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DIFF news: Ilo Ilo wows, 12 Years a Slave shocks and Fruitvale Station moves audiences

A round-up of stories from the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival.

Maid’s story stirs crowd

Ilo Ilo, about a young boy’s bond with his Filipino nanny, struck a chord with the audience at its Middle Eastern premiere last weekend. The film is based on the director Anthony Chen’s real-life childhood growing up in recession-hit Singapore in the late 1990s and the relationship that he and his family had with their maid, Teresa.

Chen’s film is full of poignant observations of daily life with a domestic helper, such as when the father forgets that the maid is at home and walks into the kitchen in underpants. The film also shows the world through the maid’s eyes – she cries herself to sleep remembering her baby son back in the Philippines.

In a magical turn of real-life events, as the film gained traction in the Philippines, someone managed to track down Teresa. “I got to see my Auntie Terry again in July, for the first time in 16 years,” said Chen.

After watching the film by his side, Teresa, now a chicken farmer, told him proudly: “You made me laugh and you made me cry.”

Walkouts over violence

The graphic violence depicted in 12 Years a Slave had many of the audience members walking out of the theatre when it screened at DIFF on Monday. The film is based on the true story of a man from New York who is kidnapped and becomes the property of a depraved slave owner in America in the pre-Civil War era. As one male festival-goer put it: “It was very graphic, too graphic at times. Some scenes, I had to look away.”

One female audience member said: “Some of the content was horribly shocking ... but it needed to be.”

“I am American and I feel it’s shameful really, that part of our history,” said another woman who attended the screening. “It was an incredible film and very moving.”

The gut-wrenching violence was offset by the beauty of the scenery. And although it’s only the third feature film from Steve McQueen (following up on 2011’s Shame and 2008’s Hunger), the director is seemingly in the running for an Academy Award nomination. And if the reaction at DIFF is any indication, Chiwetel Ejiofor as the main character, Solomon Northup, may be, too.

“He was a brilliant actor,” said another male attendee. “He made it seem so believable.”

A powerful depiction

The second film screening on Monday night to tackle the contentious issue of American race relations, following 12 Years a Slave, was Fruitvale Station, a dramatisation of the true story of the killing of Oscar Grant by police officers in San Francisco five years ago.

The movie was a sell-out, with crowds of people waiting for standby seats as the film began. Afterwards, the audience broke out into spontaneous, thunderous applause.

Michael B Jordan, who walked the red carpet on the opening night of the festival, was praised for his acting skills.

“He was amazing. When the cop shot him, it gave me goosebumps,” said one young viewer from the US.

“The build-up to the moment of the shooting was so powerful,” said one woman who saw the screening.

“You knew it was coming, but at the same time, you didn’t expect it. I had a good cry,” another woman added.


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