Global culture in Dubai panel's sights



DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Beyond the glitz and the glamour of the fourth annual Dubai International Film Festival lies, what organizers believe, is "a bringing together boundaries of nationality, time, religion and togetherness." So said DIFF artistic director Simon Field, speaking about the festival's Cultural Bridge Panel, set for Thursday at the Madinat Theatre.

Now in its second year, the program -- which boasts a panel consisting of Brazilian novelist and keynote speaker Paulo Coelho, actor-director Danny Glover, Cape Town novelist Rayda Jacobs, Beirut journalist Gisele Khoury and London-born reviewer Cameron Bailey -- aims to act as a connection between filmmakers from around the world as they tell their particular stories and, in the process, open up access to new cultures.

"One of the principles of Dubai itself is being a gateway to different cultures," Field said. "You become very conscious here that you're in a completely different configuration of worlds than you are of when you're in, say, London. What we wanted to do was to try and put some flesh on it in terms of discussions, so it will draw out the idea of what it means to be a cultural bridge, and to explore that in a concrete way with writers or filmmakers."

Cultural Bridge programmer Hannah Fisher, meanwhile, was upbeat and full of hope for the panel's potential to produce a lively discussion.

"We're bringing together very strong-willed people to talk about their own personal experiences," Fisher said. "Maybe having a dialogue to talk about issues and to talk about films, specifically cinema, is a way for people who have had unique experiences and a different blend of culture to share their stories."

But can a panel such as this have a real bearing on a region such as the Middle East?

"Hope springs eternal," Fisher said with a smile. "Wherever you go in the world, people care about their families and about their children. That is universal wherever you are. So when you get down to the point, there is no difference. If that can be felt and talked about and understood here, why can it not be related into something that happens in the world?"

Simon Field has his own take on the panel's aims.

"One of the things you like to do is characterize your festival in a particular way, and that's very particular to this part of the world, and Dubai (International Film Festival) is the one that has proposed it," the DIFF director said. "China, Afghanistan, Inuit filmmakers in Northern Canada -- you're bringing together the world. With a panel like this you can make the issue much clearer. And by choosing certain types of films, like 'Kite Runner' or 'The Edge of Heaven,' which are high-profile films, then you put them in a context, which makes people think about that idea of an exchange of cultures."