The movie is based on a true story and its hero is infected with the disease

Emirati director discusses "autism" in "Mountain Child"

  • Zainab Shaheen: "Filmmaking is not an easy field, especially for women." Emirates Today


Emirati director Zainab Shaheen presents the suffering of children with autism through the society's gaze, through her new film "The Mountain Child", which deals with the story of the autistic child Suhail and his adventures in Fujairah, starring Nasser Saleh Al Masabi, who also has autism.

Shaheen, who spoke to Emirates Today about the film, said: "Its story was inspired by the writer Nancy Patton, from the book (The Boy Who Knows the Mountains), by author Michelle Ziolkovsky, who wrote about her experience with her son (Suhail), who was also diagnosed with autism, and his suffering from the lack of acceptance by the people of his village, but with the passage of time and situations he proves that he is an active person in his society and can benefit his family in his own way. Through this story, the film sheds light on how society deals with children with autism, and provides information that many do not know about this condition and its symptoms, so she chose to present this film and was excited about it."

Nasser is the hero of the movie

Shaheen revealed that «the child Nasser who plays the role of (Suhail) has autism in fact», noting that he is a smart child and has a unique way of thinking and speaking, and therefore he was chosen to play the role. She added: «In the beginning, we went through difficulties in understanding Nasser and his needs, and communicating with him successfully, and even Nasser went through difficulties to adapt to the filming environment and deal with the crew, but thanks to the cooperation of everyone, we overcame these difficulties», pointing out that Nasser's family had a great credit for understanding his condition and dealing with it positively since the beginning of their awareness of his autism, as his mother registered him in specialized centers for training and rehabilitation of people with autism, and she also specialized in this field to understand her son more and communicate With him in the right way.

She said she finished filming the film at the end of February, and it took nearly 15 days to shoot, which is a huge challenge for the cast of nearly 80 people. She added: "During the filming period of the film, we were all like one family, which helped us finish filming in a short time, and the film is currently in the final stages of production, and we hope that it will be ready in time to participate in film festivals next year, and there are also plans to show it at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), which will be hosted by the UAE, and also among our plans that the film will be shown in cinemas."


Zainab Shaheen, who graduated from the Higher Colleges of Technology in Fujairah in 2021, majoring in media and video making, and presented a number of short films that were predominantly personal, including the short feature film "The Journey of Hope", in which she dealt with the life story of her grandfather, considered that the field of filmmaking "is not as easy as some think, especially for women, as there are many challenges and difficulties that women may face, whether in terms of society's outlook, or from the nature of the work itself." This "does not prevent them from being present and achieving success in this field, especially if women are committed to achieving their ambitions," adding: "In light of the great support of the wise leadership in the UAE for women, and its keenness to empower women and provide them with all means of rehabilitation in all sectors, including the field of media, politics, education and others, the situation has become better and the challenges are less." Shaheen stressed: "For me, this climate encouraged me to go through this great and challenging experience, and increased my self-confidence, which I gained from the great support I found from those around me, especially my family, which I consider my first supporter, and my uncle, who supported me since my first step in this journey, and he is the person who made me believe in myself and my potential, which I never expected to have."

True story

The film "The Mountain Boy", produced by Desert Rose for films that focus on women's issues, is based on the book "The Boy Who Knows the Mountains" by author Michelle Zhiolkowski, about the story of her son (Suhail), a young boy who is avoided by the people of his village because of his remarkable abilities, as he has an exceptional memory, good mobility skills, and the ability to harmonize with his environment, and the story is inspired by the experiences of Ziolkovsky's son, who was also diagnosed with autism, and from the memories of her mother-in-law's childhood in a small mountain village in Fujairah. Shot in the Hajar Mountains in Fujairah, the film also highlights the UAE's beautiful landscape, culture and people. It also addresses important topics, such as autism awareness, climate change, and the importance of preserving Arab heritage.

Zainab Shaheen:

"The child Nasser who plays (Suhail) is autistic in fact, and he is an intelligent child with a unique way of thinking and speaking."

"During the filming period we were all like one family, and we did it in 15 days."