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UAE Wins Hearts and Minds at World Exhibition in Milan

Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

Courtesy of UAE Expo Milano 2015.

MILAN, Aug 21 2015 (IPS) - She only turned nine last June. But Mahra Mustafa has become a celebrity at the Expo Milan. She stars as Sara in ‘The Family Tree’, a short film on the UAE’s heritage being screened at the United Arab Emirates pavilion. Sara is in fact the face of young, dynamic and innovative Emirates.

Thousands of Italians and foreign visitors, who throng the UAE pavilion day in and day out, are enchanted by the 12-metre tall sinuous rippled walls that provide an unforgettable experience and give an idea of what the Emirates would offer during the Dubai Expo in 2020.

“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities.” -- Nawal Al Hosany

The Dubai Expo from Oct 20, 2020 through Apr 10, 2021, will launch the UAE’s Golden Jubilee celebration and “serve as a springboard from which to inaugurate a progressive and sustainable vision for the coming decades”, according to information posted on its website.

The organisers proudly announce: “This will be the first time that a World Expo is staged in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) region.”

While Expo Milan from May 1 to Oct 31 is focussing on ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, Dubai’s World Expo will have ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ as its theme, echoing the powerful spirit of partnership and co-operation that has driven the UAE’s success in pioneering new paths of development and innovation, the organisers say.

“Through this theme, Expo 2020 Dubai will serve as a catalyst, connecting minds from around the world and inspiring participants to mobilise around shared challenges during a World Expo of unprecedented global scope,” the organisers add.

As compared to Expo Milan, which expects to welcome 20 million visitors during six months, Expo 2020 Dubai awaits 25 million visits, 70 per cent from abroad – if only to feel and experience Sara’s ‘The Family Tree’.

“People got so excited seeing movies on Dubai, the feedback we got was that people want to visit before Expo 2020,” ‘The National’, UAE’s English-language publication, quoted Amal Al Kuwaiti, a contract engineer with the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company who worked as a volunteer at the UAE pavilion in Milan.

The architects worked closely with the UAE’s National Media Council to create the pavilion and connect it to the Milan theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, notes The National.

“Many were surprised to see the country with not much water, how people searched for food. Then suddenly they see videos of the Burj Khalifa (a skyscraper in Dubai) and they are thrilled. Even people who have been to Dubai long ago want to see the changes,” he added.

“People get mesmerised with how the UAE has grown from facing challenges like lack of water, coping with heat, humidity, lack of natural resources and still managed to create beautiful cities and communities,” Nawal Al Hosany, director of sustainability at Masdar, told The National newspaper. He was involved in building the UAE pavilion.

Describing the highlights of the ‘The Family Tree’, the Gulf News writes: Sara is transported back in time, during the generation of her grandparents. Sara gets to live and witness what life was like before modernisation and development in the area, living in the harsh desert conditions, facing many challenges such as finding food and water, and dealing with sandstorms and wild animals.

“The movie’s special effects, story, and professional direction is on par with any Hollywood major production,” claims the Gulf News with some justification.

It is not only the film but also Sara’s rap song that ties in to the Milan Expo theme of Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life: “We have land and food and energy/The sun, the sand and the big blue sea/The people, the animals/I’m beginning to see/Are all interconnected like a tapestry . . .”

The song is for sale on iTunes and the proceeds are going to victims of Nepal’s earthquakes.

When the film The Family Tree ends, visitors are invited to switch to an interactive  ‘Future Talk’, with the presentation being delivered by Sara. The main message of the talk is to encourage people to live their lives in a more sustainable and energy-friendly manner, so that we can have a better future in feeding the planet.

The UAE pavilion also highlights the importance of date palms, a major component of Emirati culture and tradition. The exhibition, ‘The Secret Life of Date Palms’, informs about the date palm features, its form, fruit, hydration, metamorphosis, shade and shadow. As part of the exhibition visitors also get to experience and see the date palms for themselves, with an oasis garden and date palm trees present at the pavilion.

Walking along the sinuous rippled walls, visitors pass by 12 media cubes. These refer to 12 challenges the UAE faces in respect of land, energy, water and food. Then follow the 12 media cubes with 12 solutions. One of the challenges the Emirates face is that it barely gets any rain, and so the solution in providing clean drinking water to its population is through new methods of desalinated seawater using renewable energy.

The media cubes also offer visitors an insight into the UAE and its culture, with five short Discovery films about the UAE. ‘Flavors of the Emirates’ is a short film about the traditional and cultural foods of the UAE.

Another short film, “Helping Feed the Planet”, touches on the UAE’s generous contribution in giving aid to 140 countries around the world, with the short movie going to Ethiopia where schoolchildren are provided with healthy food thanks to a programme funded and organised by Dubai Cares.

Emiratis acting as volunteers and ambassadors at the pavilion are also present to help guide and further explain the culture and history of the UAE, making the tour as interactive as possible for visitors.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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