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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Diff 2017: Emirati cinema takes centre stage at this year's festival 

Beyond the big international names, however, Diff has always served as a vital incubator for home-grown Emirati cinema

A scene from 'Camera' directed by Abdullah Aljunaibi. Courtesy Diff
A scene from 'Camera' directed by Abdullah Aljunaibi. Courtesy Diff

The Dubai International Film Festival has hosted some stellar names since its debut in 2004.

Hollywood giants such as Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Danny Glover and Samuel L Jackson have all graced the festival’s red carpet over the years, while directing talent to have appeared at the festival includes former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam, Vietnamese legend Tsui Hark and indie darling Werner Herzog.

Looking across the Indian Ocean, Bollywood has also been well represented with the likes of Asha Bhosle and Shah Rukh Khan among the names who have passed through, while giants of Arabic cinema including the late Omar Sharif and Hollywood’s favourite Arab director Hany Abu Assad have all dropped in, too.

Beyond the big international names, however, Diff has always served as a vital incubator for home-grown Emirati cinema, with the annual Muhr Emirati prize offering Emirati cinema’s most prestigious award, while the Ministry of the Interior also offers an annual US$100,000 (Dh367,290) prize for the most promising Emirati screenplay. From the tiniest micro-budget short to the local films with an international release, the full spectrum of Emirati cinema is represented.

The festival screened an Emirati feature film for the first time in 2009.

Ali F Mostafa’s City of Life received its world premiere at the Madinat Jumeirah. Mostafa returned last December with his latest feature, Image Nation Abu Dhabi production The Worthy, hot on the heels of its global premiere at October’s London Film Festival. Mostafa’s Image Nation stablemate Majid Al Ansari was the hot Emirati ticket in 2015 – his thriller Zinzana took its regional bow to rave reviews following a world premiere at Austin, Texas’s Fantastic Fest a few weeks previously. Al Ansari is currently producing a further slate of films for the Abu Dhabi studio, so don’t be surprised to see these taking a bow at future editions of Diff. A year before Al Ansari, Waleed Al Shehhi took his turn on the red carpet for the gala premiere of his IWC-award-funded Dolphins. All these films went on to achieve a cinema release, and in Zinzana’s case, the movie was also snapped up by streaming giant Netflix.

Emirati film-making will take centre stage once again at this year’s event. Some 13 Emirati films will be competing in this year’s Muhr competition, equalling last year’s record number since the awards were launched in 2006, and all receiving their world premieres at Diff. The Muhr Emirati category celebrates rising local talent from the UAE and shares the projects with a global audience. This year’s crop of local films includes five features and eight shorts, with Diff debutantes and seasoned returnees lining up to jostle for the prizes, worth up to Dh75,000. Take a look at this year’s contenders.

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Feature

Sharp Tools – Nujoom Alghanem

Poet and filmmaker Alghanem is no stranger to Diff, having won at the Muhr awards twice in previous years. Her latest feature length documentary tells the story of Hassan Sharif, the founder of the conceptual art movement in the Emirates and one of the most influential, and controversial, artists of his time. Alghanem is something of a compulsive documentarian, and she told The National: "People greatly inspire me: their world, stories, frustrations, hesitation, confusion, sadness, happiness, pain, passion. I search for those characters, learn about them and from them. I live with them and always try to enter their unknown world, explore the unspoken and find out about their special moments."

Friday, 6.30pm, Vox 1, Mall of the Emirates

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Birth – Abdullah Hasan Ahmed

Ahmed is another Diff regular, having won last year’s $100,000 (400,000Dh) IWC Award to move this year’s entry along, as well as picking up 2015’s Ministry of Interior Award for Best Societal Screenplay at DIFF 2015. Birth, which has also received support from Diff’s Enjaaz fund, is a tale about a simple Emirati family living in a mountain village. Taking place over a single day, each member of the household tells their story: the mother, who is worried about her camel; the father, who is stuck on a journey with a silent man; and the son, who loves football star Cristiano Ronaldo. What begin as separate tales slowly intertwine over the course of the day, as the family is brought together through destiny and birth.

