Dubai film fest gets under way Sunday


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The fourth annual Dubai International Film Festival kicks off Sunday, bringing with it scores of seminars and discussion panels for industry players and film fans alike.

The festival, which runs through Dec. 16 and will screen more than 140 movies, operates a varied events program, covering everything from producing Arab films for Arab and Western audiences to a "speed-dating" meet-the-sales-agents session.

The program is seen as one of the gulf film festival's major highlights, with budding filmmakers, industry bigwigs and, occasionally, the odd movie superstar all rubbing shoulders at DIFF's Souk Madinat Jumeirah HQ, under the shadow of Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab seven-star hotel.

Kicking off the events program comes Coaching for Producers, which takes place Monday and enlists the talents of Jacques Akchoti, a onetime professor of directing and scriptwriting at French National Film School, Femis.

Los Angeles-based writer-producer Eric Preven also makes an appearance at the festival this year, where he'll lead the Showtime Comedy Workshop on Tuesday along with stars of the popular comedy trio "Axis of Evil."

The effects of Sept. 11 on Arab society in the U.S. are being explored in a specially created segment of the festival called "The 9/11 Effect."

The segment includes Hesham Issawi's "AmericanEast," which follows the life of Mustafa, an Arab-American living in Los Angeles after Sept. 11, and his Jewish friend Sam (Tony Shalhoub) and the violent consequences of their decision to open a restaurant together.

"USA vs Al-Arian" is a documentary about political activist Sami Al-Arian, who was arrested on suspicion of terrorism in 2003 and is still being held despite not being formally charged. The theme of wrongful confinement links three short films, "Al Ab Al-Mokhless" (A Father Taken), "Yasin" and "The Good Son." The latter is based on a true story from Canada, where a young boy is forced to translate for his father in an increasingly hostile interrogation from government agents.

"Arab cinema, like that of the rest of the world, often deals with the issues that are most dire and relevant to society," DIFF artistic director Masoud Amralla said.

"This year we noticed that many films dealt with the social atmosphere for Arab immigrants in North America after Sept. 11, 2001. We could not ignore this strong trend, and we decided to create the subsection as a timely and thought-provoking element in the festival."

The "9/11 Effect" films will screen during the entire festival.

For the second year running, cosmetic giant MAC will lend its support to the festival, with a master class related to makeup in film, MAC Workshop, on Friday. The class also will incorporate a presentation by senior MAC makeup professional Tiffany Johnston, titled Makeup for Period Film, which explores some of the looks and techniques used in movies set in historic times.

Other highlights from the events program include Philippe Aractingi's Bosta and Under the Bombs on Dec. 15, a discussion on the director's explosive debut film, "Under the Bombs," shot during the recent Israeli bombing of Lebanon and Bosta.