Widely respected as a top Arab cinema expert, Dubai Film Festival artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali has been instrumental to creating the top platform for local pics in the Arab world. He spoke to Variety about how the event has helped foster a film industry from scratch in the Gulf and some of the main challenges faced by Arab cinema at large. Excerpts:

Why did you pick “Miss Sloane” as the opening movie?

It’s topical, it’s recent. It talks about what’s happening in the U.S. and how this can affect the world. Also the female character is very strong. All of these elements played into it. We have lots of female directors in the Arab world, maybe more than in the West. This year for the first time we have three films from Qatar by female filmmakers. We also have three from Saudi Arabia. I just came from a press conference [for Lebanese film “Solitaire”] where the only male on the panel was the moderator. So “Miss Sloane” connects with everything we are doing.

There are six Emirati feature films at the festival, which is a first. And there is also one [“Rashid & Rajab”] currently shooting in Dubai. How did the Gulf industry come such a long way?

I think the festivals in the Gulf – especially the first festival I started in Abu Dhabi a while back just dedicated to Emirati directors – started a movement. When Dubai began, in the first edition we had a small section with five shorts called Emerging Emiratis. Today we have the Muhr section dedicated to Emirati cinema which has feature films besides short films. I think festivals played a big role in helping the filmmakers find a way by creating an environment where we not only showcased films, but also pushed the industry with our funds and co-production market.

The biggest obstacle Arab cinema at large faces today is getting Arab movies to play on local screens. The Dubai Film Market has addressed this by creating a distribution prize. But what else can be done?

The Arab world doesn’t have a [film industry] system. It’s all a bit chaotic. When it comes to distribution, there is really a missing link. The efforts [marketing and distribution company] Mad Solutions is doing [in micro distribution, driven by social media] can help. And there are also other new distributors doing a great job. Now there is now a plan to launch Arab film awards [like the Oscars]. But a lot remains to be fixed.

The awards you just mentioned and the new Arab Film Institute which will launch them, have just been announced. How do you feel about this initiative?

We certainly need more industry initiatives, and something like this can help to provide more exposure for Arab cinema. The shuttering [two years ago] of the Abu Dhabi Film festival was a loss, and then subsequently losing their Sanad film fund was a further loss. We [at the festival] are doing new things to promote Arab cinema internationally. This year we started promoting two Arab films for Golden Globes consideration. Paradoxically when Arab movies do well outside the Arab world sometimes that provides the path for them to find a home in their own region.

What about the Oscars? In 2013 the Dubai Film Festival joined the ranks of festivals qualifying for  the Oscar short film competition. But does the UAE have a national film entity that can submit an Emirati feature film for Oscar consideration?

Not yet. But we are in the process of setting that up. Until recently we didn’t have any movies to submit, but now we do. So we are working on establishing a national motion picture association.