Dustup over Dubai fest: Defamation suit filed



UPDATED 9:23 a.m. PT Dec. 13

Former Dubai International Film Festival chief Neil Stephenson filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court against two of the festival's senior officials, claiming they forced him out and ruined his reputation by branding him an "Arab hater."

The lawsuit accuses DIFF chair Abdulhamid Juma and managing director Shivani Pandya of defamation, intentional interference of contractual relations, intentional infliction of emotional distress and conspiracy for their alleged roles in ousting Stephenson from his spot as founder and CEO of the festival, the fourth edition of which is now under way.

Stephenson claims Juma and Pandya issued news releases in April stating he was a "racist, an 'Arab hater' and that he mistreated all Arab and Egyptian guests who attended the first three editions of the festival and falsely accusing Stephenson of lying in connection with his actual role in DIFF."

The news releases came out just before a conference Stephenson held in Cairo to discuss his ouster. He claims his reputation has been ruined as a result.

Juma and Pandya were in Dubai during the ongoing film festival and could not be immediately reached for comment. After several days of official silence, the executives came out Thursday with an official statement responding to the lawsuit.

"Mr. Stephenson left his position as CEO of the Dubai Film Festival after a disagreement about the future direction of the organization," the statement read. "Since then he has made outrageous and false public assertions about the personal behaviour of festival leaders and inflated claims about his own importance. The simple fact is that organizations sometimes change management, and with a change in management there is often a redirection of strategy. Mature executives understand and accept that fact. Instead, Mr. Stephenson has now filed a preposterous lawsuit in California that has no merit whatsoever.

"None of the allegations in the lawsuit occurred in Los Angeles or even in the United States. It would appear that Mr. Stephenson filed the suit in order to settle old grudges by making otherwise defamatory statements. Mr. Stephenson's conduct since departing the festival amply reinforces the view that he was ill-suited to his senior management position. We will vigorously contest this lawsuit and have confidence that we will prevail in court."

Although Juma and Pandya are based in the Middle Eastern country, the lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles because Stephenson claims both execs regularly travel to the city for business visiting studio lots and to attend film industry events like the Golden Globes.