Dubai programmers serious about kids' stuff

Cinema for Children section kicks off with 'Seven of Daran'

Complete Dubai fest coverage

DUBAI -- A mythical world where all animals were born, a rich white boy and poor black girl working together to prevent tribal warfare in Africa, a talking giraffe -- these are the elements that make up "The Seven of Daran: The Battle of Pareo Rock," the opening film of the Dubai International Film Festival's Cinema for Children section.

"Daran," which made its Middle East premiere Friday, brings a message of peace to a complicated, violent world, said the film's first-time director, Lorens Blok.

"For kids, it's always good to come at them with a universal message, a simple message that they can connect to," said Blok, a 2006 graduate of the Dutch TV & Film Academy in Amsterdam. "This film is about working together to solve a problem."

Produced by Amsterdam-based Rolf Visser and Felice Bakker of AAA Pictures on a budget of about $8 million, the live-action film shot in South Africa has played at European festivals and was distributed by Walt Disney in Holland.

Bakker, who is visiting the Middle East for the first time, said she was pleased to find how open-minded people here seem compared with their counterparts from other regions.

"They're very warm to us here," Bakker said. "I think it would be good for some places that think they're open minded to get this film. It would be good for the U.S. to have this film."

The Cinema for Children section also will screen "Gnomes and Trolls: The Secret Chamber" by Polish filmmaker Robert Rhondin, "Inkheart" from Briton Ian Softly, "Mia and the Migoo" by Jacques Remy Girerd of France, and the Japanese entry "10 Promises to My Dog."

Section programmer Myrna Maakaron said that director Katsuhide Motoki's "Promises" is "heartbreaking," but contends it's important to tell children "not everything is birds and butterflies."

Emirati Dina Dumyati Hamzeh, a working mother of three, brought her 9- and 5-year-old sons to see "Daran."

"I'm happy because Dubai doesn't have enough movies for children," said the chocolate shop owner. When a kids' movie does come to town, Hamzeh often balks because of the constant road construction near her house. "The theaters are all too far away. They need to build some in different areas."

Maakaron, who is Lebanese, said that only a very few children's movies get distribution each year across the Arab world. "Arab distributors think films are for adults and television is for children. But five kids movies are not enough."

Those that do hit the big screen in the region tend to be from Hollywood, such as "Madagascar" and "Kung Fu Panda." "This leaves out a wealth of movies from Africa and Europe and Asia," she said, happy to note a recent exception. "Gnomes and Trolls" will be distributed by Beirut- and Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment.

Maakaron, who lives in Berlin with her composer husband and their 2-year-old daughter, said that DIFF is proud to be encouraging children to get creative.

For the second year, the festival is hosting animation workshops with help from some of the filmmakers from the Children's and companion Animation sections, including award-winning U.S. filmmaker Bill Plympton. Plympton's animated feature "Idiots and Angels" headlines the animation section.