DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The 14th Dubai Intl. Film Festival kicked off Wednesday with the Middle East premiere of U.S. director Scott Cooper’s violent Western “Hostiles” playing up its underlying theme of reconciliation and Cate Blanchett and Patrick Stewart providing some Western star power on the glitzy red carpet dominated by top Arab and Bollywood talent.
Blanchett, in fine fetter, after praising the fest for celebrating “diverse voices within the region” noted on stage that she was the opening ceremony’s first honoree: “It’s ladies first tonight, which is probably a good motto heading forward for the film industry,” she said.
Also receiving awards from Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the son of Dubai’s ruler, were Indian icon Irrfan Khan (“Inferno,” “Life of Pi”) who said that “cinema has given him the strength to live in times of insecurity”; revered Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamed, who got a standing ovation; and Stewart who noted that: “Not only Hollywood, but Europe and the outside world are in turmoil presently,” and added: “I believe that cinema has a role to play in bringing some of that turmoil to an end.”
Other top international and Arab talents sighted strutting down the Madinat Arena red carpet include Vanessa Williams; Bond girl Olga Kurylenko; Egypt-based Tunisian star Hend Sabry; Bollywood star Sonam Kapoor; Switzerland-based Indian director Anup Singh (“The Song of Scorpions”); Lebanese/Australian model Jessica Kahawaty; Lebanese TV personality Raya Abirached and Turkish TV star Tuba Buyukustun, who is known in the Arab world as Lamis.
United Arab Emirates culture minister Noura Al Kaabi, a film buff who also heads Abu Dhabi’s Media Zone Authority which drives the film industry in the region, noted in her remarks that “over the past decades Arab filmmakers have been able to fight radicalisation and violence.”
After “Hostiles” producer Alex Bloom and star Q’orianka Kilcher took the stage to briefly introduce the pic, Cooper in a taped video message pointed out that in the U.S. “the cultural divide is getting wider by the day, just as it was in 1892 when our film is set” when America was living “in the dark and unforgivable times of attempted genocide of our indigenous peoples.”
The helmer then added that it is his hope “that ‘Hostiles’ will begin a conversation about the need for inclusion, reconciliation and healing.”
A mix of new Arabic movies and standouts from the international festival circuit, including many awards season hopefuls make up the more than 140 titles that will be unspooling in Dubai through December 13. The fest will close with crowd-pleaser “The Last Jedi,” one day before the Middle East theatrical release of the latest instalment in the “Star Wars” saga.