Desert fest opens many screen doors to regional filmmakers

Screening 157 films from 57 nations, the seventh Dubai Intl. Film Festival is nothing if not bold in intent. Already the biggest fest in the Gulf, DIFF this year is staking its claim to be the premiere event in terms of its Arab cinema program, ahead of the increasingly efficient and comprehensive fests of its neighbors, Abu Dhabi and Doha Tribeca.

“Almost half of the films we’re showing are made by Arabs or are about Arab people, subjects and places,” says DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya, “fulfilling our primary aims to be a festival that is both a platform for Arab cinema and a key player in developing the local Arab film industry.”

“It’s the largest selection of quality, contemporary Arab cinema anywhere in the world,” adds Abdulhamid Juma, DIFF chairman, “and that makes it extra special.”

As well as the Arab films, which will screen in competition in the Muhr Arab and the new Muhr Emirati Awards sections as well as out of competition in the Arabian Nights and Gulf Voices section, there will be a Muhr Asia-Africa film competition and an out-of-comp World Cinema section. Particularly of note is the fact that the new Emirati competition has 25 features, shorts and docs from local filmmakers, including “The Philosopher” from up-and-coming helmer Abdulla al-Kaabi and starring French superstar Jean Reno.

“I truly believe that anyone who wants to discover and better understand Dubai and the UAE should watch our fine crop of Arab cinema this year,” says DIFF artistic director Massoud Amralla.

Indeed, for the festivalgoing public, there’s much to look forward to, including 41 world premieres and red-carpet appearances from global stars including Sean Penn, Colin Firth (who’s receiving Variety’s International Star of the Year honor), Carey Mulligan, Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and Arab stars including Khaled Abol Naga, Bushra, Sabah and Raghda. There will also be gala screenings of “The King’s Speech,” “Tron: Legacy,” “The Way Back” and “127 Hours.”

Alongside the usual screening venues at the Madinat Jumeirah and Mall of the Emirates, a new outdoor screen at Jumeirah Beach Residence has been added this year, which will host family-friendly screenings and concerts under the fest’s Ryhthm and Reels section. There’s also a free new smartphone DIFF app providing the latest news and schedules, as well as the ability to purchase ticket screenings and watch coverage on YouTube.

For filmmakers and industry attendees, this will arguably be the most exciting DIFF yet with the establishment of the Dubai Film Market, running in conjunction with the fest from Dec. 12-19 and providing single-window access to the fest’s script development, post-production support, trade and distribution initiatives, the first time all of these have been consolidated into one place.

“The Film Market section of DFM is something I am really proud of,” says Pandya. “The aim is to promote the sales and acquisition of films screening at the fest by providing a venue and library where any industry players can come and view the films privately and get hold of all the necessary information for acquisition.

“Audiences will also get to see the results of the DFC and Enjaaz funding programs with a total of eight features screening, three from the former and five from the latter, including our controversial Egyptian love story, ‘Cairo Exit,’ ” Pandya adds.

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