Dubai Film Fest: 5 Things Not to Miss

10:00 AM PST 12/05/2013 by Alex Ritman
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Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett's return and Saudi Arabia's first female director top THR's list.

This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

THE RETURN OF CATE BLANCHETT

Last year, in the midst of promoting the first installment of The Hobbit, Cate Blanchett landed in Dubai to judge the inaugural IWC Filmmaker Award, a tie-up between the fest and Swiss watchmakers IWC Schaffhausen. The actress clearly enjoyed the experience because she's heading back to help decide which of four nominated scripts by Arab directors will receive a $100,000 development boost. "Because the jury was made up of the likes of Cate Blanchett, it really raised the profile of my film," says Maysoon Pachachi, who won for her project Nothing Doing in Baghdad.

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THE CINEMATIC INNOVATION SUMMIT (AND GOLLUM)

Before the actual film festival gets underway, Dubai will play host to the inaugural Cinematic Innovation Summit, a two-day event held in the vast Atlantis, The Palm resort (the one on a massive man-made island) that will see various figures from the film and video game industries come together to talk shop and exchange ideas. Among the speakers are Andy Serkis, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith and The Weinstein Co. COO David Glasser.

RUSSELL'S AMERICAN HUSTLE

Only a couple of industry screenings in, David O. Russell's latest already is generating significant awards buzz. Despite the film's clear stateside storyline (FBI agents and New Jersey mafia types), Dubai will be the first festival to get its hands on the director's follow-up to Silver Linings Playbook, with the film closing the festival Dec. 14. There are rumors that a castmember will be popping over to the Middle East to keep the local paparazzi busy.

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SAUDI ARABIA'S FIRST FEMALE DIRECTOR

DIFF's efforts to support regional talent can be almost entirely summed up in Wadjda, the heartwarming debut feature by Saudi female director Haifaa Al-Mansour and the first Oscar submission from a country that famously has no cinemas. "It was just wonderful," says Jane Williams, the head of the Dubai Film Market, of the film about a 10-year-old girl who pushes the conservative boundaries of Arab culture. "It's the film that keeps on giving. It's finding audiences all over the world." The main winner at the festival in 2012, Al-Mansour is now set to return as a jury member in the Arab Feature category, sitting alongside Irish filmmaker Jim Sheridan.

ACADEMY-HOSTED EVENTS

Not content to feature a sizeable percentage of foreign-language Oscar hopefuls in its lineup, DIFF has gone a step further this year by partnering with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself. Sid Ganis, a producer and former president of AMPAS, will head the "Beyond the Oscars" panel, giving an overview of the organization's scope and initiatives, while Sundance winner Ava DuVernay and Elizabeth helmer Shekhar Kapur will offer a "Conversation on Directing" for local filmmakers. Says DIFF chairman Abdulhamid Juma, "This will be a fantastic opportunity for audiences to gain an extraordinary insight into their craft and films, and hear anecdotes from their careers."

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