CANNES — Despite the threat of legal proceedings brought by former festival director Neil Stephenson over the manner of his dismissal in February, Dubai film fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma is determined to make the four-year-old festival the most important in the Middle East.
Juma is in Cannes to roll out further initiatives of the fest ahead of its fourth edition in December. Central to his plans will be the enlargement of a scriptwriting contest that will allow all UAE residents, not just native Emiratis, to submit their projects for the $30,000 development prize as long as the story has a Mideast-related theme.
With the long-awaited opening of Dubai Studio City — designed to be a one-stop-shop for all stages of production — finally expected by the end of the year, winning entrants will be able to use DSC’s facilities to get their projects from the page to the screen.
Fest officials will also be expanding the screening sked within Dubai itself, with more venues across the increasingly sprawling emirate designed to make it more accessible to locals.
“I want to open up more platforms for filmmakers in the Arab world,” Juma said. “We also want to take our festival closer to the people.”
As for the ongoing brouhaha over Stephenson’s claims he was unfairly axed, Juma is keen not to get into a war of words with the former fest director.
“If we had a press conference every time one of our employees left, we’d never do any work,” Juma said.
Stephenson announced his intentions to launch legal proceedings against Juma and Dubai fest officials at a tempestuous confab in Cairo in April following his claims that he feared his contribution to the establishment of the fest — increasingly one of the most important in the Arab film biz — would be written out of history.
“We’re puzzled in terms of what he’s saying. This festival is a Dubai government initiative and over 700 people work on it,” Juma said. “He wants to keep the title of establisher of the Dubai film festival but there are over a thousand film festivals in the world. I’ve never heard anyone keeping the intellectual property rights to the claim of starting a festival. I personally announced the creation of the festival in March 2003. We did not meet Neil until April 2003. What he’s saying is simply not true.”
While Stephenson has stated he will travel to fests pleading his case, Juma is more interested in ensuring that the Dubai fest continues to meet its core objectives of assisting Arab filmmaking and acting as a cultural bridge between East and West.
“What we are trying to do is enhance Arab filmmaking. We really need it,” Juma added.