Arts & Culture

Meet the man making Abu Dhabi nostalgic

Emirati Fadel Almheiri is taking people back with his photo project.

By Sekka Editorial

Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Hosn then and now. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

We all experience nostalgic feelings from time to time, whether it’s for our childhood adventures, our years at college, or old friends, and we often enjoy the company of someone who reminds us of warmer days.  One man who has been making Abu Dhabians’ hearts warmer everyday on Twitter is Fadel Almheiri.

Fadel (@FadelFilms on Twitter) is a 39-year-old award-winning Emirati filmmaker from Abu Dhabi, and the owner of Tent Pictures Productions, an independent film production company assembled from creative film enthusiasts with the common goal of producing feature length films, established in Abu Dhabi’s TwoFour54 Media Free Zone in 2013. Fadel has made six short fims and won multiple awards in national film competitions. In addition to his films, many know him for superimposing old photos of the UAE, particularly of old or no longer existing monunments in Abu Dhabi, on their present day changed location. We speak to Fadel to find out more about the beginnings of his project and his memories in Abu Dhabi. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’re becoming quite popular on Twitter for your before and after photos of the UAE, especially Abu Dhabi. When did you start this project and why?

Popular is a big word! I think what drove me down that road was a mistake and pure luck. Basically, I was and still am working on a feature animation film titled Catsaway. It tells the story of a group of street cats who are forced to leave their safe shelter in the fast-growing city of Abu Dhabi in a hair-raising, paw-curling adventure to find a new home. So, during my research period  for the historical and nostalgia-evoking sites I’m planning to show and document in the animation film, I came across a treasure of old, nostalgia-evoking photos. I’m not talking about the typical black and white photos of Abu Dhabi that are available everywhere, but pictures taken from different and unique angles during the 1990s and early 2000s. That phase had childhood memories and locations that were wiped out of existence for new development projects.

A photo of Abu Dhabi’s Volcano Fountain superimposed on the location today. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

So, one day I was researching the buildings around the location of the famous “Volcano Fountain” that once existed on The Corniche. I was taking pictures of the area around it, observing the parameters and buildings that still stand from that period as reference for the animation film. And for the fun of it, I had a low-quality photo of the Volcano Fountain that I took with me to pin point the actual area. So, for the fun of it I wanted to superimpose the photo I had on the new location by blending the buildings in the photo with the modern day standing ones. CLICK! The picture came out great. Right on the spot I thought that it looked great, thought to share it, posted it, and the rest is history! This was at the end of 2018. 

Earth Park, Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

Are the old photos of the UAE that you post all yours? How did you come to collect them?

Emirati filmmaker Fadel Almheiri. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

The photos I have are a combination of personal photos and photos from the internet, the national archives, the municipality, and the many books I came across during my location research for the film. Since I started working on the film, I have had to collect and keep the photos to use as a reference for the artists working on the city of Abu Dhabi’s background. So, I ended up with a huge collection of historical and nostalgia-evoking photos that are worth documenting and sharing!

Your favorite decade in the UAE…

Surely the 1990s. They were my golden childhood days, my humble beginnings to making films with my handycam (I started when I was 13 years old), the days of cheap taxi rides, not so crazy overpriced coffee ( it was the cappuccino era). I played soccer almost daily, and watched the best films and listened to great music during that decade, and the list goes on.

Fadel Almheiri captures the site where Abu Dhabi’s Clocktower Roundabout once stood. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

Name one thing you miss about the old Abu Dhabi, and name one thing you don’t miss about it.

I miss the greenery from old Abu Dhabi. Although it’s still a fairly green city, however, when I was superimposing the old photos with modern day ones, I realized how greener Abu Dhabi was, a pure heavenly touch of the late President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s stamp on the city. You can clearly notice that every tree mattered to him. Nowadays, blocks of green and trees by the road are being knocked out for ongoing development projects.

I don’t miss the annual sizzling humidity of August.

If you could bring back one old monument from Abu Dhabi historically, what would it be, and why? 

A historic national celebration by Abu Dhabi’s Volcano Fountain. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

The Volcano Fountain. I think that if it was kept, I believe it would have become one of the most national icons of Abu Dhabi. It was a must-see for visitors, and a soothing hangout place for residents. Preserving it would’ve added value to the historical locations of the city. If the Volcano Fountain had been kept, it would have witnessed the old and modern day Abu Dhabi. National Day celebrations would have had a formal location for all to enjoy. It would have been of great value to the city’s urban fabric, and simply for a passerby to sit and enjoy the breathtaking experience, and savor the sight of the water cascading from its turret-like crown. 

Do you think that you’ll continue this project in the future? Do you currently have any additional future plans for it? 

Captured in this photo is the GCC Roundabout, which was located near the Intercontinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of Fadel Almheiri.

Yes, whatever I stumble upon in terms of pictures, I would love to continue superimposing images. I still have a lot of locations on my list to visit to blend the photos that I have on them. I’m thinking with the Catsaway film’s release next year, I might do a side exhibition showcasing old Abu Dhabi photos. I’m also working on the ‘Making of…’ coffee table book, and I surely want to compile and write a chapter on the nostalgia-evoking locations that are used in the film. 

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Sekka Editorial