Q&A: Masoud Amralla Al Ali

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As artistic director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali oversees the entire programming for the Dubai International Film Festival. His passion for knowledge, experience and expertise on all things cinematic have played a vital role within DIFF from its very first edition. In 2006, Masoud Amralla Al Ali was appointed as artistic director of Arabic programming and general coordinator of the Muhr Awards -- a platform that recognizes talent from the world of Arab cinema. He was responsible for selecting films from the Arab and non-Arab worlds for the Arabian Nights and Emerging Emiratis programming sections. In his capacity as artistic director of the UAE Cultural Foundation, he founded the Emirates Film Competition, an annual cinema event held in Abu Dhabi to promote Arab films and encourage Arab filmmakers from the UAE and the region. Masoud Amralla Al Ali is highly regarded as one of the region's best-informed experts on Arab cinema. He has directed several documentary films and writes extensively as a critic on Arab cinema in Arabic publications. Here he talks to the Gulf News' Kellie Whitehead about the planning and thoughts on this year's festival and the newest artistic additions.

Q: How do you and your team choose which strands to feature within each years festival?

A: It's not really a matter of choosing what to keep in and what to re-invent. We start planning a year in advance, if not more, and it is more about sitting down and analyzing what has gone before and what, perhaps, we may wish to take further next time. This may include coming up with new initiatives or particular countries on which we wish to focus. We will then choose the films that suit our overall vision for the upcoming festival. We look at ways on how we can improve in any aspects, and whilst focusing on Arab cinema, we try to bring new films to Dubai for our audiences. We basically ask ourselves, "What do we hope to achieve with the upcoming edition," and take it from there.

Q: The Asia-Africa section is a new addition to the Muhr Awards. Why was this region chosen?

A: This is a part of the world that is very much overlooked cinematically. There are many great Bengali documentaries made, for example, again, overlooked. It is our mandate to showcase the unknown to our audiences and we like to give something different to both our loyal patrons and those professionals from other festivals and film critics alike. We try to create a healthy balance and provide something that our competitors in this field do not. We have to be diverse in order to best match the filmmakers, the industry and our audiences.

Q: Can you describe the artistic evolution of the festival throughout its history?

A: It is only natural that the festival should grow over time. The growth has, however, been pretty amazing. For example, by adding a strand to the Muhr Awards, we have included 41 extra films. Our jury has evolved from two sets of 11 judges to the six sets of 22 that we have this year. Animation is a massive growth area, and we have introduced this to our program, so yes, we are truly evolving as the editions pass by. The vision of a "Cultural Bridge," however, is something that has been with us since the very beginning. We aim to start a dialogue between our audience, us and the industry. Whilst it is vital to retain these original facets, we need other initiatives to come and go, keeping us fresh as a festival.

Q: What are the essential attributes of an award-winning DIFF film?

A: Firstly, there is no 'checklist' or set of rules that a winning film should adhere to. It is a very emotional choice. The film has to really grab us and take us somewhere. Our programrs are experts in their field and, really, the selection process has started with the choice of the film to be shown within the festival. Our judges then look at the merit of a film as a whole. Whilst the technical aspects are vital, and emotions subjective, the piece has to really communicate its story to other humans. There is no style that we look for, even experimental work has its place and really it is just a matter of covering different tastes.

Q: Any advice for budding filmmakers out there?

A: Just keep doing it!
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