Set in the United Arab Emirates, this documentary follows a story of Dr. Reem El Mutwalli, a fashion historian and woman behind the largest and most extensive collection of the traditional cultural garments of the Emirati women. The film opens with a montage of Dr. El Mutwalli being surrounded with traditional dresses and immersed in interaction with the audience of her installation, while listening to her voice over that asks us to reflect on what factors shape our dress and how the dress can change throughout the time. The documentary then moves to a more personal introduction of the character, where Dr. El Mutwalli recalls how she arrived to the UAE at a very young age and was inspired to study the dress due to her interaction with the royal family. The next chapter of the documentary reveals a car scene where El Mutwalli shares her frustration about getting growing online criticism from her Instagram followers who are unhappy about El Mutwalli’s attempts to merge national history and modernity on her social media platform. After El Mutwalli arrives to Women’s Handicarft Centre in Fujairah, she continues to use her social media to capture most of the interactions with the local craftswomen. When El Mutwalli arrives back to Dubai she organises an interactive installation of her famous historical garment collection and introduces it to some of the prominent local fashion editors, government officials and social media personas. The camera meanwhile observes the role of social media in all of those official interactions by capturing the moments of people using their Instagram as a storytelling tool that validates commitment to preservation of those historical artifacts. While hosting the traditional dress installation at her house, Dr. El Mutwalli receives 47 more comments on her recent Instagram post. All of the comments are criticizing the modern cuts of the traditional abayas and women who chose that form of dress. The film closes with Dr. El Mutwalli’s voice over where she confronts the nature of the conflict between tradition and modernity and her predictions that women will continue expressing themselves through their dress.

  • Kamilya Issaliyeva
  • Kamilya Issaliyeva
  • Ahmed Mitry
    Sound Designer
  • Keira Simmons
    Music Composer
  • Dr. Reem Tariq El Mutwalli
  • Kamilya Issaliyeva
    Post Production
  • John Burkhart, Maruan Manaja
    Post Production Assistance
  • Andrea Chung
    Sound Recordist
  • Karma Dolma Gurung
    Camera Assistant
  • Kamilya Issaliyeva
  • Project Title (Original Language):
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 50 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    April 15, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    1,300 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United Arab Emirates
  • Country of Filming:
    United Arab Emirates
  • Language:
    Arabic, English
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Kamilya Issaliyeva

Born and raised in West Kazakhstan, Kamilya is graduating from New York University Abu Dhabi with a double degree in Political Science and Film & New Media. She found her passion for film after being introduced to a small Kazakh cassette store where she ended up spending most of her childhood watching movies across different genres and discovering her fascination with the art of cinematography. She started in conceptual and fashion photography and later acquired hands-on experience in filmmaking as she worked as an Art Director and Line Producer for independent student films at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Tisch. Her works, both in film and political science, address the questions of nationalism and identity in the age of globalization, seen through the lens of both the social sciences and the arts. Concerned with topics of Human Rights violations, Kamilya believes that Film and New Media can and should be used as a powerful advocacy tool to secure representation of suppressed stories. She is now working with the medium of Documentary Filmmaking and directed projects in the UAE, Ghana, Kazakhstan and the US .

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Director Statement

In my short documentary film #tirathuna ( تراثنا #) I follow a story of an Iraqi born art curator who shares her passion for collecting and archiving pre-oil national Emirati gowns while encountering Instagram pushback from some of the local followers who criticize her recent posts where young Emirati women are wearing more contemporary forms of abayas. I was initially fascinated with this topic due to my personal interest to learn about the intersection between fashion and politics, as well as the subject of using national dress as a tool of sustaining and narrating the history behind the national identity. Being one of the first art curators in the Emirates and the only woman publishing extensive research on the history and evolution of the traditional Emirati dress, Dr. Reem El Mutwalli is the main subject of this documentary for her passionate approach to preserving and celebrating the dress. Beginning first as just an exploration of the history behind Emirati dress, in the process of making this film I also discovered my genuine interest in contributing to the discussion on looking at the national dress as a cultural artifact that mirrors country’s socio-economic progress. It is my hope that #tirathuna presents a story that helps to facilitate a further public discussion on the dynamics of modernity vs. tradition and personal vs. national identity in the Gulf.