DUBAIThe ninth Dubai Film Festival kicked off in high gear Sunday with Ang Lee’s 3D epic “Life of Pi,” a slew of stars on the red carpet including jurors Cate Blanchett and Freida Pinto plus Egyptian icon Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, and its strongest lineup of Arab pics ever. Tubthumping “Life of Pi” were Indian newcomer Suraj Sharma, picked by Lee from 3,000 actors to play Pi; thesps Adil Hussain and Sharavanthi Sainath; plus Fox Intl.’s Paul Higginson and Toby Tennant. Pic will roll out in Europe and the Middle East beginning Dec. 19. Amid a rich roster of international pics, the fest has a prominent Arab component. “Today we have 17 Arab features competing in the official selection, which I think is the highest number we’ve ever had,” said DFF chairman Abdullhamid Juma. Some even germinated in Dubai, such as Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,” which Sony Pictures Classics will release in the U.S. next year and which will get a Dubai gala screening. ” ‘Wadjda’ started out under the umbrella of the Dubai market and we are proud of that,” Juma said. The Dubai Filmmart, the main market for Arab cinema and a prime platform for Asian and African pics, also kicked off Sunday with more than 300 films on display. Juma noted that there are a lot of Iranian buyers in Dubai who, besides Arab fare, are seeking European films that would otherwise be difficult for them to buy due to travel restrictions dictated by the country’s political climate.