Emi­rati short film gives stut­ter­ers a global voice at Cannes fes­ti­val

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Af­shan Ahmed

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.

art­slife@then­ational.ae

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