Dubai Fest hopes to strike chord

Organizers see Dubai Fest as way to introduce Arab cinema

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The Dubai International Film Festival got under way Sunday, marking a major step forward in the evolution of what quickly has become the region's premier film event.

The increasing profile of the DIFF -- in only its fourth edition -- also signifies progress in achieving the organizers' goal of drawing much-needed attention to a thriving local film sector often overlooked on the international film scene.

"The festival is an instrument to showcase Arab cinema," said Simon Field, artistic director, international programming. "It's a way of nurturing that cinema and helping a cinema culture grow in the region. We are bringing in a local public and an international audience to see a very broad range of Arab cinema."

Programming consultant Hanna Fisher added that "the fest credo is 'building cultures, meeting minds,' " pointing to the diversity of the Cultural Bridge panel, which includes American actor Danny Glover and a keynote address by Brazilian-born writer Paulo Coelho.

"We want to create a situation where cultures can meet," Fisher said.

Field said that the fest is beginning to benefit from increased interest by major players in the West, who are increasingly recognizing the DIFF as a means toward bridging cultural gaps.

"The key people are beginning to come here," he said, citing the participation of A-listers including Sharon Stone and George Clooney, who were on hand Sunday for the opening-night gala screening of Clooney's legal drama "Michael Clayton."

Clooney's attendance is seen as a major coup for a festival that already has achieved a level of recognition that can take years, if not decades, to acquire.

"What is amazing about the festival is that it has hit the ground running," Field said with a wry laugh. "This is characteristic of Dubai -- everything must be built quickly and succeed," referring to the myriad construction sites throughout the city.

Field was quick to add, however, that despite the increased glamour Hollywood stars can bring to the festival, the focus remains on celebrating and fostering a cinema that he feels often is misunderstood.

"This is a moment when, for various reasons, a lot of eyes are on this region," he said. "I think often people have stereotypes of Arab cinema. One of the functions of this festival is to showcase a broad range and reveal what is really there."