In a city like Dubai — which takes great pride in its reputation as a cosmopolitan, multicultural hub — Dubai Intl. Film Festival artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali stands out for his commitment to local filmmakers.
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 — which celebrate the best in Arab cinema — that overnight helped give the Dubai fest a cultural reason to exist beyond being a glitzy pre-Christmas getaway for stars and film execs.
Al Ali, who originally programmed only the Arabian Nights and Emerging Emiratis sidebars, is now the dominant creative authority over the overall program direction of the fest.
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,” Al Ali says. “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 currently dot its horizon, Al Ali originally wanted to be a filmmaker. He studied at the New York Film Academy and has completed four docus of his own.
On returning to the U.A.E., 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 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 U.A.E. every year. These are very encouraging indications. It is only a question of time, not ability or talent.”