Film fest directors go fishing in Dubai

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- It may only be in its fourth edition, but the Dubai International Film Festival has leapfrogged into pole position as a place to source films from the Arab world, according to festival programmers here.

"I've been to this festival three years consecutively, and I see it growing as a showcase for Middle Eastern product. It has clearly taken root in the region, judging by the number of industry professionals in attendance," said Deborah Young, director of the Taormina Film Festival. "Our interest in Arab cinema is very strong so we need to be in Dubai, possibly more than Cairo (International Film Festival)."

In fact, Young said Taormina is working on putting together a small selection of films from the Dubai lineup to screen at the Sicilian event in June. "It will be branded as Dubai festival films," she said.

Tribeca Film Festival chief Peter Scarlet also found the Emirati confab a valuable fishing ground. "I think it's become a more vital meeting point for people from all over. They've been able to throw a lot of money at putting various facilities together, but they've done it well. I think the program is stronger this year," said Scarlet, who said he expected to invite several Dubai titles for the upcoming Tribeca event.

"I've seen a few things that I'm very seriously interested in, but it's a little early for me to be announcing titles officially," Scarlet said. "(Programmer) Uma (Da Cunha) is always doing a fantastic job of the Indian programming. In fact there's a couple of films that I especially like this year that I haven't seen before."

Last year, around one-sixth of the entire Tribeca program was from the wider Islamic world. "I think, given the moment of history we're in, that films from this part of the world are especially important to screen in North America," Scarlet said.

Violeta Bava, programmer of the Buenos Aires Film Festival, the largest film event in Latin America, agreed that Dubai has become a useful one-stop shop for the region's output. "It's very good for me to look at films from the region. I've found two or three things that I would like to select," she said. Bava said Dubai's film library where participants can screen movies at times to suit their schedule is a practical tool not available at most festivals.

DIFF's lineup of documentaries also is providing rich pickings. "The program is strong and getting stronger every year," said Chris McDonald, executive director of Toronto event Hot Docs, North America's largest documentary festival and market. "It's become the festival for documentaries from the Arab world, McDonald said he'd seen several exciting Middle Eastern titles in Dubai, citing Al Massad's Jordan-set story about an ex-Mujahideen, "Recycle," and the personal Franco-Egyptian story "Made in Egypt," directed by Karim Goury.
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