During the months running up to the next instalment of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), organisers do all they can to keep the names of the biggest stars in attendance very hush-hush.
DIFF officials have today revealed the confirmed line-up of films and talent taking part in the 8th instalment of the annual festival, which will begin on December 7 and continue on until December 14 – with a healthy dose of star power.
The first Hollywood megastar to be confirmed last week was Tom Cruise, who is opening this year’s festival with the much anticipated Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – eight days ahead of its international release date.
The film’s director Brad Bird will also be on the red carpet at Madinat Jumeirah, as will a few of the main cast including Paula Patton (Deja Vu, Precious) and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead).
“I know you are probably sick of me standing here every year, so I have a surprise for you. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Cruise!” jokes Abdulhamid Juma, chairman of the festival. “Well, he will be here next month to show his film, which features more than 25 minutes of footage in Dubai. We are ‘mission possible’, so it fits with what the city has been doing for the past 40 years.”
Masoud Al Ali, artistic director of the festival, says DIFF is proceeding according to schedule. “We are exactly where we want to be – we are on the right track. Our festival is evolving, growing in strength, size and stature, without compromising on the Arab identity,” he says.
“This might be the most difficult year we have endured, especially in the Arab section because of the exceptional quality the jury had to choose from.”
Other big names set to make an appearance on the red carpet include The Descendants’s director Alexander Payne (Sideways). The film, starring George Clooney, has been labelled as “Oscar-friendly” and will have a gala screening for its Middle East premiere. Unfortunately, Clooney will not be attending. His co-star, however – up-and-coming actress Shailene Woodley – will be in Dubai along with Payne.
Oscar-nominated director Warner Herzog (The Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn) will receive a DIFF Lifetime Achievement Award as well as serve on the jury for the Muhr Awards. Academy Award-nominated director Peter Weir, Michael Apted, Oscar-winning German director Volker Schlöndorff, director Mohammad Malas, Bengali filmmaker Gautam Ghose and German filmmaker Andreas Dresen will join Herzog on jury duty.
Other lifetime achievement award recipients will include veteran Egyptian actor Gamil Rateb and the Oscar and Grammy winning Indian music composer A.R. Rahman.
Helena Christensen, Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Anil Kapoor, and Egyptian stars Yousra, Ezzat Abou Ouf, Hani Salama and Amr Waked will all walk the red carpet, in addition to GCC talents Fakhira Khamis (Oman) Huda Hussain (Kuwait) and Zahra Arafat (Bahrain).
The movie My Week With Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis will also have its Middle East gala premiere at DIFF, during the Cinema of the World segment. The film documents the tense moments between Hollywood legends Marylin Monroe (Michelle Williams) and Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). The director is expected to be present at the screening.
Artistic director Al Ali says that there will be several filmmakers from the UAE returning, with projects such as Nujoom Al Ghanem’s Amal, Baseera by Ahmed Zain and Naser Al Yaqoobi, and Intruder! by Majid Alansari. Also, 13 films funded by Enjaaz, the dedicated post-production fund, will also be screened.
“The festival has a lot of pillars,” says Juma. “The team put a lot of effort to bring you celebrities, big budget movies, horror, independent cinema and exciting award ceremonies. We try to make the festival something you do not want to miss.”
The Muhr Emirati competition will feature 13 local films in competition, which include feature, documentary and shorts competitions, with prizes totalling US$138,000 (Dh507,000), US$90,000 and US$60,000 respectively.
Films competing include the Arab feature films Last Friday by Jordanian filmmaker Yahya Abudallah, Beirut Hotel by Lebanese Danielle Arbid and Boiling Dreams by Hakim Belabbes from Morocco. In the same competition, the documentaries competing will include Gate #5 by Lebanese filmmaker Simon El Habre and Aspirin and A Bullet by Syrian filmmaker Ammar Al Beik. Egyptian filmmaker Hady El Bagoory’s romantic film A Whole in One has been chosen as the Muhr Arab Feature, gala film world premiere.
