Dubai Fest calls 'cut' on a 'beautiful year'



Cultures were bridged, minds met. As the fourth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival drew to a close Sunday, organizers can look back on a mission accomplished.

"I feel we had really a nice year," DIFF artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali said. "This is the best, I think, of the four years. We had a good selection of films. I've been receiving comments all the time that this year films were great.

"In general, I believe we have a very beautiful year along with Rhythm and Reels, an initiative which the audience here in Dubai likes, dancing with the music of the films."

So how far has the event lived up to its own motto of bridging cultures and meeting minds? "This is a long-term goal. But mixing all these nationalities with the films, the different ideas and backgrounds, creates a platform for people to discuss openly. This is the achievement," Al Ali said. "(The festival guests) will learn more about us, about the Arab world, and the Arabs will learn more. Through the medium of film, which I think is a powerful medium, you can achieve something," he added.

Al Ali said that 90% of the Dubai screenings had sold out. "It makes us very happy to know that the audience is accepting the type of films we are showing," he said.

Jury members praised the quality of movies put before them. "We've seen some very good films. I think (this festival) is very important for this region, because they are just coming to cinema. Before, it was all business but they've realized you can't live solely on business and they are looking to introduce some culture," German helmer Margarethe Von Trotta said.

She cited Nouri Bouzid's competition title "Making Of" as an example of the kind of alternative perspective on view here. "It deals with how someone can become an Islamic fundamentalist. That for us was something new told from the (region's) point of view," she said.

"I found there are some extraordinary films here," fellow juror Renzo Rossellini said. "I was on the jury at the Cairo Film Festival three years ago and I see a great progress."

On the industry side, the new initiatives, such as the Dubai Film Connection and industry panels and consultations found a receptive audience. "The filmmakers and producers found it very active and very useful, there were really productive meetings," Al Ali said.

"The infrastructure has grown, which has created more opportunities to meet with the local film community, which was lacking before," added Chris McDonald of Toronto's Hot Docs documentary festival and market.

With the event's ambitions to emerge as shopping place for Arab cinema, the question is: Do you buy in Dubai? Inevitably, the festival's appeal remains largely niche, with programmers from other festivals and local distributors the main source of activity.

A trio of Dubai movies are in advanced negotiations for Middle East distribution: Jordanian picture "Captain Abu Raed," directed by Amin Matalqa, Nabil Ayouch's tale of a New Yorker who becomes a belly dancer; "Whatever Lola Wants"; and Algerian War epic "Intimate Enemies."
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