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‘Ahlaam’ wins top honors at Gulf

First annual festival comes to a close

DUBAI — The first annual Gulf Film Festival (GFF) came to a close Saturday, awarding the Iraqi film “Ahlaam” as best feature, Kuwaiti film, “When The People Spoke” as best documentary and U.A.E. pic, “Tenbak” as best short.

The first edition of GFF, which comes four years after the launch of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), was pitched as a platform to showcase and encourage up and coming filmmakers from Arab countries across the Persian Gulf region, where film output is relatively small compared to the rest of the Arab world.

As a boon to the young industry, over $100,000 in prizes was awarded including 50,000 AED ($13,600) for best feature and 25,000 AED ($6,800) for both best documentary and best short. Second, third and special jury prizes were also awarded in most categories in addition to cash prizes for student documentaries and shorts.

Filmmakers from the fest’s host country, the U.A.E, took home the most prizes, receiving 13 out of a total 26 awards and special mentions, including three prizes awarded in an Emeriti exclusive scriptwriter’s competition. Iraqi filmmakers took home seven awards and special mentions, while Saudi, Omani, Bahrani and Kuwaiti filmmakers only received a combined six awards and mentions.

Feature winner “Ahlaam”–one of the first full-length pics shot on the tumultuous streets of post-Saddam Baghdad–was directed by Iraqi Mohammed Al-Daradji and has already won a number of prizes including best picture at this year’s Bangladesh Film Festival, best Arabic film at 2005 Cairo International film festival and special jury prize in the Arabe du Monde Cinema in Paris 2006.

The film highlights human rights abuses perpetrated by the Saddam regime by looking back at the tortured lives three Iraqis who’s paths cross during the US ‘shock and awe’ bombing of Baghdad in 2003. 

The winning documentary, Kuwaiti helmer Amer El Zuhair’s “When The People Spoke”, looked at a popular uprising against Kuwait’s government in 2006, exposing allegations of high-level corruption and police brutality.

The film, which has been banned in Kuwait, is the second part in a series by El Zuhair that looks at social change in his country. A number of other films screened at GFF were also banned by directors’ home countries with many tackling religious interpretation, which has been seen as a taboo subject.

Beyond the films in competition, GFF also presented lifetime achievement awards to Kuwaiti actors Abdul Hussain Al Reda and Saad Al Faraaj. U.A.E national, Ali Al Abdool, a TV and music video director, was also awarded in the same category.

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