Friday, January 21, 2011

GeekFest Dubai: Charity, animation and heels

I love GeekFest week now that Dubai’s first of the year took place Thursday night (January 20). The expectation begins when Alexander McNabb (@AlexanderMcNabb on Twitter), founder and “UNorganizer” of the concept, posts the lineup of the Geek Talks on his blog, Fake Plastic Souks. It builds until we gather at The Shelter in Al Qoz.

GeekFest launched in Dubai in 2009 and is held here every two months. The first in 2011 is all the more significant as “the future of GeekFest ” was put to the floor during one of the four Geek Talks.

The beauty of GeekFest is that it is free, unlike so many other gatherings, and open to all. It is a great event to meet people from within and outside the online community in Dubai and occasionally from abroad. GeekFests have now taken place in Beirut, Cairo, Alexandria, Amman and Damascus. There is one planned for Abu Dhabi (a suggestion is for Dubai to rent a bus and go attend), Doha and Khartoum. Everyone is also looking forward to, and has eyes peeled on, GeekFest Ramallah, slated for February 16.  Alexander announced it “is being UNorganized by blogger and volunteer worker Sara Refai, Bazinga!'s Mohammad Khatib and the man behind TEDx Ramallah, Ramzi Jaber.” He will be traveling to the Occupied Territories to attend it!

In Alexander’s own words, “Nobody owns it [GeekFest], nobody sets rules.” He thus put it to the audience gathered in The Shelter’s screening room reserved for the Geek Talks: “What IS GeekFest and what is its future? Does it deserve to be formalized and how? What do we want to make of this event that seems to have happened around the pure wish for innovators, commentators and social talkers to meet?”

Having sat through three Geek Talks and a video by Sara Rifai, who was supposed to have linked with us at the last GeekFest (see “GeekFest Dubai, 1-year on,” October 22, 2010), it was already 9.45 pm, and I think we just wanted to get out of the screening room.

Naeema Zarif's poster for GeekFest Ramallah
Alexander had time to talk about how GeekFest started and how the logo evolved from its first design by his brother-in-law to the identity it gained through the posters created and designed by Lebanese visual artist Naeema Zarif. Naeema has taken over all the GeekFest posters and has now brought them in line with the antique and arabesque style of her creative work.

There were proposals and questions, but the general impression was to keep GeekFest as Unorganized as it is, maybe reduce the number of Talks, or restrict them to their original 15-minutes, and give the participants more time to meet and chat.

The PCRF's Steve Sosebee
The first speaker was Steve Sosebee, founder and CEO of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), which is celebrating its 20th year. Steve started out as a journalist. In the pre-Internet days he wanted to be more involved and use the power of language and information to affect change. He went to Palestine in the late eighties and began working with children and helping their medical treatment. He appealed to the geeks present – “you rule the world” – to help get the message out. “What we do is an act of love,” Steve said and the online community can give PCRF the support and strength to send out the message. “You can make a significant impact. It can change the life of a child.” He also thanked those who were running in the Dubai Marathon the next day (January 21) in aid of the PCRF.

Mohammad Fikree introduces...
"The Girl & It"
Emirati animator and composer Mohammad Fikree gave GeekFest an exclusive preview of the first seven minutes of his upcoming short animated film “The Girl & It.”  He was too shy to explain much about the film. He put it up on the screen and disappeared. Set in a kingdom called Termite, the 20-minute animation sees the peaceful island, where people live with the bees, invaded… Mohammed works in 2D Flash, composes his own music. That on “The Girl & It” is dramatic.  What looks so smooth running to the viewer in fact takes at least three days to produce every minute on-screen. He is hoping to take “The Girl & It” to the Gulf Film Festival in April.

A good change to the Geek Talks was Maha Mahdy’s presentation on fashion blogging. I loved her closing sentence, quoting Coco Chanel: “To be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” This is what fashion bloggers are trying to do, Maha (@Meho_M) said. It’s a matter of “if you snooze, you lose,” in fashion and bloggers are now taking on the industry and getting more recognition because of speed in which they can put up trends, stories, photos and videos on their blogs.

Maha Mahdy and Isidora Peric
Maha said all fashion bloggers want to get into fashion and some are earning up to $100,000 a and getting up to 70,000 daily page views on their blogs. She explained how the traditional press is beginning to cozy up to fashion bloggers because of competition they are facing. When a monthly fashion magazine comes out, bloggers would have already written about most of the articles.

Maha, in a beautiful racing green dress and the compulsory high heels, gave the floor  for a few words to Isidora Peric, founder of The Fashion Network, and both ladies gave GeekFest a bit of je ne sais quoi.

So many other things happen at GeekFest that it is difficult to keep up, once you enter the screening room. For one, Mita Ray (@mita56) and Carol Hyland are aiming to trek across Nepal for charity this summer and are holding a Flee Market and Car Boot Sale in Fujeirah on February 11 to raise funds. Mita brought some boxes along to GeekFest to collect unwanted clothes, books, toys… to sell at the event.

Nick and Parthan enjoying GameFest
GameFest was organized by  who set up an LCD screen and we had a go at playing the games as you can see in the pictures. The technocase was courtesy of Eros Group (@erosgroup), showcasing their Flip Cameras, Sonos wireless music systems and “other cool stuff.”

The Lime Tree Café generously provided food and drink. And it seems that while we were in the screening room, new pizza outlet N_K_DPizza made a dramatic GeekFest entrance. Bikers dressed in black stormed The Shelter to the music of James Bond and kindly offered boxes and boxes of delicious pizza. Unfortunately, those attending the talks didn’t get a chance to taste them! (You see why we need shorter Talks!!!!)

Having said that GeekFest, for me, is all about getting together, meeting and chatting. There are always several faces to put to people you have only met online, and with each event the virtual world becomes more real and the circle expands.

Thank you Alexander for another successful GeekFest and here’s to the next one in March!

(It you missed it, some GeekFest shots here)