'Under' stands over the rest at DIFF



Philippe Aractingi's timely relationship drama "Under the Bombs" took top prize Saturday evening as the Dubai International Film Festival handed out its Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema competition.

The Franco-Lebanese co-production, which chronicles an unexpected love affair that develops between a Christian cab driver and a Shiite woman from Dubai, won the gold award in the narrative feature category at the 4th annual event.

"This year our jury had difficulty choosing winners because of the superlative quality of most of the submissions, both from a story and production value standpoint," said Masoud Amralla Al Ali, DIFF's artistic director and coordinator general of competition. "We intend for the Muhr Awards to instigate the production of more Arabic films in the region. The Middle East is full of creativity and our roster of winners proves that unequivocally."

Aractingi is no stranger to DIFF. His 2005 film "Bosta," which was Lebanon's first post-war musical and an enormous success in the Arab world, screened at DIFF in 2005.

Competition director Mohammed Rouda says that "Bombs" made an immediate impact on DIFF programmers when it was submitted for consideration following a successful showing at the Venice Film Festival.

" 'Under the Bombs' was a documentary-style drama that is very exciting," competition director Mohammed Rouda added. "Made during war, it was one of my favorites and I was happy to receive it. Once we saw it, we liked the film. We put it at the top our list."

Runners up in the narrative feature category are silver winner "Making Of," the story of a man being drawn into fundamentalism from Tunisian Nouri Bouzid. Abdellatif Kechiche's French-set drama "Secret of the Grain," which tells the story of an elderly man who gets a new lease on life when he opens a restaurant, took the bronze.

In the documentary category, Franco-Egyptian director Karim Goury's "Made in Egypt" claimed gold. The film chronicles the director's attempts to learn more about a father he never knew. The silver prize went to "Magharat Maria," which looks at the unspoken phenomenon of Arab women being killed for infidelity, from Palestinian independent filmmaker Buthina Canaan Khoury. The bronze was awarded to Lebanese helmer Nassri Hajjaj's "Dhil Al Gheyab," which looks at the anxieties of the Palestian Diaspora.

Nada Abou Farhat was named best actress for her turn in Aractingi's "Bombs, while the actor nod went to "Captain Abu Raed's" Nadim Sawalha, who also had a small roll in the Arabian Nights Gala entry "Whatever Lola Wants."

Belgian filmmaker Borhane Alaouie, who was born in Lebanon, took the screenplay prize for the Franco-Belgian-Lebanese co-production, "Khalass." The film looks at three friends struggling to find direction in post-war Beirut.

Ali Mostafa was named best Emirati filmmaker. Based in Dubai, Ali is a well known UAE filmmaker whose credits include "Under the Sun," which won best Emirates film at the annual Emirates Film Competition.

Best Emirati female filmmaker went to the UAE's Nayla Al Khaja, who, at the age of 25, is already an established poet and journalist

The Emirati talent award went to Mohammed Saeed Harib, creator of the hugely popular animated TV series "Freej."

"Sarah," Belgian director Khdija Leclere's look at a woman who travels to Morocco in search of her mother, took the top prize in the short film competition. The silver went to "The Water Guard," UAE director Waleed Al Shehhi's examination of birth in a time of drought. Bronze winner "Garbage," directed by Lofti Achour, tells the tale of a lonely night watchman secretly in love with his neighbor.

The award for editing went to France's France Duez for Borhane's "Khalass."

Pierre Boffety was named best cinematographer for lensing Moroccan entry "Burned Hearts," which chronicles a young Paris architect's journey home to visit a dying family member.

Nejib Charradi was named best composer for the music for Bouzid's "Making Of."

"The films in competition were all very strong," juror Djamlia Sahraoui said. "It was a wonderful experience. The jury worked very well together. It was a very strong collaboration and a very positive experience."

"Both critics and audience members said this is the best year they have witnessed," Rouda said. "Many of these people have known the festival since its infancy. We received great feedback."