Dubai is often defined by aerial shots of its landmark architecture in Bollywood and Hollywood films. By activating fantasies of seeing the whole city, the lived social realities of the city’s inhabitants fade from view. With Ali F. Mostafa’s City of Life (Dar al-haya, 2009, United Arab Emirates) as an example, this article explores the possibility of a cinema of contact zones, drawing upon Dubai’s historical interconnections with the world through intersecting globalizations. The film offers parallel narratives about different classes of residents that overlap, mingle, compete, align, and realign in spaces that are experienced differently. Stories of Emirati best friends, Indian taxi drivers and businessmen, East European flight attendants, and British “expats,” as well as other less visible residents, convey how lives entangle but do not entwine into community. Rather than reducing the film to an example of “national cinema” or “world cinema,” it is more productive to understand it as a film about a city that is itself produced through relationships to multiple places. The film invites audiences to think about noticing connections, rather than take comfort in confirming assumptions. It does not reward audiences with voyeuristic consumption of the city in its totality. More than a conflict zone, as the Middle East is often conceived, Dubai is a contact zone. City of Life acknowledges that Dubai is neither free of social inequities nor defined by them. Dubai is a place of possibilities and risks. It is a contact zone with all the contradictions that contact zones always contain.
Toward a Cinema of Contact Zones: Intersecting Globalizations, Dubai, and City of Life
Dale Hudson is an associate professor of film and new media at New York University Abu Dhabi. He is author of Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods (2017), co-author with Patricia R. Zimmermann of Thinking through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places (2015), and co-editor with Alia Yunis of a special double issue of the Journal of Middle East Culture and Communication on film and visual media in the Gulf (forthcoming 2021).
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Dale Hudson; Toward a Cinema of Contact Zones: Intersecting Globalizations, Dubai, and City of Life. Afterimage 28 December 2020; 47 (4): 26–49. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/aft.2020.47.4.26
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