The Muscat International Film Festival, which kicks off on Saturday, might not make as much noise as its regional counterparts in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, but this year boasts a line-up just as impressive.
Oman prepares to welcome stars at film festival
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr No, and will undoubtedly see wild debate as to who has been the best 007 over the years. The current holder of the licence to kill, Daniel Craig, is likely to attract a significant portion of the votes, having given Bond a tough, small-swimming trunks, fist-fights-over-ludicrous-gadgets twist, while the old favourites Sean Connery and Roger Moore will probably be shaking and stirring things up in second place.
But if you're someone who prefers the plucky underdog, someone who perhaps believes 1969's On His Majesty's Secret Service to be the best, then you're in luck, because George Lazenby will be jetting into Oman for this year's Muscat International Film Festival.
The festival, which kicks off on Saturday, might not make as much noise as its regional counterparts in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, but this year boasts a line-up just as impressive. Alongside Lazenby, other guests on the list include Susan Sarandon, Forest Whitaker, Kareena Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan, Nandita Das, Nadine Labaki, Darren Aronofsky and Omar Sharif. Adding to the Bond appreciation comes John Glen, who has directed more 007s than any other filmmaker, and Britt Ekland, Roger Moore's famously ditzy Bond girl in The Man With The Golden Gun.
Now into its seventh edition, this year's festival - which is organised by the Oman Film Society - boasts entries from 90 countries. And aside from the films competing for the various prizes, there's a sizeable schedule of big-name titles.
"We'll be bringing some very famous movies that haven't been shown in Oman before," says Mohammed Al Kindi, the head of the festival's selection committee.
Highlights on the schedule include premieres of the Bollywood spy thriller Agent Vinod, starring Kapoor and Khan, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, starring Ewan McGregor and Amr Waked, plus the multi-Oscar winner The Artist, Aronofsky's Black Swan, which picked up a Best Actress Oscar for Natalie Portman in 2011 and the Last King of Scotland, for which Whitaker is attending. Whitaker will also be bringing the 1995 romance he directed, Waiting to Exhale, for a special Whitney Houston tribute, while a David Lean retrospective will feature Dr Zhivago and A Passage to India, with Victor Banerjee joining Sharif for the occasion.
One of the festival's proudest moments will come with the premiere of Aseel. Not only is the film, which tells the story of local Bedouins, Oman's second full-length feature film, but it's the second from Khalid Zadjali, who is also the chairman of the Omani Film Society and the festival.
And the hope is that through the initiatives of the festival and the society, there will be more Aseels on the horizon.
"We want to people to meet the stars and the directors, to have a chat with them and think, 'Why can't I be like them?'," says Al Kindi, who adds that there will be some Omani short films on the billing, too. "We still don't have that much experience making feature films, or have that much support." The opening ceremony, to be held at the Grand Hall of the Sultan Qaboos University, will feature performances from Nancy Ajram and Anandan Sivamani, said to be one of the fastest percussionists in the world, while the closing ceremony on March 31 will see Sarandon pick up an honorary award. The rest of the films will be shown at Al Bahja Cinema, the Shatti Plaza and the Oman Auditorium at Al Bustan Palace Hotel.
"We want to spread the movies across different places, so more people can watch them," says Al Kindi. "And this year, we're going to make it free. We want people to watch these movies, we've brought them for the people."
Unlike some of the region's other festivals, which come with big budgets and huge support from the government and sponsors, the Muscat International Film Festival seems to have come from little more than a love of film and a strong desire to develop the film industry in Oman.
"Some people ask us why are we having a festival here when you're not making films," says Al Kindi. "We tell them that we are going to make films, and we have done, the second which will be showing. We want to show the audience, the people and the government, that we can do it."
For more information on the festival, visit www.festival.omanfilm.net