29th December, 2017


She wins a Dhs100,000 film grant to produce the winning script into a short film

A talented Emirati screenwriter has secured the top prize in the Arab Film Studio (AFS) Scriptwriting competition on the closing night of the Dubai International Film Festival.

Sajida Al Muallemi, 34, from Abu Dhabi was awarded the title at the Muhr Awards last night for her script UNEXPECTED HOLIDAY, judged by a panel of filmmakers in a competitive pitching session at the Dubai Film Market. As well as the accolade, Sajida has been awarded a Dhs100,000 film grant by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, one of the region’s leading media and entertainment companies, and the Dubai Film Market to turn the script into a short film.

UNEXPECTED HOLIDAY is the story of Emirati parents Mariam and Hamad, when on the day they decide to go on a family vacation with their three kids, both their house maids are gone.

Sajida Al Muallemi, AFS Scriptwriting winner said, “I always had the idea of ​​this script and dreamed of turning it into a movie, but I had no idea where to start. When I heard about Arab Film Studio, I knew that this was an amazing opportunity to learn from experts in the industry and follow my dreams.  I couldn’t have asked for better instructors who trusted and believed in me, while at that time, I didn’t have that confidence in myself. I couldn’t believe it when I was chosen amongst the four finalists and I wasn’t expecting to win at all. I’m proud of myself and can now say that I believe in my talent and with the help of Image Nation, I am confident that I will achieve my ambition of making it in the film industry”.

Sajida went head-to-head with three other shortlisted scriptwriters in the pitching session, including; Sarah Dahab, 27, from Egypt with her script THE TURTLE; Nada ElAzhary, 22, from Egypt with her script ZIP IT; and Kamna Mohan, 29, from India with her script SKIN DEEP.

The four shortlisted scripts were judged by a panel of esteemed industry professionals including Tracey Grant, a Senior Director in Editorial at Comedy Central & Paramount; Award-winning Lebanese Writer/Director, Sophie Boutros, who’s debut feature film SOLITAIRE premiered at DIFF 2016; and UAE-based Producer/Director Rami Yasin, best known for Arabic-language features FROM A TO B and ZINZANA.

Shivani Pandya, DIFF’s Managing Director commented on the session, “We received excellent submissions for the AFS Scriptwriting program in partnership with Image Nation this year and as always, was greatly impressed with the way student filmmakers tell their stories. We are so proud to participate with such a fantastic initiative that supports the ambitions of young filmmakers and it was a real challenge selecting a winner when the standard was so high.”

AFS Scriptwriting is part of the esteemed Arab Film Studio program also consisting of AFS Narrative, AFS Documentary and AFS Young Filmmakers.

Prior to the pitching session, eight students embarked on a 5-month long learning program, including a 3-week intensive workshop focusing on all aspects of scriptwriting – from story concept to character development. This was followed by a 3-month assignment, where participants are asked to conceive a short film screenplay using the skills learnt on the course.

Michael Garin, CEO Image Nation said of the training, “Scriptwriting is just one of the specialisms of our celebrated film training program and we are passionate about teaching talented individuals the worldwide best practice in these fields. This could not be executed without strong partnerships with the likes of DIFF and together, we can nurture the next generation of talent and contribute towards the local talent pool”.

The AFS Scriptwriting win closes a remarkable year for the Arab Film Studio program, which crowned two other winners in the Narrative and Documentary fields. To track Arab Film Studio’s success head to