'Bobby' opens dialogue at Dubai fest

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The third edition of the Dubai International Film Festival opened Sunday with a red-carpet gala for the screening of Emilio Estevez's "Bobby."

In attendance were the film's cast and crew, including Laurence Fishburne, Joshua Jackson, Joy Bryant and Nick Cannon, co-producer David Lancaster and executive producer Gary Michael Walters.

The eight-day festival will feature 115 films from 47 countries, with 38 premiering at the fest.

Rubbing shoulders with Bollywood and Arab film personalities on the red carpet were Diane Kruger, Prince Albert of Monaco and members of Dubai's ruling family. Hip-hop star Mos Def entertained the audience at the seaside resort of Madinat Jumeirah, the picturesque fest venue. With its network of meandering waterways, wooden water taxis and cobbled pathways lit by gas torches, the site felt a bit like Venice transplanted to Arabia.

In fact, cross-cultural understanding is a recurring theme this year — strongly underlined in the fest's programming, related events and choice of invited guests.

This week, director Oliver Stone and actor-activist Richard Gere will participate in a panel discussion on intercultural dialogue and reconciliation, to be moderated by Al Jazeera television journalist Riz Khan.

Stone is one of three film personalities (the others being Indian actor Shahrukh Khan and Syrian filmmaker Nabil el-Maleh) who will be honored with a career achievement award, the DIFF Salute.

The organizers believe DIFF, one of four major Arab film festivals, can do its bit to reduce the polarization between the Arab world and the West.

"One of our tasks has been to promote awareness and understanding of Arab culture while nurturing home-grown talent," DIFF chairman Abdulhamid Juma said. "There is no better medium to address our most pressing issues than the universal language of cinema. And there is no better platform for dialogue than Dubai, the crossroads between East and West."

This year, DIFF will launch a competitive section for Arab cinema — the Muhr Awards — with a purse of $325,000 to be divided among UAE filmmakers.

The impact of the conflicts in Iraq, Palestine and the recent war in Lebanon can be felt in the programming, which includes such provocative fare as "Babel," the closing-night gala, and Stone's "World Trade Center."

Representing diversity in global cinema are such films as "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," the Palme d'Or recipient at May's Festival de Cannes; "Charlotte's Web"; "Babel"; the Middle East premiere of "Hollywoodland"; and the world premiere of "Justified Cheating." Malian film "Bamako," co-produced by Danny Glover and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, also is on the program.

Dubai, one of the seven emir-ruled states that make up United Arab Emirates, has embarked on an ambitious agenda to diversify from its oil-based economy into real estate and tourism; it is in the throes of one of the biggest building booms in the world. The city is home to nearly 180 nationalities, a fact that inspired DIFF's tag line, "Bridging Cultures, Meeting Minds."
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