Dubai Festival Puts Focus on Arab Content, Hands Out Prizes

A streamlined Dubai Intl. Film Festival handed out their prizes Dec. 16 at a ceremony and dinner at the Burj Al Arab, sometimes labeled the world’s most luxurious hotel.

For the fest’s 11th edition, the number of awards have been stripped down (the Asia-Africa prize and acting honors were axed this year), allowing Dubai to focus more on Arab content. The jury, headed by filmmaker Lee Daniels, gave best feature in the Muhr competition to Yemeni director Khadija Al-Salami for her debut fiction feature, “I am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced,” a popular title tackling the highly-charged topic of child brides in Yemen.

The jury prize was awarded to Palestinian feature “Roshmia,” directed by Salim Abu Jabal, while Special Mention nods went to Hisham Zaman’s Norwegian-Emirati co-production “Letter to the King,” above, which preemed in Tromso, and Algeria’s “I’m Dead,” directed by Yacine Mohamed Benelhadj.

The top docu prize was picked up by Emirati helmer Nujoom Al Ghanem for “Nearby Sky,” about a maverick Bedouin woman who ruffles feathers by entering her beasts in camel beauty pageants, while a Special Mention was given to Jordan’s “The Council,” directed by Yahya Alabdallah.

Speculation was rife this edition about how the fest would stack up against last year’s more glittery 10th anniversary, especially with the elimination of the Dubai Film Connection co-production market as well as some of the prizes. Unquestionably the mood was more subdued, with demonstrably fewer guests and a feeling that the industry side, much touted by the Film Connection, was less a driving force. As with many initiatives in the United Arab Emirates over the past three years, the sense is that the festival is being guided to place greater emphasis on encouraging Emirati talent, not just with the Muhr Emirati awards for homegrown shorts. Inevitably, comparisons will continue to be made between the Abu Dhabi Intl. Film Festival, held in October, and DIFF, as both events jockey for the limited number of quality titles over such a short time span.

Dubai ends Dec. 17 with the regional premiere of “Into the Woods.”

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