Dubai’s first arthouse cinema is now open in Alserkal Avenue…

After four years of pop-ups, Cinema Akil has launched its first permanent arthouse cinema in Alserkal Avenue. Situated on a corner spot just up from Shadi Megallaa’s independent record store The Flip Side, the new nematic space has been three years in the making and promises to bring the best of the world’s independent cinema to Dubai.

So far, so good. The venue’s opening programme included Cannes contenders such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, Ian Bonhote’s acclaimed documentary McQueen, and the Egyptian film Yomeddine, none of which would have received a UAE release if it wasn’t for Cinema Akil. Securing such a line-up was therefore coup for the fledgling venue.

November will be no different. Hirokazu Kore’eda’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, opens on the 16th, following a stream of earlier releases.

“For it to have taken this long for an arthouse cinema to actually come to life, or a neighbourhood standalone cinema to come to life is kind of mind-boggling,” says Butheina Kazim, Cinema Akil’s co-founder and managing director. “It would have been easy for us to go into a multiplex and take over a screen and call that the ‘arthouse presentation’, but I really wanted to create a space where people feel comfortable coming out of the film and hangout out, talking about the film, and building a community. I know everybody talks about building communities, but you have to create the space for that to happen.”

Opened at the tail end of September, the single-screen, 133-seat cinema has a nostalgic feel to it. The box office is a wooden kiosk with a lush, deep red curtain, while sections of the auditorium’s seating were salvaged from the Golden Cinema in Bur Dubai. There’s a wall of collectibles, too, with posters and photographs and an old map of the city that hangs near the entrance.

The wall of collectibles overlooks Project Chaiwala, a chai dinner and Indian eatery that helps to replicate the aromas and experiences of long-lost single-screen cinemas such as the Al Nasr in Oud Metha.

“We’re trying to honour the experience,” says Kazim. “We’re not trying to bank on the nostalgia alone, but that was part of the authentic experience of cinema-going in Dubai. It wasn’t Pepsi and gigantic truffle popcorn. It was popcorn, chai and samosas, and then some great films.”

The end result is a joyous cinema going experience. :It’s meant to be something that is here to stay, that is all-giving,” says Kazim of Cinema Akil. :And I think that’s the part that I really aspire to.”

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