Stephenson sues Dubai fest officials

Claim alleges use of false press releases

Neil Stephenson, founder and former CEO of the Dubai Intl. Film Festival, has sued two senior officials of the fest, alleging they issued false press releases and other statements claiming that he was a racist and an Arab-hater. The false statements, the suit claims, were part of a plan to engineer Stephenson’s ouster from the confab.

The suit, filed Monday in L.A. Superior Court against Abdulhamid Juma and Shivani Pandya, alleges defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and interference with contract. Juma has since been appointed festival chair. Suit comes in the wake of the fest’s biggest opening-night ever, which saw the arrival of George Clooney to promote “Michael Clayton.”

The suit seeks compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, as well as punitive damages.

As detailed in the complaint, Stephenson conceived of the festival in the wake of 9/11 and first crossed paths with Juma, then CEO of Dubai Media City, when he announced plans for a Bollywood film festival in 2003. The two joined forces but used Stephenson’s ideas for a “cultural bridge” festival under the aegis of TECOM, the parent company of Dubai Media City.

Juma left the fest in 2004, but was brought back in 2006 despite the growing success of the festival under Stephenson. Upon his return as chairman, Juma banned Stephenson from the festival offices and falsely announced that Stephenson had resigned, the suit alleges. Juma enlisted Pandya, whom Stephenson had appointed managing director in 2006, to help him with Stephenson’s ouster. When Stephenson attempted to call a press conference to set the record straight, Juma had his representatives tell the media that Stephenson was a racist and an Arab-hater who routinely mistreated Arab guests at the festival.

Stephenson departed the festival in early 2007.

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