Festival to award local talent

The Dubai Intl. Film Festival bows its 4th edition with an intriguing mix of old-school Hollywood glamour and a bold program filled with politically minded pics.

Events kick off with the keenly anticipated return to Dubai of George Clooney. The haired multihyphenate will attend the opening night preem of legal thriller “Michael Clayton.” Clooney lensed part of Stephen Gaghan’s oil drama “Syiana” in Dubai.

Sharon Stone brings her amfAR jamboree to Dubai for the first time with expectations high that some of the region’s petro-dollars will make their way into coffers of the AIDS charity.

With the likes of Samuel L. Jackson also attending, this year promises to be Dubai’s starriest yet.

It is, however, the lineup of the second Muhr Awards for excellence in Arab cinema that is proving the most intriguing angle of the fest.

Introduced last year, the Muhr Awards — which offer substantial cash prizes to Arab features, shorts and docs — have given the fest a cultural purpose as the film world’s premier Arab cinema showcase, and more important, have provided a reason to showcase the fest in the eye-popping splendor of its host city’s ever-expanding skyline.

“Most of the recent Arab productions deal with issues surrounding the region’s current political, social and economic situation,” says fest artistic director Masoud Amralla al Ali. “The more complicated the situation becomes, the more focus it receives from filmmakers. In general, we notice the growth in the number of films from countries like Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and Algeria.”

Highlights of this year’s feature competish include Lebanese war drama “Under the Bombs” from helmer Philippe Aractingi (“Bosta”); Jordan’s first feature in 50 years, Amin Matalqa’s “Captain Abu Raed”; and Franco-Algerian helmer Abdel Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain.”

Other pics such as Egypt’s official Oscar rep “In the Heliopolis Flat,” from helmer Mohammed Khan, and “Making Off,” from celebrated North African filmmaker Nouri Bouzid, have ensured a notably strong field.

“We have also made a lot of progress in obtaining the trust of Arab filmmakers,” says al Ali. “We had so many excellent films to choose from that we had to raise the number of films in each section.”

Fest organizers have also introduced six categories for 2007, including best actor and actress and best Emirati female filmmaker, as well as awards for script, music and cinematography.

Lifetime achievement awards will be handed out to Egyptian helmer Youssef Chahine, Korean filmmaker Im Kwon-taek and Danny Glover.

The fest will host a focus on Chinese cinema, as well as sidebars devoted to cinema from Africa, Asia and other regions.

In fact, the fest has nearly doubled the number of films it screened in its inaugural edition in 2004 from 98 to this year’s 141. The busy sked ironically mirrors the increasingly congested calendar of Arab film fests. Marrakech Intl. Film Festival, which unspools Dec. 7-15, is running virtually concurrently with Dubai. “I do not see this as a negative in any way,” says fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “Frankly, more festivals is a better situation for filmmakers than less, and there are more films made every year than there are festivals to show them.

“Competition is actually a positive. In the same way that more schools are good for education, more festivals are good for the industry.”

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