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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Diff 2017: President Trump's Jerusalem decision hangs heavy over opening weekend

Arab filmmakers launch a petition and Rob Reiner makes scathing attack on the United States president after he declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel

Director Rob Reiner attends the "Shock and Awe" red carpet on day four of Diff. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images for Diff
Director Rob Reiner attends the "Shock and Awe" red carpet on day four of Diff. Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images for Diff

It was a packed weekend of cinema at the Dubai International Film Festival, although politics stole the limelight following United States president Donald Trump's decision on Thursday to unilaterally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Onscreen, highlights included a packed gala screening of family favourite Jumanji, and a standing ovation for James Franco’s The Disaster Artist, which tells the story of The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s US$6 million (Dh22 million), cult 2003 favourite, better known as “the worst film ever made”.

On Thursday night, Cate Blanchett presented the $100,000 IWC Filmmaker Award to Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda) for her in-development project Miss Camel, the story of an aspiring Saudi artist who is desperate to escape her arranged marriage and study art in a neighbouring country.

The following evening, the glitzy Global Gift Gala rolled into Palazzo Versace Dubai, with performances from Despacito star Luis Fonsi and Singapore-based, Japanese opera singer Seia Lee among the acts working to loosen the crowd's wallets for the evening’s charity auction. Among the night’s biggest earners were a boxing glove worn by the legendary Muhammed Ali, which fetched $15,000 and a Salvador Dali engraving that sold for $20,000.

It was two artists in attendance however, who were the night’s real big earners, however. Oscar-winning star of The Pianist Adrian Brody led the bidding for his own painting, which fetched $42,000, while British-Indian artist and philanthropist Sacha Jafri saw his piece rack up an impressive $275,000 final bid.

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Read more from Diff 2017:

Remembering the best feel-good hits

Emirati box office smash Hajwala set for 2018 sequel

Gallows humour fuels Christmas spirit in Nazareth-based comedy Wajib

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Perhaps unsurprisingly given current events, the shadow of politics hung heavy over the festival during the weekend. On Saturday, a group of Arab filmmakers led by directors, the Palestinian Annemarie Jacir and Iraqi-Dutch Mohamed Al-Daradji, and Jordanian-Canadian producer Rami Yasin launched a petition protesting Trump’s decision on Thursday to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel.

The petition stated: “As artists, filmmakers and media professionals working in the film industry, we take a stand on December 9, 2017, to express our sorrow and anger over this unjust decision.

We stand in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, and an open Sacred City that belongs to all Muslims, Christians and Jews.

In your decision, Mr President, you have created more animosity, less faith and profound sorrow in the hearts and minds of all justice lovers in the world.

It is only extremism that will benefit from your decision and be fed by it. And extremism will drag down those who have now lost their last shreds of hope.

You and your decision will be the reason for renewed divisions and conflict around the world.

As members of the film industry, we will continue to express our concern, our care, our dedication and our just message through our films, and this spirit will go with us from festival to festival, until justice and peace prevail, to all people.”

US filmmaker and activist Rob Reiner (Spinal Tap, A Few Good Men), meanwhile, was even more scathing of the US commander-in-chief following the screening of his latest movie Shock and Awe, a damning account of the machinations and untruths that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Reiner told The National that he believes democracy itself is under threat from president Trump: “Right now we’ve got a president who says all Muslims should be banned from the country,” he said. “We’ve got a president who says we should put a wall on our southern border to keep out rapists. We’ve got a president who is supporting a man who is accused of child molestation... . We’ve got a president who is attacking the law enforcement agencies and the media, all the outlets that carry out checks and balances on those in power. We’ve got a president who is turning his back on science and doesn’t acknowledge global warming.”

Reiner didn’t hold back as he moved onto the Jerusalem decision specifically. “Here’s the thing, his secretary of state had it right. This man is a moron,” he says. “The man is a moron. He has no concept of geopolitical events or how things are interconnected. There was no consideration that went into this decision, no outreach to allies in the Arab world, or even the non-Arab world to see what the impact of something like this is. It’s crazy, just crazy. All of our allies in the Arab world and even Europe have said that this is just a knuckle-headed move.”

With documentary Naila and the Uprising, the story of the first Palestinian Intifada, set to screen on Monday night, the debate could get a lot more heated yet.