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The Dubai International Film Festival kicked off Wednesday evening with arguably the most politically charged message in the event’s 12-year history.
In his opening remarks, festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma gave an impassioned speech, which, while carefully avoiding mentioning the Islamic State by name, took aim at the ongoing violence reverberating across the Middle East and highlighted cinema’s role in affecting positive change.
“Tonight we inaugurate the festival amid grey clouds, at a difficult time where glowing fires, contradictory views and foggy thoughts are all over the world,” he said, adding that the 134 films in the festival’s lineup represented “creative and bold” attempts to explain what was happening in the world.
“They (the extremists) want us to resort to a dark jail where they can practice their torture rituals, as demonstrated in Majed Al Ansari’s film Zinzana. They want to hijack our religion, our security. They want women to be an item they can buy and sell, with no rights, while woman in fact continue to fight for a better life, as portrayed in the movie Suffragette by Sarah Gavron. They want to take us back to the age of slavery, which we got rid of 1,400 years ago, as in the movie Bilal by Ayman Jamal and Khurram Alavi. They want to corner us, isolate us from the outside world, as you will see in tonight’s screening Room by Lenny Abrahamson.”
Juma urged those in attendance to “stand together, tight and firm,” against the chaos spread by a “small minority that wants to dominate a large majority.”
“In the name of cinema we all gather here to say no: no to the inhumane, no to the ugly.”
The curtain-raiser Room played to a packed crowd at the Madinat Arena, the festival’s long-serving hub, where its young star Jacob Tremblay was in attendance just hours after being nominated for a SAG award for best supporting actor.
“It’s a very exciting time for me because this is a very fun place,” the 9-year-old said onstage. “Lots of people here are nice and it’s super warm.”
Catherine Deneuve was also welcomed to the stage to collect the event’s lifetime achievement award, while other names on the red carpet included Dev Patel, Richard Dreyfuss, Michael B. Jordan and Egyptian comic Bassem Youssef.
Alongside those referenced by Juma, the festival will also see screenings of titles including The Man Who Knew Infinity, Spotlight, Truth, Concussion and The Lady in the Van before closing with The Big Short on Dec. 17.
With its new status as the Middle East’s only major international film event — following the shuttering of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in May — Dubai has also brought together some of the year’s finest Arabic offerings, including 11 locally made features.
Dec. 10 will see the regional premiere of Zinzana (Rattle the Cage), considered the United Arab Emirate’s first genre film, which first bowed earlier this year at the Fantastic Fest in Texas. A former Black List script picked up by emerging local director and recent UTA signing Majed Al Ansari for his debut, the neo-noir thriller follows hot on the heels of comedy From A to B, which opened the last Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014 and comes from the same local banner Image Nation Abu Dhabi.
Zinzana producer Rami Yasin spoke about how the success of regional festivals, headed by Dubai, together with the arrival of Image Nation had changed the landscape for local filmmaking, which has witnessed a dramatic upswing in recent years.
“Image Nation is achieving something that people have spoken about for many years. But nobody had the right structure, know-how or means to do it,” he said. “The speed at which we are turning out these films now is incredible.”
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