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‘The Last Jedi’ to Close Dubai Film Festival; Full Lineup Announced

Crowd-pleaser “The Last Jedi” will close the Dubai Intl. Film Festival before launching in the Middle East, part of an overall fest lineup that mixes premieres of Arabic movies with standouts from the international festival circuit. U.S. director Scott Cooper’s brutal Western “Hostiles” is slated to kick off Dubai’s 14th edition, which runs Dec. 6-13.

The festival is also feting prominent Egyptian screenwriter Wahid Hamed with a lifetime achievement award during the opening ceremony. Hamed’s long list of Egyptian film and TV credits includes big-budget 2006 contemporary Cairo epic “The Yacoubian Building,” directed by his son, Marwan Hamed, a watershed work that tackled taboo such as homosexuality and traveled widely.

Though no talent will be making the trek to Dubai for “Hostiles” and the latest “Star Wars” installment, Oscar-nominated multi-hyphenate Rob Reiner is expected to attend for the Middle East premiere of his drama “Shock and Awe,” which depicts the journalists who delved into unsubstantiated claims by former U.S. President George W. Bush that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Other U.S. pics being showcased include James Franco’s “The Disaster Artist,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” and Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing.” All told, more than 140 titles, comprising shorts and a showcase of VR works from around the world, will unspool, including plenty of awards season hopefuls.

U.S. documentary-maker Morgan Spurlock is expected to be on hand for the regional premiere of his latest film, “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!”, and to hold an onstage conversation, while Cate Blanchett will return to preside over the jury that will bestow the $100,000 IWC Filmmaker Award on one of four feature-film projects being developed by directors from the Gulf region.

As for the Arabic competition lineup, there is no shortage of world premieres – seven out of 18 titles. Many of the pics are “inspired by people surviving in war-torn countries,” artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali told Variety. These include Iraqi-Canadian director Bar Shamoun’s documentary “73 Degrees Celsius,” which follows three Iraqi children from different ethnic backgrounds whose lives were changed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and Annemarie Jacir’s “Wajib,” which is this year’s Palestinian candidate for the foreign-language Oscar. Both pics are supported by Dubai’s Enjaaz fund.

Almost half the Arabic competition is made up by works from female directors, including “The Man Behind the Microphone” from British-Tunisian director Claire Belhassine, about her grandfather, the popular Tunisian singer and composer Hedi Jouini; “Cactus Flower,” Egyptian director Hala Elkoussy’s  female empowerment road movie; and “Benzine,” Tunisian first-timer Sarra Abidi’s illegal immigration drama.

Prominent Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour will be launching locally her English-language biopic “Mary Shelley,” in which Elle Fanning plays the author of “Frankenstein” and lover of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, from Dubai’s Cinema of the World section. The section also features “The Square,” “Loveless,” and Jonas Carpignano’s “A Ciambra,” which are, respectively, Sweden, Russia, and Italy’s Oscar contenders this year.

The Dubai Film Market is hosting its first curated section for Arab TV projects, while its Dubai Film Connection co-production platform has selected 13 projects in development to compete for cash prizes.

Panels include “Women at the Helm” presented in partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and featuring Al-Mansour and directors Kimberly Peirce, Niki Caro and Dee Rees.

Recently elected AMPAS President John Bailey will hold a panel on cinematography, while Oscar-winning British costume designer Alexandra Byrne (“Elizabeth,” “Murder on the Orient Express”) is booked for a masterclass presented by Bafta.

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