Emirati short film gives stutterers a global voice at Cannes festival
Farah Al Qaissieh has a distinctive voice – and is extremely proud of it. However, the 27-yearold Emirati entrepreneur struggled while growing up with accepting that she spoke differently from other people.
She stuttered and was embarrassed to speak in public because her flow of speech would be interrupted by repetition and stumbling over words.
Qaissieh found her voice at university and has been helping other young adults find theirs since 2013 through her Stutter UAE support group. Her not-for-profit organisation – which works to raise awareness of stuttering and to reduce the stigma surrounding it – is the subject of a short film that has been screening for the past week at the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner.
Just Another Accent is one of 14 short films from the UAE showcased at the festival which wraps up today.
UAE filmmakers Khadijah Kudsi and Samia Ali co-directed the film, following Qaissieh for six months last year as she organised awareness events and mentored youngsters who stutter, by sharing with them the story of how she overcame similar challenges.
“Samia found Qaissieh’s initiative on social media and immediately thought that this would be an interesting subject for a documentary,” says 28-year-old Kudsi.
“I immediately jumped on the idea of highlighting this community because I myself didn’t know much about stuttering and the agony they face each day. They are made fun of; most of them stop speaking for a while because they are embarrassed. There was a real touching human story to be told through this.”
The directors self-funded the film, the title of which came from a speech given by their film’s subject.
“The first thing we do in the group is, we don’t refer to stuttering as a speech impediment,” says Al Qaissieh. “It’s just another accent, just like people from different parts of the world have theirs.
“I try to change the negative association and put forth a positive outlook. If all accents are celebrated, so can stuttering.”
Stutter UAE offers mentorship programmes and consultations with speech therapists. More importantly, Al Qaissieh says, they are a place for people facing similar struggles to meet.
“People who stutter tend to shy away from the public and hide the fact that they stammer. This does not benefit anyone,” she says. “Our community allows them to meet other people who stutter and gives them confidence that they are not alone.”
She says this is necessary because she grew up believing she and her brother were the only ones who stuttered.
“I didn’t have this platform and I was miserable,” says Al Qaissieh. “I remember an incident when I was in Grade 7 and the teacher humiliated me because I couldn’t read a passage fast enough in class. My friends began mocking me, too.”
Co-director Ali says she found Al Qaissieh to be an inspiration for her own challenges she faces over hesitation when speaking to others.
“I fumble when I’m nervous, so I can only imagine how people who stutter feel,” says the 24-year- old, who recently graduated from the Abu Dhabi New York Film Academy. “When I saw a video of Farah on Instagram, she was stuttering when she was speaking in Arabic. But her confidence was infectious.”
The documentary also features other people who stutter and the issues they face every day.
“One of our subjects, Beshara Al Amiri, tells us how she loves coffee but would never order it because she would have trouble saying it,” says Ali. “She hates tea but that is what she would order. But after meeting other people who stammer, that changed.”
Ali adds that she wants the film to encourage others around the world.
“It is great that it has found a place on an international platform because it will uplift others in the same situation,” she says.