'Nine' is curtain-raiser; 'Avatar' to close event

LONDON — Dubai fest organizers aren’t letting the financial crisis in the once booming emirate get in the way of announcing their lineup.

Opening night pic will be Rob Marshall’s musical “Nine,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman. It is still unclear if any of the film talent, which also includes Sophie Loren and Marion Cotillard, will be attending the gala screening.

Other galas include animated pic “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” while fest will close with a bang with the regional preem of James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

Fest’s Muhr prize for Arab cinema — originally launched in 2006 with the ambition to become the premier showcase in the world for Arab filmmakers — has managed to bring together a stellar lineup.

Among the competish contenders are Egyptian helmer Kamla Zekry’s “One-Zero,” Arab-American filmmaker Cherien Dabis’ “Amreeka” and French-Arab director Nassim Amaouche’s “Adieu Gary.”

Palestinian helmer Michel Khleifi’s “Zindeeq” receives its world preem at the fest as does Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa’s “City of Life.”

Organizers are rolling out the red carpet for Mostafa, who has previously won the Emirati Filmmaker prize at the fest and has long been seen as the Emirati helmer most likely to break out internationally. Mostafa’s film, which finished principal photography in mid-March, takes its name from the English translation of Dubai’s oldest nickname. The multi-lingual, multi-stranded character-driven drama follows the intersecting lives of a privileged young Emirati, an Indian taxi driver and Romanian flight attendant all living in the bustling emirate.

Elsewhere, Indian acting icon Amitabh Bachchan will receive a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to cinema as part of the fest’s honoree program. Previous recipients have included Morgan Freeman, Egyptian superstar Adel Imam as well as Indian uber-producer Yash Chopra.

Fest is also hosting a sidebar of French pics in its In Focus section. Among the pics selected are helmer Laurent Vinas-Raymond’s “I Forgot to Tell You,” starring Omar Sharif, and Francois Ozon’s “Le Refuge”

Gerard Butler will fly in to Dubai to receive Variety’s International Star of the Year award.

Fest runs from Dec. 9-16.

MUHR ARAB FEATURE COMPETITION:
Kamla Abu Zekry, “One-Zero”
Cherien Dabis, “Amreeka”

Shawkat Amin Korki, “Kick Off”
Oday Rasheed, “Qarantina”
Dima el-Horr, “Every Day Is a Holiday”
Fatma-Zohra Zamoum, “Unlucky”

Merzak Allouache, “Harragas”
Michael Khleifi, “Zindeeq”
Magdy Ahmed Aly, “Nile Birds”
Nassim Amaouche, “Farewell Gary”

Swel Noury and Imad Noury, “The Man Who Sold the World”

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