Friday, 10.15pm, Madinat Theatre

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Camera - Abdullah Aljunaibi

Theres’s a repeat appearance theme developing among these year’s Emirati feature directors. Aljunaibi previously won Best Director in the Emirati Muhr section for 2012’s The Path, and returns this year with Camera, a psychological thriller which sees a group of friends discovering an abandoned mobile phone in the desert. The gang let their curiosity get the better of them, and after viewing videos recorded on the phone, it seems their innocent trip to the desert may not be quite as straightforward as it seems.

Thursday, 10pm, Vox 7, Mall of the Emirates

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Watermelon Club – Yaser Al Neyadi

Al Neyadi was last at the festival with the 2016 short Shrimp, and he returns this year with the feature-length Watermelon Club. The film follows six men that meet one night to practice strange and mysterious rituals at a farm outside of the city. The rituals make them face their shocking past and, soon, internal conflicts start to rise. The film stars Khaled Almaani, Khaled Alnaimi, Mohamed Saleh, Eissa Arab, Saeed Rashed, Sultan Alshamisi and Huda Alghanem.

Saturday, 6.45pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Shorts

Dimmed Light - Waleed Al Shehhi

Al Shehhi is already a familiar name to followers of Emirati cinema. He won the IWC Award to develop his film Dolphins in 2013, premiered it at Diff in 2014, and the film saw a nationwide cinema release the following year. He returns to the Festival with Dimmed Light by prolific Emirati writer Ahmed Salmeen. Indulgining his passion for animation, Al Shehhi’s latest short explores light and darkness in a mysterious way. An extinguished wick and a broken lantern sit in a devastating space. Will the wick be able to repair the lantern and bring it to what it once was, a source for light in the darkness?

Sunday, 9.15pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Wudu - Ahmed Hasan Ahmed

Ahmed brings the second film written by Ahmed Salmeen to this year’s festival, a tale of two very different siblings trying to live under the same roof. Baheet is a lively chef during the day and oud musician at night. Bahia is a female corpse shrouder. Living under the same roof, the two will discover if their intellectual differences and contradicting lifestyles lead to the end of their relationship.

Sunday, 9.15pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Goldfish - Abdulaziz Almannaei

Diff debutante Almannaei brings his short Goldfish to this year’s festival, a series of brief, often seemingly mundane, vignettes of life in Dubai designed to showcase the city’s diverse and multicultural nature.

Monday, 6.30pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Sarmad - Abdullah Alhemairi

The multi-talented Alhemairi both directs and stars in Sarmad. The director plays Omran, who wakes in hospital with no recollection of how or why he is there. He discovers a car in the parking lot under his name and with his new home address inside. Omran decides to follow the mysterious path and see where it leads him.

Sunday, 9.15pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Arasian - Ahmad Al Tunaiji

Topical fare from Al Tunaiji, who confronts racism in the UAE with Arasian. Khalifa struggles to hide his half-Filipino identity from his Emirati schoolmates, and goes to great lengths to ensure they never meet his Filipina mother. Conflicted, he also secretly befriends the Filipina cleaner at school. When the school bullies discover his secret, Khalifa is forced to make a choice. Will he stand up for his Filipino heritage or will he succumb to peer pressure?

Monday, 6.30pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Match - Obaid Al Hmoudi

Another Diff debut for Al Hmoudi, whose film follows two brothers whose lives are torn apart by the murder of their father. Match follows the different paths taken by the brothers after the death, and the consequences that come from their actions.

Thursday, 6.30pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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The Remaining Time - Mohammed Al Hammadi

Al Hammadi made his Diff debut as an actor in 2015, appearing in Humaid Alsuwaidi’s Abdullah. He now returns as the director of The Remaining Time. After aliens invade Earth, a girl is held in a room with a stranger and tries to survive the night.

Monday, 6.30pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Ghafah - Aisha Alzaabi

Alzaabi, who had previous Muhr success with 2015’s The Other Dimension, returns to DIFF with Ghafah, the story of Emirati women across three generations: Mahra, a young bride; Najla, a wedding organizer in her forties; and Um Ali, a 70-year-old who takes care of her grandson Rashid. The three live in their own unique world of despair yet, we learn, are somehow unavoidably connected.

Sunday, 9.15pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates

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Escape - Yaser Al Neyadi and Hana Alshateri

A second 2017 entry for Al Neyadi, Escape, is a collection of human and social stories that pass through a group of unrelated characters, who are trying to face several options in life.

Monday, 6.30pm, Vox 17, Mall of the Emirates