Top Films and Filmmakers Coming to Dubai’s Inaugural Film Festival

Sun Nov 28,2004

After nearly two years in the making and the combined efforts of more than 400 administrators, programmers, technicians, contractors, advisers and volunteers, the curtain will rise on the first-ever Dubai International Film Festival in eight days. The best of Arab and world Cinema, together with A-list celebrities from East and West, will enthrall and entertain the UAE from December 6 to 11, Festival organizers announced yesterday at a press conference at the Madinat Jumeirah, the Arabian Resort-Dubai.

“At 8 pm on December 6, we will begin one of the most anticipated events on the cultural calendar,” said Abdulhamid Juma, CEO of Dubai Media City. “The Festival will be an adventure, and it will engage Arabs and non-Arabs, residents and visitors and we are hopeful that it will create an impact that lasts well beyond its six days.”

Organizers unveiled for the first time the entire line-up of approximately 75 films that will be screened across the six Festival venues in Dubai: the Madinat Arena, the Madinat Jumeirah Theatre in the resort’s souq, five cinemas at the Mercato shopping mall, the Jumeirah Beach Hotel Auditorium and the open-air amphitheater at Dubai Media City. They also confirmed the attendance of several celebrities and high-profile film actors and guests including Prince Albert of Monaco, statesman Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actors Morgan Freeman and Sarah Michelle Gellar and distinguished directors Subhash Ghai and Daoud Abdul Sayed. Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan and top Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein are also expected to make an appearance.

Crowning the Festival will be the Dubai Gala Screenings, red carpet evening events that will honor five outstanding films including the Festival’s opening film Le Grand Voyage, closing South African film Red Dust, Hollywood smash Finding Neverland, high-tech thriller The Grudge and crossover hit Bollywood/Hollywood.

The Festival’s Opening Gala will be attended by Prince Albert of Monaco, and will feature Ishmael Ferroukhi, director of Le Grand Voyage, and the film’s actors, young French heartthrob Nicolas Cazale and seasoned Moroccan star Mohammed Majd.

Red Dust, the Festival’s Closing Night gala, will be screened in the presence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the film’s producer Anant Singh and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jamie Bartlett. Gillian Slovo, on whose novel the film is based, will also be present.

Omar Sharif will be honored with a special retrospective highlighting his importance as an Arab icon. The retrospective will include such classics as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Funny Girl as well as the more recent Monsieur Ibrahim.

Directors Subhash Ghai and Daoud Abdul Sayed will be similarly honored as part of the Festival’s “Directors in the Spotlight” section. Since his debut in 1976, Ghai has become one of the leading names in the Indian film industry, producing popular blockbusters that are hailed by the critics. As part of the program, DIFF will be screening Ghai’s Pardes and Taal, the first Indian film to break into the US Box Office Top 20. Sayed first emerged as one of Egypt’s leading talents in the 1980s, and remains one of its most respected cineastes. The Festival will be screening two of his classics: Kit Kat and Ard Al-Khof (Land of Fear).

Current works by directors Danny Boyle, Walter Salles, Michael Winterbottom, Zhang Yimou and Robert Zemeckis will also be screened during the Festival, in addition to at least 15 other top-billed features.

The all-star Oceans 12, for example, will screen at the Festival one day after its world premiere in the US. Other highly anticipated films include Tom Hanks’ new animated film Polar Express; the witty and shocking fast-food documentary Super Size Me; award-winning documentary Wall about the physical barrier being constructed between Israel and Palestine; Private, a suspenseful portrayal of a Palestinian family held hostage in their home by Israeli soldiers; Canadian eye-opener The Corporation; Egyptian drama I Love Cinema and Control Room, the celebrated fly-on-the-wall look at the Al Jazeera network during the invasion of Iraq.

“The line-up of films is true to the main objectives of this festival: to establish Dubai as a showcase of excellence for Arab cinema and to create an international cultural bridge linking East and West,” said Festival CEO and Director Neil Stephenson. “The response we have had from filmmakers, stars and industry executives worldwide has only confirmed the need for such a bridge, and the need for a place like Dubai to construct that bridge.”

As part of the cultural engagement initiative, a series of special public events have been integrated into the Festival. The first, a panel discussion of prestigious actors, directors and producers from around the world, will focus on how film can be used to promote intercultural dialogue. In addition, every film screening will be preceded by an introduction of the filmmaker to the audience, and will end with a Q&A session with the film’s cast and crew, giving viewers a rare opportunity to interact with the film’s creators and actors.

“This is truly an incredible opportunity for us to learn from the best filmmakers and actors, and to begin a new dialogue with the world,” Juma added. “Film is one of the most powerful mediums on the planet, and Dubai can be the place where the Arab and non-Arab worlds can engage that medium for their mutual benefit.”

In many ways, the Festival is also a logistical triumph: film reels have been arriving into Dubai from every corner of the world and requiring sophisticated systems of print traffic management. Armies of volunteers and hospitality staffers have been trained, the international and regional press has been mobilized and four state-of-the-art theatres have been built, two from scratch, specifically for the purpose of the Festival.

The DIFF box office was officially opened yesterday, with tickets going on sale almost instantly for matinee presentations, evening shows and the limited-sale gala screenings. With a few exceptions, viewers will have two opportunities to see all films in the Festival.

The Festival guide was also launched yesterday, and will be distributed to individuals and institutions around the UAE in the coming days, organizers said. All the information will also be available on the Festival website,

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.

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