: Abdulhamid Juma, Chairman, Dubai International Film Festival
Dec 13,2010 - 03:45 PM
What was your thinking when you launched the first edition of DIFF in 2004?
AHJ: When we launched in 2004, film festivals were new to this part of the world, apart from Cairo, Damascus and Carthage. In the Gulf, it was something unheard of. From outside, people were saying, do we really need another film festival? What will it bring? And can a festival be successful where they don’t even have a film industry? Or, some people said, OK, it’s an oil-producing country, so they want to buy their way in, to be like Cannes. Also, from within Dubai, they wanted us to be Cannes from the first year, as well! Dubai is really ambitious, Dubai doesn’t really get involved with anything until it’s first-class and big.
What were the immediate challenges you faced in establishing a world-class festival?
AHJ: I was very clear about the challenges. In Dubai, once we announce a project, it is already successful before it starts! We had to balance this festival, to make sure we deliver on all aspects. We knew we had to have the respect of the industry and for that, we needed to have perfect films. You can’t go wrong with that. If you don’t have that, then nothing else makes any sense. It’s key. It means having the right people to search for those films, having the right message, the right objectives, mission – all of that goes into making a good film festival.
In 2003 we started putting together our team and travelling to every festival possible. We learned that most festivals take 15 to 20 years to shape up - we said, lets do it in five years. This is another case of Dubai trying to do the best and learn from the people before us.
What makes a good festival?
What differentiates film festivals? It’s the vision behind it. If you just want a festival to bring stars and show films, people will get sick with it. It’s not enough. You have to have a clear vision and we stress what differentiates us – Arab films. And initially, a lot of people thought we were out of our minds. Today, as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and 70 of our 158 films are Arab, or talking about Arab subjects. Probably three or four years ago, the entire production of Arab cinema was 65 to 70 films a year.
What do you think of festivals such as Abu Dhabi and Doha’s Tribeca? Do these events all complement each other?
For me, it’s very simple. More schools are good for education and more festivals are good for production. The more they come, the more they keep us on our toes. There is nothing wrong with competition, there is no need to be scared! Let’s compete in areas, lets collaborate in areas, at the end of the day, the end user is the beneficiary as are all the filmmakers from around the world. Now in the Arab world, they have many more choices. Who is going to be there in the audience? Who is going to help you bring this film to another market or to TV? Who is going to give you the chance of winning an award or finding someone to finance your next project? And they will decide where they will go. So, why do we talk about this all as competition? If we do this ethically, it is a beautiful opportunity for filmmakers!
Which achievements are you particularly proud of this year?
So many! Films, of course. We have 157 from 59 countries of which 41 are world premieres. In 2004, there was only 1. Seventy of our films are Arab films, 14 of them are UAE short films of which 12 are world premieres. This is to give credit to our programmers – we do have the best films produced every year. The second thing is that we have put all our industry activity – I call it the kitchen – under one umbrella of the Dubai Film Market. This Festival is the one platform for everybody who has something to do with film, from different places to talk about their challenges of filmmaking.
What aspects of DIFF 2010 are you most anticipating?
This year we will seriously sit as a Festival and then we will review what’s happened. It will be a milestone. ‘Rhythm’n’Reels’ is my baby. I’m very passionate about music and film, so to put them together is a dream. I’m also happy that this year, we have taken this concept to the public at Jumeirah Beach Residence. It’s one of the most happening places in Dubai. Then also, this year, most of the stars are coming with their films. Not only to the Opening Night Red Carpet, but for every single Gala Screening Red Carpet. A lot of festivals see people only come for the opening and closing. Here, every day is an opening!
So – we are very proud and happy with where we are today in seventh year. Seven is an auspicious number in so many ways, but we still consider ourselves babies in the film festival world. We have a long way to go, but we know what to do and we know where we’re going. We have ultimate support from the government, our sponsors, the more than 750 volunteers working with us and the 50,000+ people in Dubai who came to watch us last year. I’m wary of sounding over-confident, I think we still have a long way to go, but I have no doubt with the team we have on DIFF, that we will close any gaps.