Man on a mission

The DIFF's Masoud Amralla Al Ali has played a key role in building Dubai's film industry from the ground up.

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Widely credited with kick-starting the United Arab Emirates' burgeoning film industry, Masoud Amralla Al Ali was recently announced as the managing director of its latest film event, the Gulf Film Festival. An expert on Arab cinema, the soft-spoken demeanor of DIFF's artistic director belies his great achievement: helping to steer a grassroots following of passionate filmmakers into a festival whose global acclaim grows with each edition.

Dressed in the traditional white dishdasha of the UAE, Al Ali is unequivocal in his belief that film festivals are a key aspect of developing a viable film industry here.

"Without film festivals in the UAE, we wouldn't have this movement at all," he says. "With the Emirates Film Competition and with DIFF and the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), the events are creating the movement -- so I think we are playing a major role. I am sure in the upcoming years we will start to see locally made feature films."

Al Ali has been with the DIFF since its inception. A keen filmmaker himself, his own struggle to find a platform for his early projects spurred him to launch the Emirates Film Competition in Abu Dhabi in 2001. Then known as Emirates Film Shorts, it provided a much-needed platform for local filmmakers to network and showcase their work. The competition, a new concept in a region then largely unreceptive to filmmaking, struggled to establish itself. It eventually launched with just four films. At the time, Al Ali said of the fledgling company, "This chance to screen films from the Emirates does not claim to establish a film festival. It is an attempt to penetrate through a mass of rigidity that surrounds an important cultural venture which is ignored."

Just six years later, Al Ali's determination and vision has paid off, and he has seen the arrival of four more film events: DIFF, MEIFF, the self-styled 'grassroots' MINI Film Festival and the new Gulf Film Festival, which was announced earlier this year. Reflecting on the explosion he has helped ignite, Al Ali is surprisingly modest and understated. "Now we have the film festival, and today, in Media City alone, we have 100-plus production companies. I can really see the region is now the focus; everyone is interested in the Arabs. Last year (for DIFF), we had 58 films from the Arab world. We received over 300 entries this year for the Arabic films, shorts and documentaries."

At the helm of one of the world's most exciting new festivals, he has struggled again this year -- not to find films, but to decide which ones are to be included in the lineup.

"From around the 300 or so films we selected, we had to say no to 250 films -- a difficult decision to make because you know that they are all good."

Keen to give young filmmakers a voice while luring moviegoers away from a steady diet of Hollywood action blockbusters, Al Ali knows the key is to keep developing. "On the programming side, I want to deliver something for the filmmakers, which will help the industry," he declares.
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