Wed Nov 13,2013

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today announced the first collection of the hotly anticipated Muhr Arab Feature film contestants highlighting the most significant films in the Arab world this year.

With an incredible roster of filmmakers and actors from the Arab world the 10th edition the Muhr Arab competition is expected to be the most exciting to date.

DIFF Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali expanded on the category: “From the Festival’s inauguration, we took the promotion and expansion of Arab cinema as our primary objective. The field for the Muhr Awards has grown from year to year because it is recognized in the region as a key platform for a film’s release and a powerful endorsement from the filmmaker’s peer community.”

“Filmgoers benefit because these films are the newest in the region, they are topical and powerful, and they present a cross-section of what is of concern in the Arab world at this moment. The filmmakers are some of our most important artists in the field today, so the Muhr Arab programming is not to be missed.”

A large selection of the films concern family ties, always a powerful force in Arab culture but even more so given the turmoil and change of the past years, when long-standing institutions have toppled and social unrest become more common.

Cherien Dabis, whose debut feature ‘Amreeka’ blazed a trail for Arab cinema with numerous international awards, returns to the Festival with May in the Summer. While ‘Amreeka’ dealt with being Arab in America, May in the Summer focuses on being an Arab American in the Arab world, with the story of sophisticated New Yorker May Brennan who returns to her childhood home of Amman, Jordan, for her wedding. Shortly after reuniting with her sisters and their long-divorced parents, familial and cultural conflicts lead May to question the big step she is about to take.

One of the most important and prolific directors in the Moroccan ‘New Wave’ cinema, Jillali Ferhati returns to DIFF with Pillow Secrets, about a young woman is drawn violently back into her past after her mother’s death when she learns that she is the daughter of a dictatorial prostitute who ran her neighbourhood with an iron fist.

In Palestine Stereo, Rashid Masharawi returns to the rich irony of everyday life under occupation in Palestine that he explored in his award-winning ‘Laila’s Birthday.’ The most expensive film ever made in Palestine, Palestine Stereo is a strong dose of dark comedy, following Sammy and Milad, two brothers left homeless after an Israeli bomb hits their home. They decide to emigrate to Canada, but first must hustle for money by renting out used sound equipment from the back of a battered ambulance that takes them from weddings to political parties and beyond.

Algerian director Amor Hakkar’s second feature The Proof delves deeply into relationships, marriage and gender roles in changing Algerian society with the story of Ali, an infertile taxi driver. Ali runs into trouble when he picks up Fatima, a young woman who is single and pregnant. When he is arrested and accused of being the father of Fatima’s unborn child, he must choose between revealing his infertility and sacrificing his masculinity, or keeping silent and risking a divorce with his wife. 

Laila Marrakchi’s follows up the runaway success “Marock” with another family drama titled Rock The Casbah boasting some of the Arab world’s most acclaimed actors including Hiam Abbass, Nadine Labaki, Lubna Azabal, Morjana Alaoui and icon Omar Sharif. The film set over three days in Tangiers, Morocco revolves around the revelations and reconciliations between three sisters during a family gathering for the funeral of patriarch, Moulay Hassan (Sharif). As their father’s remains are prepared for burial, the three siblings find themselves unearthing some dramatic family secrets.

Lebanese director Mahmoud Hojeij brings his first feature Stable Unstable, which uses the device of a therapist’s office to intertwine the stories of several Beirutis who arrive on the same day to try to make sense of their lives. In the desperate attempt to find stability in an unstable country lonely souls come together and drift apart in this pensive exploration of relationships, individuality and mental health.

Syrian master auteur Mohamed Malas brings his Ladder to Damascus, shot during the current conflict in his homeland. The film uses the controversial concept of reincarnation to explore the relationship between past and present in Syria through the story of a Ghalia, a girl inhabited by the soul of Zeina, who was drowned the day she was born. Ghalia comes to Damascus to study acting, and finds a place to live in a converted dormitory with young Syrians from all over the country. Love blossoms, but the events in the Syrian streets outside gradually encroach on their idyllic isolation.

Void is an omnibus film comprised of seven shorts by seven different directors that explores the emotional voids left in six women’s lives by the ravages of the Lebanese Civil War. Directed by Tarek Korkomaz, Zeina Makki, Jad Beyrouthy, Christelle Ighniades, Salim Haber, Maria Abdel Karim and Naji Bechara, the film is divided into chapters, each exploring a different woman’s life and heartbreak. The film culminates in an explosive demonstration organized by one of the characters that brings unexpected answers after twenty years of waiting. The film includes performances from a large number of Lebanese actors including Carmen Lebbos, Julian Farhat, Takla Chamoun, Carol Abboud, Elie Mitri and Nada Abou Farhat.

Award-winning Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Lasri brings his second feature They Are the Dogs from its world premiere at Cannes. The film tells the story of Majhoul, an old man imprisoned in 1981 during massive demonstrations for reform in Morocco. Upon his release 30 years later, a documentary team helps him find his family and reconstitute his life in a society in constant evolution.

Erfan Rashid, Director of the Arabic Programme added: “One of the main aspects of the tenth edition’s Arab programme are Arab citizens and their condition after the momentous changes that have recently taken place in their respective countries. These citizens, who are not only fuelling these events but have become their main dynamo, are intensely engaged in facing their past in order to draw their own future. This year’s Arab films, whether made by young directors or masters, lay many questions requiring clear and immediate answers that will settle for nothing but the truth.”

The Muhr Arab Feature Awards winners will be announced at the closing ceremonies of the tenth annual DIFF, to be held December 6 to 14, 2013.

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