Aractingi's drama nabs top prize at festival

Lebanese war drama “Under the Bombs” won the top prize at this year’s Dubai Film Festival, which closed Sunday.

Philippe Aractingi-helmed pic, about a Lebanese women (Nada Abou Farhat) who goes searching for her young son and daughter in the south of the country during the 33-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006, won the Muhr Gold award for narrative feature, which celebrates excellence in Arab filmmaking.

Abou Farhat won the actress prize for her role in the film, which was partly shot while the war was still ongoing.

Nadim Sawalha picked up the actor nod for his role in “Captain Abu Raed,” Jordan’s first full-length feature in some 50 years, about a lowly airport janitor who pretends to be a pilot to entertain a group of local neighborhood kids with tales of his globetrotting. Having debuted in Dubai, pic will play Sundance in January.

Documentary kudos went to Egyptian film “Made in Egypt,” by Karim Goury.

Tunisian helmer Nouri Bouzid’s “Making Of” and Franco-Algerian Abdellatif Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain” took the silver and bronze feature awards, respectively.

The eclectic jury members included reclusive U.S. helmer Michael Cimino (“The Deer Hunter”).

The fourth edition of the fest was by most accounts its most successful yet. Event’s lineup has swelled from 98 films in its inaugural edition in 2004 to this year’s 141. The increase in star wattage was equally impressive, with George Clooney, Sharon Stone and Danny Glover making their way down the red carpet in the fest’s central Madinat Jumeirah venue.

The news, midway through Dubai, that former fest director Neil Stephenson had filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma and managing director Shavani Pandya over the manner of his dismissal threatened to overshadow the otherwise clear Dubai skies, although both Juma and Pandya attempted to take the incident in stride.

“Mr. Stephenson left his position as CEO of the Dubai Film Festival after a disagreement about the future direction of the organization,” read a statement issued on their behalf. “Since then he has made outrageous and false public assertions about the personal behavior of festival leaders and inflated claims about his own importance. The simple fact is that organizations sometimes change management, and with a change in management, there is often a redirection of strategy. Mature executives understand and accept that fact.”

Fest organizers also ramped up their industry initiatives this year with the introduction of the Dubai Film Connection, a co-production mart. designed to bolster Arab film production, and a special training course for Arab producers in association with the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE).

Three of the Dubai Film Connection’s 15 entrants were awarded $15,000 each and invited to attend the 2008 Cannes Producers Network. The winning projects were Sameh Zoabi’s “Man Without a Cell Phone,” a satirical look at Palestinians and Israelis; Canadian-Palestinian helmer Cherien Dabis’ “Amreeka”; and Lebanese helmer Simon Al Habre’s “One Man Village,” about reconciliation in Lebanon in the wake of that country’s seemingly intractable political disputes.

Ziad Doueiri’s “Man in the Middle,” a thriller about American foreign policy in the Middle East, received a special mention and will also be invited to attend the Cannes Producers’ Network.

A e5,000 ($7,200) prize from French-German joint broadcaster Arte was awarded to Palestinian helmer Raed Andoni’s “Fix Me,” a meditation on mental health and conflict.

Fest organizers also announced that next year’s edition will feature an expanded competish that will include awards for films from Asia and Africa, as well as a new sidebar dedicated to animation.

And the winners are. . .

Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema

Narrative features

Gold Muhr:
“Under the Bombs” by Phillippe Aractingi (France/Lebanon/UK)

Silver Muhr:
“Making Of” by Nouri Bouzid (Tunisia)

Bronze Muhr:
“The Secret Of The Grain” by Abdellatif Kechiche (France)

Documentaries

Gold Muhr:
“Made In Egypt” by Karim Goury (France/Egypt)

Silver Muhr:
“Maria’s Grotto” by Buthina Canaan Khoury (Palestine)

Bronze Muhr:
“Shadow of Absence” by Nassri Hajjaj (Palestine/Tunisia)

Short films

Gold Muhr:
“Sarah” by Khadija Leclere (Belgium)

Silver Muhr:
“The Water Guard” by Waleed al Shehhi (UAE)

Bronze Muhr:
“Garbage” by Lotfi Achour (Tunisia)

Actor:
Nadim Sawalha for “Captain Abu Raed”

Actress:
Nada Abou Fahat for “Under the Bombs”

Screenplay:
Borhan Alaouie for “Khalass”

Editor:
France Duez for “Khalass”

Cinematography:
Pierre Boffety for “Burnt Hearts”

Composer:
Nejib Charradi for “Making Of”

Emirati Talent:
Mohammed Saeed Harib

Emirati Female Film-maker:
Nayla Al Khaja

Emirati Male Film-maker:
Ali Mostafa

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