x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Dubai red carpet rolls out for 41 world premieres

The seventh annual Dubai International Film Festival promises to be the biggest and best ever, with 41 film reels being released from their cases for the first time.

A man walks on the red carpet during the fifth Dubai International Film Festival in 2008.
A man walks on the red carpet during the fifth Dubai International Film Festival in 2008.

It's probably fair to say that Dubai has never really been one to shy away from world firsts. In many ways, it's been the factor that has defined the city over the past few years. But while towers, fountains and palm-shaped manmade islands are all great material for postcards, when it comes to sheer numbers of international number ones, the third week in December this year could easily be the city's most rewarding, with 41 world premieres set to be screened at the seventh annual Dubai International Film Festival (Diff).

Last year's event by comparison aired just 29. And as for the inaugural Diff, way back in 2004, there was just one.

Alongside the 41 film reels being released from their cases for the first time, there will also be 58 Middle East premieres and 13 international premieres (not shown outside their home countries). It all makes for rather impressive viewing.

"This is what makes a film festival strong," said the Diff chairman Abdhulhamid Juma at the official announcement. "People come to festivals to see films they haven't seen before."

Among the world premieres, there's the eagerly anticipated Cairo Exit by Hesham Issawi. Gritty and uncompromising, this drama lifts the lid on the streets of Egypt's capital and the lives of its lower classes, touching on social and cultural taboos and using natural lighting and handheld camera work to reflect the frantic rhythms of life across the sprawling metropolis.

Also from Egypt, there's another world premiere with 678, the directorial debut from Mohamed Diab, named after a Cairo bus route taken by the main character. As with Cairo Exit, taboos rear their heads again, this time in the form of sexual harassment, witnessed through the eyes of three different women from three different walks of life.

Both Cairo Exit and 678 are receiving gala screenings, with many of the stars - including the Egyptian singer and actress Bushra, the heroine in 678 - set to grace the red carpet at Dubai's Madinat Jumeirah.

Moving closer to home, there are 12 world premieres from the Muhr Emirati Awards. Among these is Abdulla al Kaabi's The Philosopher, starring Jean Reno as a Parisian bon vivant who embarks on an ill-advised quest of ascetic contemplation. Reno will be in Dubai for the occasion. Then there's Letters to Palestine, a moving documentary from local TV producer Rashid al Marri, in which Emiratis and UAE residents express their support for those living under occupation in Palestine. The film includes emotional clips of Palestinians living in the West Bank viewing the footage.

Another world premier swings into town from Indonesia. Prison and Paradise is based on the book Temanku Teroris, looking at the Bali bombings in 2002. Following a journalist from The Washington Post who also used to share a room with one of the perpetrators, this documentary by Daniel Rudi Haryanto offers unparalleled access to those behind the bombings while discussing issues ranging from terrorism to human rights, and makes for compelling viewing. Lebanon is also represented strongly with world premieres in the Muhr Arab Documentary section. Malaki - Scent of an Angel is the story of the mothers of those who disappeared during Lebanon's bloody civil war who are still campaigning for an answer. Over 18,000 are still unaccounted for. Slightly more light-hearted is All About My Father, a loving portrait of Beiruti barber Elius Sfeir. For the past 70 years, Elius has been trimming the barnets of Lebanon's movers, shakers, politicians and royalty, and amassed a lifetime of anecdotes and gossip from behind his barber's chair. The documentary was made by his award-winning filmmaker daughter, Zeina.

The Road to Bethlehem is one of several premieres from Palestine, which is also well covered this year (although not quite as much as 2009). Returning to her hometown to make a film about Israel's illegal wall, the acclaimed filmmaker Leila Sansour spent five years making this intense and insightful documentary on the physical and psychological effects the barrier has on Bethlehem's population.