x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gulf festival opener explores extremism

The fifth edition of the GFF, which screens 155 films, gets under way with Tora Bora next week.

DUBAI // The contentious issue of Arabs who choose to travel to Afghanistan to fight with Al Qaeda or the mujahideen will come under the spotlight next week on the opening night of the Gulf Film Festival.

The world premiere of Tora Bora, by the Kuwaiti filmmaker Walid Al Awadi, will be the curtain-raiser for the annual showcase for regional talent. It tells the story of parents who go after their son who is brainwashed by extremists and travels to Afghanistan.

"I wanted to be a little bit edgy," Al Awadi said yesterday at an event held to launch the festival. "A lot of other filmmakers from this part of the world would be a little bit worried about this subject, but I don't have that worry.

"Our religion is a beautiful religion but it was hijacked by the extremists, so now it looks like the religion is causing a lot of problems around the world. But it is not the religion, it is the mindset of the extremists who act in the name of the religion.

"I was thinking of two subjects. Firstly, why Arabs went to Afghanistan to fight when they had nothing to do with that country. And secondly, how would the parents feel if their son goes to be part of Al Qaeda or the mujaheddin. I was trying to humanise the subject."

Tora Bora was filmed in Morocco and is the first release from Al Awadi's company, C Sky Productions of Abu Dhabi. He will be joined on the red carpet in Dubai by three of the stars, Saad Al Faraj, Al Araby Al Sassy and Khalid Ameen.

After tackling such a serious subject, he plans to lighten up with his next film, which "is going to be a comedy" that will "be far away from Tora Bora".

The festival is being held for the fifth time, and in a first this year that there will also be screenings in Abu Dhabi.

The veteran Bahraini filmmaker Bassam Al Thawadi will receive a lifetime achievement award at next Tuesday's opening ceremony, and the Iranian actor Behrouz Vossoughi will be honoured for his contribution to cinema.

The main programme will include 155 films from 40 countries, and regional and international filmmakers will bid for glory in three competitions.

The Emirati Khalid Al Abdulla will show his 10-minute work Ice Cream, which was shot at Jumeirah Beach Resort. It tells the story of a teenager who struggles to save enough money to buy an ice cream.

Al Abdulla said: "I had a straightforward message, that not every Emirati is wearing a kandura and has a Bentley and a smart watch. We have different levels, the poor and the medium and the wealthy ones."

Residents and visitors who were filmed at the 2011 festival by French director Gerard Courant will be able to see the results.

Dozens of people were filmed for Cinématon, which until last year was the world's longest movie. It lasts 167 hours and consists of more than 2,500 silent vignettes

The clips will be shown during the festival, along with other work filmed by Courant in Dubai.

Shivani Pandya, the festival managing director, said: "Gerard is coming back to present what he shot last year. It's continuity; it's to show the fruits of what's been going on."

The results of another of last year's highlights, a 10-day masterclass by Abbas Kiarostami, will also be shown. The Iranian director challenged the filmmakers who took part to produce a short on the theme of "loneliness", and the results will be shown for the first time at two screenings called Cherries of Kiarostami.

The festival will take place at the InterContinental and Crowne Plaza hotels and the Grand Festival Cinemas at Dubai Festival City From April 10 to April 16, and from April 12 to 14 at the Abu Dhabi Theatre.

csimpson@thenational.ae