshments are provided by Project Chaiwala, making a direct connection to the dominant South-Asian communities living and working in Dubai and their active cinema-going history. 

Cinema Akil Concert at Dubai Design District (2014)Dubai Culture & Arts Authority

Within Cinema Akil’s philosophy, the individual experience is always at the heart – its programming inviting those from all walks of live to join them on a creative journey ‘into the dark’. 

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