Another Gala film is Christian Zubert’s dramedy Three Quarter Moon.
“The return of these directors to every edition of the festival symbolises mutual trust; and we are proud to say that our line up this year comprises a number of creative filmmakers who are showcasing their films for the fourth or fifth time,” says Al Ali.
Organisers say an unmissable Middle East premiere in the Arabian Nights segment is The Price of Kings, the biography documentary about late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and directed by Richard Symons.
Clint Eastwood’s much talked about film J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, about the first director of the FBI, will also see its Middle East premiere during DIFF.
In the Bollywood Celebration of Indian Cinema segment, Maneesh Sharma’s Ladies vs Ricky Bahl, filmed in Dubai, has been chosen as the gala screening for its world premiere. The comedy, about a man who cons ladies for a living, stars Parineeta Chopra, who is the sister of former Miss World Priyanka Chopra (attending).
For the Cinema for Children segment, Disney’s The Muppets has been chosen as the gala screening to lead the family-friendly line up, which also includes Oliver Deickmann’s When Santa Fell to Earth and Christian Ditter’s Wickie and The Treasure of the Gods, both making their international premières at DIFF. Arne Toonen’s Chubby Drums and Sarah Smith’s Arthur Christmas will also screen, for the first time in the Middle East.
Shivani Pandya, managing director of the festival, says DIFF has now become a place for “serious industry business”.
“The Dubai Film Market [running throughout the festival] grows from strength to strength. It’s a place where business gets done. Last year, more than 200 films were sold during the festival. Since the start of the Film Connection [DIFF co-production market], 50 per cent of scripts have been developed into film,” she says.
There will also be free biopics and musicals, accompanied by live performances for Rhythm and Reels, taking place in a purpose built open-air venue at The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence.
On December 10, the festival will organise, along with Swiss watch manufacturers a charity gala to be held at the Armani Hotel, proceeds of which will go to Dubai Cares and Oxfam.
• Festival date: December 7 to December 14
• Types of films to be shown: features, documentaries and shorts
• Total number of films: 171 from 56 countries in more than 32 languages, from Cantonese to Catalan
• World premieres: 46
• International premieres: 25
• Middle East premieres: 78
• GCC premieres: 7
• Films vying for Muhr Awards: 89, selected from more than 1,700 entries from 106 countries
• Categories of the Muhr Awards: 3; Excellence in Arab Cinema, AsiaAfrica Awards and Emirati Awards
• Total prize money for the 36 Muhr Awards valued at: over US$600,000 (Dh2.2m)
• Out-of-competition segments: Arabian Nights, Cinema of the World, Germany In Focus, Cinema of AsiaAfrica, A Celebration of Indian Cinema, Cinema for Children and Gulf Voices
• DIFF Lifetime Achievement Awards presented, in person, to the Egyptian actor Gamil Rateb, the award-winning Indian composer A R Rahman and the director Werner Herzog
• Gala films: 8
• Opening film: Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol
• Industry delegates registered to attend the festival: more than 1,100
Film highlights and stars
• Besides Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol on opening night, the festival’s nightly red-carpet gala screenings will include seven other films: the Bollywood romantic comedy Ladies vs Ricky Bahl; the Oscar-hot drama and George Clooney vehicle The Descendants; the Disney family favourite The Muppets; the German comedy-drama Three Quarter Moon; the Italian immigrant drama Terraferma; the Egyptian romance A Whole One and the British drama My Week With Marilyn.
• Among the celebrities confirmed to attend: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, director Brad Bird and producer Bryan Burk, Alexander Payne, Shailene Woodley, James Bobin, Helena Christensen, directors Peter Weir and Volker Schlondorff, Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, producer Ritesh Sidhwani, Amr Waked, Lebleba, Youssra, Ahmed El Zein, Youssef Al Khal. Owen Wilson will pay a visit to pick up a Variety Star of the Year award.
• The DIFF box office will open online on Thursday, November 24 at www.dubaifilmfest.com. Additional information is available through the festival’s dedicated customer care number, 363 FILM (3456).