DUBAI // The cream of Hollywood, Bollywood and Arab cinema are jetting into Dubai this week. And over the following days, veteran cinema idols such as Omar Sharif, Amitabh Bachchan and Faten Hamama will share the red carpet with other major stars, including Ranbir Kapoor, Gerard Butler, Christina Ricci, and Matt Dillon, at the sixth Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).
Two Hollywood blockbusters will also have their Middle Eastern premieres at the eight-day DIFF, which starts on Wednesday, ahead of their global releases. The first is the musical Nine starring Daniel Day Lewis and Nicole Kidman. This will be followed by Avatar, a science-fiction fantasy directed by James Cameron of Titanic and The Terminator fame. The festival will also see the premiere of the first big-budget feature film to be set entirely in the emirate, City of Life, which stars the British actor Jason Flemyng and is reputed to have cost US$7 million (Dh26m).
The festival line-up of 168 films from 55 countries includes 29 world premieres, including dramas, rock documentaries, animations and comedies. "Dubai will shine once again with stars from all corners of the film universe," said Abdulhamid Juma, the DIFF chairman. "In six years, the festival has grown beyond anything we could have imagined. We have come a long way since 2004. The DIFF message of bridging cultures through cinema, providing home-grown talent with the platform it deserves and building the foundation for a regional film industry echoes across the region and beyond."
This year's line-up more than doubles the 76 films from 27 countries that were screened in its inaugural year. Attendance has also soared, from 13,000 in 2004 to 49,000 last year. Even more are expected this year. The festival will kick off at the Madinat Arena with Nine on Wednesday, an adaptation of a stage play written by Anthony Minghella and Michael Tolkin. It is directed by Rob Marshall, who made Chicago, and stars Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz.
Thursday will see the world premiere of Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year, from the director of Chak de India, Shimit Amin. The film is a satire on Mumbai's booming information technology industry. On the same day, the Amfar charity gala, which aims to raise money for Aids research, takes place at the Dubai International Financial Centre. Dillon, Ricci and Mandy Moore, the US pop singer, are expected to attend the fundraiser along with Queen Noor of Jordan.
Lots at the auction include a portrait of Marilyn Monroe adorned in Swarovski crystals, a business-class trip to Las Vegas and a handbag personally created by the designer Karl Lagerfeld. Another world first will take place on Friday with the showing of City of Life, written and directed by Emirates-born Ali Mostafa, 28. The film centres on three people whose lives intertwine and features an international cast, including the Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels actor Flemyng.
Avatar, Cameron's long-awaited epic adventure, and his biggest project since Titanic 12 years ago, will be screened on the penultimate day of the festival, December 15. Several awards will also be handed out at the festival. Bachchan, accompanied by his Indian actress wife, Jaya, and his actor son, Abishek, will receive a lifetime achievement award for the 100-plus films he has made over the past three decades.
The Egyptian legend Hamama, who made her screen debut in 1939 at the age of seven, will be similarly honoured. Butler, who appeared in The Ugly Truth and PS I Love You, will be presented with the film magazine Variety's international star of the year trophy. They will be joined by Manisha Koirala, the Bollywood actress, and Sharif, who appears in the French film J'ai Oublié De Te Dire (I Forgot To Tell You) next Tuesday.
An array of Arab stars including the controversial Egyptian actress Somayya al Kashab, who starred in Al Rays Omar Harb, Mostafa Fahmy, Habib Gholoom, Samir Ghanim and Nelly Kareen, will also attend the event. For children, a screening of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel takes place on Friday. A total of 28 winning filmmakers will share $575,000 (Dh2.1m) in prize money for the Muhr Arab and Muhr AsiaAfrica awards. More than 900 entries have been submitted in categories ranging from features to documentaries and shorts.
Some of the more controversial entries include Budrus, which focuses on a Palestinian community leader who unites Fatah, Hamas and Israeli protestors to save his village from bulldozers. Shirin Neshat and Shaja Azari's Women Without Men, which has the 1953 Iranian coup d'état as a backdrop and deals with adult themes, is also set to cause a stir. "We have selected a series of hard-hitting films," said Masoud al Ali, the festival's artistic director.