LONDON — In a city like Dubai that takes great pride in its reputation as a cosmopolitan, multicultural hub, Dubai Intl. Film Fest artistic director Masoud Amralla Al-Ali stands out as a proud local.
A native Emirati, Al-Ali has been integral in focusing the initially celeb-oriented fest into a more serious, meaningful showcase for Arab and world cinema. It was his idea in 2006 to launch the Muhr Awards, celebrating the best in Arab cinema, which helped give Dubai a cultural reason to exist beyond being a glitzy pre-Christmas getaway for celebs and film execs.
Al-Ali, who originally only programmed the Arabian Nights and Emerging Emiratis sidebars, is now the creative authority over the direction of the fest, the fifth edition of which unspools Dec. 11-18.
It’s a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly.
“In the last decade, Arab cinema has experienced a reawakening, or rejuvenation of sorts, yet it still remains absent in most international festivals as well as the Arab world,” says Al-Ali. “It is a priority of the festival to hone in and focus on Arab productions across the fields of feature films, documentaries and shorts. Year on year since its inception, the Muhr Awards have seen a steady rise in submissions. This is proof of the confidence and faith that has been placed between filmmakers and the festival.”
Born in 1967 in the emirate of Sharjah, long before the United Arab Emirates boasted the sprawling malls and skyscrapers that dot its horizon, Al-Ali originally wanted to be a filmmaker. He studied helming at the New York Film Academy and has to date completed four docus of his own. On returning to the UAE, Al-Ali set up the country’s first film fest, dubbed the Emirates Film Competition, in 2001. At the time the only entries were a handful of shorts and docs shot on video by local aspiring filmmakers. As with so much in Dubai, however, the growth has been exponential, something that Al-Ali is keen to nurture further.
“It is the responsibility of every Emirati national to work toward the betterment and success of every initiative undertaken in his home country,” he says. “One of our main priorities is to give Emiratis a voice within the film industry. This can’t be attained easily or overnight. We take baby steps toward our goal but with the existence of a festival or two, we will reach that goal. There are now 140 shorts produced in the UAE every year. These are very encouraging indications. It is only a question of time, not ability or talent.”