Emirati filmmaker Nasser Al Dhaheri goes back 3,000 years to trace the beginnings of the country in his documentary film, A Tale Of Water, Palm Trees And Family, which won the Best Film in Culture Preservation award at Cannes

The UAE may be a relatively new country that was formed out of a federation of seven emirates 46 years back, but since then it has stunned the world with its continuous progress and world-class development. To the West, the region is mostly considered as a land of camels, desert, and oil. But a refreshing documentary showcasing the roots of the country and stretching back to some 3,000 years, made its latest triumph at Cannes Festival by bagging the Best Film in Culture Preservation award in World Peace Initiative Film Festival category.

This is the 8th international award for A Tale Of Water, Palm Trees And Family by the Emirati filmmaker Nasser Al Dhaheri, since it started touring world festivals, following its premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2015.

The 150-minute featurelength documentary tells the story of a deep-rooted journey of the UAE – land, people and culture – through a trilogy that forms the main components of UAE’s civilisation.

After bagging awards in Dubai, Norway, Oakland, Canada, Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York, the movie is now set to screen at the upcoming Madrid International Film Festival, and other festivals.

“It’s (the documentary) a tribute to the memory of those who worked hard in the past. A reminder to future generations that today’s prosperity was made possible because of the sweat and blood of our ancestors who carved rock for water and cultivated palm trees for life in this place,” said Al Dhaheri, writer, journalist and an award-winning photographer about his first film.

“It is a story about three elements: water, palm trees and family, and how they combine to establish a civilisation and

constitute a culture that people don’t know of. They know us only through the camel, desert and oil. This is our real story,” he added. The Arabic narrative is marked by its poetic language and detailed cinematography focussing on the art of storytelling. “The film is filled with stories. It shows the real culture which existed before oil was discovered,” said Al Dhaheri.

The film, which is translated into English, French and Spanish, showcases the region’s ancestral dependency on two essential lifelines – water and date palm which provided food and materials for building houses and boats.

In Al Ain, where Al Dhaheri was born, there is evidence of the world’s oldest known falaj – an ancient network of underground water channels that was carved out of rock around 1,000BC.

“It is testament to Herculean effort, and engineering prowess. Many of these channels still remain the main source of irrigation in Al Ain even today,” Al Dhaheri said.

But the journey of understanding the rich history was not easy. It involved touring across the entire span of the UAE. “We slept in the desert, and went (out to the sea) in the morning with fishermen. We ascended mountains, and ate in the middle of palm oases,” Al Dhaheri recalled.

“We also had some funny situations, like being attacked by a raging bull while filming a bullfight in Fujairah,” he told us.