LBB’s Zoe Antonov takes a peek behind the scenes of 11-year-old visually impaired Clara’s winter holiday in the UAE to find out what made it so magical
The UAE Government Media Office, the Ministry of Economy and FP7 McCann MENA have collaborated on the launch of the campaign ‘A Winter Through my Eyes,’ a heartfelt story of a young girl’s winter holiday aimed to promote ‘The World’s Coolest Winter’ in UAE.
The film follows the story of 11-year-old Clara, a young visually impaired girl, who spends the winter holidays enjoying the beauty of the UAE, proving that a truly magical place can be loved by anybody no matter what. Enriched with beautiful visuals, incredible sound and the overarching warm feeling of seeing a child enjoy their holiday, this very human story can touch anybody’s heart. For one week, Clara explores the country’s most wanted destinations and hospitality venues, giving audiences the first person perspective of truly immersing yourself in the magic of UAE.
Tourism spikes have been noticed in the winter periods in the region, as the temperatures drop and people can enjoy most places without the heat. But FP7 McCann and the UAE Government kicked things up a notch, by delivering a challenging narrative with a human element to it, to really show audiences why UAE is a worthwhile destination, without hitting all the clichés of a generic tourism commercial. By capturing some unfiltered and authentic moments in Clara’s week-long vacation, the campaign tells an adventurous and riveting story filled with child-like glee, that can only make us all want to book our tickets ASAP.
Khaled AlShehhi, executive director of new media and visual production at the UAE Government Media Office and Tahaab Rais, film director and writer, spoke to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about the creation of this beautiful campaign, the ideas behind it and its biggest challenges.
LBB> The UAE is known for its summer locations and good weather, why did you play on the cold aspect?
Khaled> There is no better way to experience the UAE than in winter. The weather is perfect for everyone and all experiences. And we’ve seen tourism numbers spike during our winter season.
So, carried out by the UAE Government Media Office, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economy and relevant tourism and culture entities, “The World’s Coolest Winter” campaign, was first launched to celebrate and promote the UAE’s most beautiful tourism experiences and hidden gems in the 2021 winter travel season, to get more visitors enjoying our country.
In 2022, we wanted to take the campaign up a notch by challenging ourselves to do something different and unexpected.
LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and what were the initial conversations surrounding it?
Khaled> Amidst the pandemic, the UAE’s tourism has recovered the quickest globally. The seven emirates that form the UAE have rich history, geography, nature, urban architecture, and community. The UAE’s archaeological sites, culture centres, historical landmarks, and nature reserves, offer visitors a holistic experience.
And through this campaign, we wanted to create a moving and uplifting story that showed the rare and holistic beauty of the UAE. The goal was to not create yet another tourism campaign about the UAE, but to intently, create a story that would travel. Because to promote a winter holiday destination with a difference, we had to see it from a different perspective.
LBB> What was it like working with the UAE government? Tell us more about the process.
Tahaab> I’ve known Khaled for a while now. He’s one of the most ambitious and creatively driven marketers I’ve worked with. And his ambitions for the UAE Government and the Emirates’ nation brand, from a creative marketing standpoint, are exciting. So, when I heard from Manasvi Gosalia, who’s the founder and the executive producer of Dejavu, the production company behind this film, that the UAE Government Media Office has a few ideas they’d love to shoot films for, I threw my hat in the ring as a director and pitched with my treatment with Dejavu.
It was a very seamless process. I was very specific in my treatment in how I wanted the film to look, what I wanted the music and the sound design to sound like, and importantly, the kind of child I wanted to be the fulcrum of our story. We had a few back and forths and aligned on all of those key points. So, when we got into the production side of things, it was very smooth sailing. Khaled and his team trusted us and gave us the freedom and the flexibility to succeed.
LBB> Why choose the treatment you did?
Khaled> Our ambition was to create a human story and not a typically produced tourism commercial. We wanted people to feel connected to Clara, our protagonist, on a personal level. We wanted them to feel her joy and her happiness. And we wanted it to be an authentic story that wasn’t scripted.
So, we really liked the treatment we received that balanced a real documentary-like feel with a cinematic look and balanced her intimate experiences and emotions as a young girl who can’t see but is enjoying the UAE, with the beautiful landscapes of our beautiful country. We chose to go with this visually rich yet documentary-like approach.
LBB> What part of the production process will stick with you?
Tahaab> Every moment spent with Clara, our 11-year-old superstar will stick with me forever. She taught me humility, patience and humanity, and important a love for life. The other thing that’ll stick with me is how good our team was - the way everyone made something impossible, possible. We shot across 7 Emirates, in multiple locations, travelling by road, with a little child, within reasonable filming hours (as we didn’t want to strain Clara), filming a multitude of experiences and moments. It was an exhausting shoot but so fulfilling.
LBB> What were the most challenging and the most fun parts of the production process?
Tahaab> The most challenging parts were the making sure we met the schedule across 7 Emirates in the country (and it’s not a small country when you’re travelling by road with crew and equipment), and the unscripted nature of the film. We knew what we wanted to shoot and where, but because we wanted it all to be authentic, we had to rely a lot on how Clara felt in the environments she was in, how she interacted with people and the experiences she was exposed to, and how it all came together on film.
The most fun parts were the most challenging parts! It was exhilarating watching a fantastic crew hack their way through tight schedules and make the locations and the shots happen. And I simply love the unknown and I enjoy making unscripted films. It just looks real when viewers watch it. So, not knowing what Clara would do and how she’d react to her environments excited me.
LBB> What are the main messages you aimed to convey through the campaign?
Khaled> Firstly, the UAE is a great place to holiday and sightsee during winter. Everyone is invited. And everyone can experience what they desire – be it culture, adventure, beaches, shopping, dining, entertainment or nature.
Secondly and importantly, to truly feel something, you don’t need to open your eyes but your heart. We made this point vividly as a country that supports inclusive tourism for everyone. People of determination, in particular, have a special bond with their surroundings and relate to them in ways most of us can’t appreciate. Bearing their needs in mind helps ensure we provide a truly magical, meaningful, and memorable experience for everyone.
LBB> And what was it like working with a visually impaired person? How did you come up with the narrative of 'seeing with the heart'?
Tahaab> I’ve volunteered, my whole life, with people of determination, specifically kids. I even take my kids to volunteer whenever it’s possible to do so in Dubai. This doesn’t just teach us empathy for them but it also opens our minds up to the fact that they don’t overthink what they don’t have. Instead, they focus on what they have. And if we change the way we see them, we will see that they are just like us. So, I was very comfortable working with Clara. She’s a fun-loving child and an absolute fan of life. And I worked with her like I would with any other kid. Yes, we had to be careful that she didn’t hurt herself during the process, as she was enthusiastic – a lot! And we had to be conscious that because she was unable to see, we need to not overwhelm her auditory senses (i.e. less people around her, less noise around her). We had a great team that helped make it all comfortable for her.
And my entire vision for our team was that we needed her to have fun. We needed it to be about her in the UAE. Not what we wanted to shoot. This wasn’t about us creating a beautiful film. This was about us ensuring Clara had a great time, experiencing all that she loved and would love, in the most beautiful locales in the UAE, and all we needed to do was follow her and capture her emotions and her authentic, unfiltered moments amidst those landscapes. Helping feel the UAE from her perspective would give the film a relatability and emotional resonance – its own heart.