Tucked away in a converted warehouse in Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue is a jewel box cinema with a nostalgic mood. Red window curtains cloak the box office and repurposed seats from the historic Golden Cinema in Dubai that closed in 2015 rest tidily in the space. Inside the cinema, the projector screen sits close to plush red sofas, with vintage floor lamps and floral-patterned wallpaper that recall Art Deco splendour. This is Cinema Akil, which opened the doors to its permanent location this past September, where independent films are screened for the city’s cultural habitués.
“Being an arthouse cinema, we focus on independent, critically-acclaimed films that are usually relegated to the festival circuit,” says Butheina Kazim, founder of Cinema Akil. “We do everything from repertory to classic cinema, documentaries to short films – a whole range of films that aren’t easily accessible,” she adds. The project started off in 2014 as a pop-up concept and travelled to three different locations in the city until last year, when Iraqi-Canadian and Omani artists Cheb Moha and Mohammed Kindy, aka Chndy, designed its last temporary space in Alserkal Avenue.
Cinema Akil’s permanent abode has been dreamt up by Dubai-based architect Richard Wagner, who imbued the space with its signature vintage appeal. “Richard helped institutionalise the design flow of the space and made it architecturally viable,” shares Butheina. Old sofas donated by friends of the cinema were reupholstered, and artworks and decoratives collected over the years found a new home in the space. “The scope was to bring the cinema to fruition, from making it acoustically feasible to achieving complete opacity for our daytime screenings,” shares Butheina.
Exterior View of the Cinema
He was joined by Dutch designer Maja Kozel of the eponymous design studio who worked on the cinema’s spatial design. “Butheina had the Art Deco style in mind and gave reference of arthouse cinemas around the world as she’s very well-travelled,” shares Maja. “Many design elements in the space are things that the team or I had personally acquired over the years,” states Butheina. In fact, the poster collection and items displayed on the cinema walls are from her personal collection and travels to countries including Egypt, India, Poland and Armenia.
The space is also the launch pad of the tea-based café Chaiwala, where visitors can relish hot Indian nibbles and tea in a setting that has its own unique aesthetic vocabulary. “The trick was to ensure Cinema Akil and Chaiwala integrate seamlessly while maintaining their own integrity. This also influenced our decision to use turquoise and red from both spaces for the external signage, also as a nod to the recently-demolished El Dorado Cinema in Abu Dhabi, which had the same colour scheme.”
Central to the vision behind Cinema Akil is to create a communal space that serves as a cultural repository that goes beyond the appeal of a commercial space. As Butheina says, “Cinema Akil has been created by people who are passionate about translating a space into something unique for Dubai.”
Cinema Akil is located in Warehouse 68 in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. Cinemaakil.com