Regional, International Filmmakers Put Arab World Under the Lens

Tue Dec 07,2004

It may be virtually impossible to capture the complexity and diversity of the Arab world in one film, but it is certainly possible to do so with a range of films focusing on different aspects of that world. With its 13 films – 10 of which are making their Gulf premieres here - the “Arabian Nights” segment of the ongoing Dubai International Film Festival is geared towards doing just that.

From Egypt to Morocco, Lebanon to the Netherlands, Palestine to the United States, a variety of films by Arabs and about Arabs has been chosen to give Arabs and non-Arabs alike an insight into how the world perceives Arabs and how the Arabs perceive themselves.

“The Festival is an opportunity to feature films that tell both sides of the story, be it by Arabs, the West or beyond,” said Festival Chief Arab Programmer Masoud Amralla Al Ali. “It is from us to them, from them to us, and for them and us.”

‘“Arabian Nights”  is the title of a quest to seek what is unique and extraordinary, not only in Arab cinema, but also in the Arab memory, in the folds of its society and in its life-altering issues,” said Amralla, who is also founder-director of the Emirates Film Competition and artistic director of the UAE Cultural Foundation.

Some of the productions are wholly Arab, others Western and still others are joint ventures, and their stories are as diverse as their points of origin. Among the top-rated Festival films, for example, are Best Times (Ahla Al Awkat), Hana Khalil’s sensational, suspenseful Cairo drama, Iraqi war documentary Control Room, controversial Egyptian drama I Love Cinema (Baheb El Cima), intense Moroccan drama Threads, award-winning Lebanese film The Kite, Dutch comedy Shouf Shouf Habibi! and award-winning drama Private, which tells the story of a Palestinian family held hostage in their own home by Israeli soldiers.

Other must-see Festival films include Tunisian productions The Magic Box (Sanduk Ajab), The Bookstore (El Kotbia), The Prince and Deadlines, Moroccan smash In Casablanca Angels Don’t Fly and the Lebanese Ring of Fire (Zennar El Nar).

The selection of the Arabian Nights films was made after Amralla sat through more than 200 films and visited more than 16 film festivals around the world.

“All the Arab films chosen for the Festival were selected on the basis of their content and the quality of their production,” Amralla said. “I also tried to select a mix between the big-budget films and independent filmmakers so that we support the young filmmakers of our society.”

Amralla also made it a point to select a diversity of subjects, from serious political films to light-hearted comedies. “The world sees the Middle East as being a hotbed of politics, and only politics, but we have a sense of humor also,” he said. “We have the same concerns as other people around the world – our families, our society, jobs, our future. I wanted to show the true image of Arabs, no matter how uncomfortable we are with them.”

“I could have chosen commercial films that don’t reflect our society accurately, but it is harder and more rewarding for our society to see those films that tell the truth, even if the truth is ugly,” he added.

More than 75 films will be shown across the six Festival venues for the six days of the Festival. Crowning the first five days will be the gala screenings – Le Grand Voyage, Bollywood/Hollywood, Finding Neverland, The Grudge and Red Dust - selected from the key segments of the Festival.

Four DIFF box offices are currently open for business: at the CNN Building Lobby in Dubai Media City from 11 am to 8 pm; at the Madinat Theatre in the Souk at Madinat Jumeirah from 11 am to 10.30 pm; at the Mercato mall from 10 am to 10.30 pm, and at the Madinat Arena from 6 pm to 8 pm on Wednesday, and from 11 am to 8 pm on Thursday and Friday. An additional box office will open at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel Auditorium on Wednesday, and remain open from 11 am to 10.30 pm.

Prices range from Dh. 10 for the four open-air “Screen on the Green” films (Lawrence of Arabia, Gagamboy (Spiderman), Mr. India and Five Children And It) at the Dubai Media City amphitheater to Dh. 20 for regular screenings at DIFF main venues and Dh. 50 for the red-carpet gala screenings at the Madinat Arena, Madinat Jumeirah Arabian Resort-Dubai. Two special offers – student discounts and a Five-Flick deal that offers a set of five regular screening tickets for the price of four – have also been created to make the Festival accessible to all UAE residents and visitors.

Telephone bookings and orders can be made with the Box Office on (04) 367 6701 / (04) 367 6707 for advance bookings and directions to box office venues.

The Dubai International Film Festival will be held between December 6 and 11, 2004, and will feature approximately 75 films including features, retrospectives and short films. The Festival is divided into 10 distinct programs, each focusing on a particular Festival theme. DIFF is presented by Dubai Media City and its presenting sponsors are Dubai Duty Free, Emirates, Madinat Jumeirah Arabian Resort-Dubai, and Nakheel.  DIFF Gold Sponsors are DOM International, The Kanoo Group and National Bank of Dubai, and Silver Sponsors are Arabian Radio Network, Atlas Telecom, Dubai Radio Network, E-Vision and Motivate Publishing.

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