Thu Nov 20,2008

Thrillers,  Docs and Comedies from Around the World to Stun DIFF Audiences

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today announced its stellar lineup of films by and about people of Arab origin from around the world, including hard-hitting documentaries, chilling thrillers and tender love stories from the Middle East and Europe.  Antonia Carver, Arab Programme Consultant spoke about this year’s selection: “This is the most diverse year for programming in the Arabian Nights segment by far. We have two thrillers—one involving supernatural forces—some poignant documentaries, powerful love stories, and two comedic films to round out the segment. The point of Arabian Nights is to reflect the dreams, imagination,  ideas and aspirations of the Arab world, both defined geographically and as a people scattered around the globe. We are also honoured that a number of Arab cinema luminaries will be with us throughout the festival.”

The Arabian Nights gala film is not only a powerful story in its own right, but a miracle of production logistics, having been filmed in the Occupied Territories with a largely Palestinian crew. Al Mor Wa Al Rumman (Pomegranates and Myrrh) is a World Premiere and a first feature by Palestinian director Najwa Najjar, set in Ramallah, where free spirited dancer Kamar’s husband is imprisoned. Alone, Kamar returns to the only place where she can be free—the stage. There she meets Kais.  Sparks fly, creating more than a passionate, emotional dance for both of them. This tender, brilliant film stars Yasmine Al Masri (Caramel), Ali Suleiman and Hiam Abbass (both of Paradise Now).

Also from Palestine in its World Premiere, the touching documentary Vietato Sognare (Forbidden Childhood) deals with the impact of conflict on young people growing up in Palestine through the words of Ali Abu Awwad, a former resistance fighter, and Elik El-Hanan, an Israeli ex soldier. Both men are now peace activitiests, and each relates their experiences of growing up in a militarised society, and of their desire for peace in the future.

The two thrillers are as heart-stopping as they come: In International Premiere Kandisha, a criminal defense lawyer must prove that it was a malicious spirit, rather than her client, brilliantly played by Hiam Abbass, who committed a gruesome murder. Hitte/Harara (Heat/Harara) is a Dutch road drama of two friends who go on road trip to Casablanca. But an encounter with a couple of ‘friendly’ guys on the road triggers a tragic chain of events.

Several of the films concern children: the titular character of Niloofar is a twelve-year-old girl whose dream is to study, in a village where education is only for boys. Ein Shams (Eye of the Sun) portrays an 11-year-old whose greatest wish is to go to the mysterious Cairo district of Ein Shams. This tale deals with power and corruption in Cairene society, and stars Boutros Boutros Ghali, former General Secretary of the United Nations. Master director Karim Dridi’s latest film Khamsa shows 11-year old Khamsa, who returns to his destitute Roma village in France after escaping his foster home and drifts into a life of petty crime. The non-professional actors play their roles brilliantly in this emotional rollercoaster.

A probing documentary, A Road To Mecca – The Journey Of Muhammad Asad,  follows Austrian-born Ashkenazi Jew Leopold Weiss, who converted to Islam in the 1930’s and became known as Muhammad Asad. The film traces Asad’s journey through the Arab world to Mecca as a way of reflecting on contemporary relations between East and West. Meanwhile, documentarians Steffan and Christian Pierce bring Marrakech Inshallah, a documentary-style story of two brothers who escape their rural home to seek their fortune in teeming Marrakech. But instead of success, they both find heartbreak and poverty lying in wait.

Two whimsical films lend a soft edge to Arabian Nights: Un Novio Para Yasmina (A Fiance for Yasmina) is a funny and engaging ensemble drama about the emotional dilemmas of a group of friends at an immigrants’ centre in Spain; Described as \“Lost in Translation in Beirut, Une Chanson Dans La Tete (Melodrama Habibi), a first feature by award-winning short director Hany Tamba, concerns a has-been Lebanese pop star who topped the charts across Europe in the 1970s. Thirty years later, he is a receptionist at a Paris hotel, but for one fan, his song remains the same: Randa. When her husband decides to throw her a lavish birthday party, Randa knows exactly who she wants to perform.

Five remarkable short films round out the selection; Ali and the Ball is a sweet short film about an eight year old living with his mother in a refugee detention centre; Award-winning director Samir Guesmi brings C’est Dimanche! (It’s Sunday!), in which a young Algerian boy devises a far-fetched story to justify his expulsion from school; the mysterious Le Parasol (The Umbrella) depicts a young couple go for a last swim on an isolated beach, only to find their lives irreparably changed; Ahlam Maklia (Fried Dreams) presents a day in the life of a girl in a poor suburb of Cairo who sells snacks on a roadside stand; the surreal love story Bab Al Samah (The Door of Forgiveness), a man tries to heal his memories of unrequited love.

The Dubai International Film Festival will run from December 11 to 18.

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