Film nabs feature prize at festival

The Gulf Film Festival closed Wednesday, with the Iraqi Kurdish film “Kick Off” nabbing the feature prize, while UAE film “Web of Faith” took best doc, Saudi film “Ayesh” was awarded best short and the UAE feature “City of Life” won the special jury prize.

Fest, now in its third year, was launched by the Dubai cultural authorities in the wake of the success of the now six-year-old Dubai Intl. Film Festival as a place for the Gulf’s often overlooked filmmakers to showcase their work.

And despite a tough year for Dubai’s economy, the fest drew more feature films and more overall entries than ever before, with fest honchos eventually whittling down 1,300 entries to 194 films from 41 countries.

“It’s the best year we’ve had in terms of feature films,” said Gulf Fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma.

Feature winner “Kick Off,” the second feature by Iraqi Kurdish helmer Shawkat Amin Korki, is based on a true story that takes place in a partially destroyed soccer stadium in Kirkuk, Iraq, that serves as a makeshift shelter for hundreds of refugees displaced by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers. It previously won the New Currents and critics awards in Pusan.

Special Jury Prize Winner “City of Life,” helmed by UAE national Ali Mostafa, also generated its share of buzz for its unflinching look at some of the darker sides of Dubai life. The first privately funded Emirati pic shot in English, it nabbed a distribution deal for the U.A.E. with Dubai outfit Gulf Film just before the start of fest, and its producers are in talks with international distributors for a wider release.

But dreams of distrib deals remained distant for most filmmakers at Gulf Fest, who view the fest primarily as a way to get the word out about their films.

U.K.-based helmer Haider Rashid, born to an Iraqi father and Italian mother, won the fest’s second prize for his feature “Tangled Up in Blue,” about the son of an Iraqi writer living in London who suffers crises of professional conscience and unrequited love for his best friend. He is happy with the attention the film has gotten in the Gulf, but that has yet to translate into commercial opportunity.

“Especially with the current economic climate, distributors are not keen on gambling too much,” he said.

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