Prize spotlights emerging directors

Dubai fest gets high-profile Asian, African films

Dubai is attempting to do for Asia and Africa what it has already done for the Arab world by expanding its Muhr Awards to include films from the two continents.

The newly created Muhr Asia Africa Awards, which will remain separate from the stand-alone Arab sidebar, throws a spotlight on Asian and African helmers underrepresented at international film fests.

Having successfully launched the original Muhr Awards for Arabic cinema in 2006, fest organizers now feel confident enough to give other filmmakers from beyond the Middle East their own platform. It’s also part of Dubai’s attempts to build a cultural bridge between East and West.

“In Asia and Africa, we share many commonalities: geography, knowledge, culture and economy,” says Dubai artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali. “Asian and African cinema hold an important place in the culture of their own countries but have had very little participation in international festivals, apart from a few in Asia. We hope that these awards offer these filmmakers a platform to reach wider audiences. This will make Dubai a destination of choice for the cinematic community to seek not only quality Arab cinema but also to be exposed to other cinema, known and unknown.”

The Muhr Asia Africa Awards will be split into shorts, docs and features sections. Among the features competing for the top prize of $50,000 are Kazakh helmer Sergei Dvortsevoy’s “Tulpan,” which picked up a prize at this year’s Un Certain Regard section of Cannes; Ethiopian helmer Haile Gerima’s “Teza,” which won the Special Jury Prize at Venice; and Indian helmer Nandita Das’ “Firaaq.”

In total there are 15 features competing, along with 13 docs and 13 shorts. The cash prize for best doc stands at $40,000 while the winner of the best short will receive $30,000.

Given that more than two-thirds of Dubai’s population is composed of ex-pats, many of them from the Indian subcontinent, the new awards seem destined to attract strong interest from local auds. The move is also evidence of organizers’ attempts to shift the perception of the fest as simply a celeb-obsessed event.

“Our aim is for Dubai to be to the Middle East what Venice and Cannes are to Europe, and what Sundance and Toronto are to North America,” says fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “I see the festival accomplishing some very ambitious goals.”

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