So there we were, sitting on beanbags with around one thousand other people, facing what is probably the world's largest outdoor movie screen, with the world's tallest building rising up behind it, ready to watch the world premier of Champ of the Camp, a film with a whole lot of [sameness] running through it.
Champ of the Camp, a feature documentary by filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour, follows a singing competition, also called Champ of the Camp, held each year inside Dubai's labour camps, as it looks to crown a winner amongst thousands of Dubai's predominantly south Asian workers.
Here, for your viewing pleasure is the film's trailer:
We're not going to get into the filmyness of the film, apart from to say that it was really well put together, the shots were beautiful, and the cameras had access to a lot of places people wouldn't normally see outside of the sparkly version of Dubai.
And that was the beautiful part of the premier, that it took place underneath what is the sparkliest, most audacious, monument to Dubai's success - the Burj Khalifa.
At one point one of the workers featured in the film, who helped build the Burj Khalifa, is taken to visit the world's tallest building and the surrounding area, where he has never been without tools in hand. The collision of art, storytelling, and real life became an experience in itself, as the stories of the guys who construct buildings they will never use, played out in amongst those very buildings.
The significance of Champ of the Camp is that beyond the tale of the singing competition, it beautifully examines the joys and the pains of the men who come to Dubai to work, telling their stories and filling out their identities far beyond the one-dimensional title of "labourer".
Having the opportunity to hear their stories and understand the men as individuals and as more than just "labourers", was a truly powerful experience. To see them expressing the universal heartache of missing families and home, of having money worries, and also of finding such joy and escape in music, was immediately relatable, because for many in the crowd it is also our story. We exist in the same world, yet within it we play very different roles.
Finding the [sameness] in another starts with hearing their story, and Champ of the Camp gave a voice to a group of men who are very much the "other" in Dubai, giving a chance to look past everything that made them different, to see what makes them the same.
Champ of the Camp will be a significant film for Dubai and the wider region, simply because it has brought the conversation on labourers to the mainstream, providing a point of reference and opening a dialogue not just based on a "them and us" but on [sameness] and the humanity of the guys who play one of the most significant roles in making Dubai the city it is.
The evening's screening finished in the most appropriate way possible with four of the men featured in the film brought up on stage to a standing ovation. They each belted out a Bollywood tune, and with their voices echoing across the crowd and bouncing off the Burj Khalifa, it was hard to miss the absurdity of the situation, but even harder to miss the [sameness] in a group of people clapping along and brought together through a beautiful film and some equally beautiful singing.