Posts Tagged ‘Dubai International Film Festival’

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During the 13th edition of the Dubai Film Festival – in the majestic Jumeirah Mina A’Salam hotel, overlooking the sea and the Burj Al Arab – I sat down with pioneering Emirati director Ali F. Mostafa (director of City of Life, the first Emirati feature to be distributed throughout the MENA region and screen around the world) and producer Rami Yasin (Rattle the Cage, Sea Shadow), to learn about genre filmmaking in the Arabic language and making the United Arab Emirates’ first survivalist horror film The Worthy (released this week in UAE cinemas).

Your three films have all occupied different genres,  multi-narrative drama (City of Life), road movie (From A to B) and now horror with The Worthy. Was this a conscious choice?

Absolutely. It was a complete conscious choice. The choice was to try and tap into as many genres as possible and make the Arab versions of them. And also selfishly, as well, is to try and better myself as a filmmaker. The more genres you tap into, the more versatile you can try and make yourself, I think the more you can grow as a filmmaker.

And what was it about this moment in time that horror seemed like the right choice, rather than a western for example?

Right, well it was one of those things. I was in the middle of editing and I got given the script by Image Nation, so it was something that was handed to me. I was very much interested in doing a horror, although this I could consider more action / thriller, with horror elements, but I was interested very much in doing a horror, mainly because I wasn’t necessarily a horror fan. I appreciated and respected horror films, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch one.

Was there any particular horrors you did like and had as references?

Oh well, obviously we have all seen The Exorcist, but there is also stuff that even – not necessarily horrors – but the way Hitchcock makes his films definitely has that element. But also when I knew I was getting into this film and having Peter Safran & Steven Schneider attached to it, I would have felt silly had I not seen The Conjuring for example, so I went out of my way to watch The Conjuring – it took me actually two and a half days to watch that film – it was really frightening and because of how well made it was. These guys are at the top of their game so we really have to be at the top of our game when making this film.

In terms of bringing this kind of film to the audience here, were there any responsibilities you felt you had, or any things you wanted to achieve?

It’s the first of its kind I guess, in terms of post-apocalyptic kind of film, but in terms of responsibility is to try and do the best film I can make with the means. Knowing that the audience here are very much fans of Hollywood films – I mean those are the films that really do well in the cinemas here – you have to try and make the film with that sensibility. You have to give them that style, in terms of how the film is produced.

So you’re trying to tap into the appetite?

Yes! 100% Without a doubt. But in Arabic. [laughs]

That leads us onto the development of the script. In terms of creating a film of this nature in Arabic, how did you work through that process?

Rami can help with that, Rami is a producer on the film. The script was handed to us… it was an American script initially, so we were playing around with the script a lot and Rami had a huge input.

Rami Yasin – The first question we asked ourselves was: “if this was in our world and our region, what kind of world would we be living in and where would our world be in 10 years time?” We banked on the stuff we know now of what’s going on around the world and our region; as a region that suffers from water shortage, so that was a great thing to have in there to start with and from there we worked backwards with the characters. Who would these characters be? We actually changed a lot of the characters and their backgrounds, built them up from scratch, changed a lot of the relationships between them. For example, one is the father and his son and daughter: what kind of tension would be between the daughter and her father and the son and his father? The other thing that we wanted to do, both of us, is that we wanted to present very strong female characters in this world, because we said in the future our world is not the same, women are on par with men and they are very strong. In fact we heard a lot of comments yesterday [at the world premiere at Dubai Film Festival] from audiences who said: “we loved the fact that the women were so equal to men in this film…” so that’s an achievement that we felt was great.

After this project what’s your next step?

Ali F. Mostafa – Well Rami and I are currently producing Mohammed Saeed Harib’s first feature film, first live-action film. That’s what’s happening currently. And then next, i’m not too sure. I would like to try and do something – even though our films aren’t considered very ‘high budget’ – I would like to try and do something as more of an experiment to me, with a much lower budget, to see if we could still make a good film.

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This December I attended the Dubai International Film Festival for the first time. Among the highlights of the festival (and there were many) was getting to meet the critics behind the excellent podcast Tea With Culture, Hind Mezaina (who also runs The Culturist) and Wael Hattar. I joined them to discuss day 4 of the festival, looking at vibrant Indian doc The Cinema Travellers, the cinema of the United Arab Emirates (with emphasis on the feature directors Ali F. Mostafa, Nujoom Alghanem and Abdulla Al Kaabi) and Al Kaabi’s intriguing Muhr Emirati award winning art house feature Only Men Go To The Grave.

More coverage coming soon from this great festival. I found it to be a slick, well organised affair, with lots of keen discussion & debate and a very eager filmgoing public. I particualrly enjoyed spending time with long-term festival goers (some of whom have returned each year since 2004) and meeting energised filmmakers having their world and regional premieres.

Highlights for me were Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim (Muhr Feature Award for Best Actor), Gaza Surf Club and Mawlana (The Preacher) – alongside those films mentioned above – while the chance to see Samuel L. Jackson discuss his career was something not worth missing.

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The Dubai Internatonal Film Festival begins on the 7th of December, running through to the 14th. This year features a lineup of 155 films (features and shorts), and the programme includes a VR selection, beach screenings and an extensive Cinema of the World category hosting a wide range of international hits from the year’s festival circuit. There is much to be excited about this year, particularly the World Premieres featured in the Muhr Feature and Muhr Emirati categories, as well as intriguing titles having their regional premiers such as unique Afghan film Wolf & Sheep in Cinema of the World, urgent Iraqi drama Reseba (The Dark Wind) in Muhr Feature and intimate Syrian documentary The War Show in Arabian Nights. Read on for the films we’re most excited about.

Click the photos for trailers and clips:

ONLY MEN GO TO THE GRAVE (DIR. ABDULLA AL KAABI, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
After the Iraq-Iran war ended in 1988, a blind mother welcomes her estranged daughters to tell them a secret. Unfortunately, she accidentally dies while sharing it. During the funeral, the daughters try to deal with their mother’s sudden death and also work together to unveil her secret by looking for clues from visitors. Throughout the funeral, their own lives continue to unravel, giving room for buried family tensions to gradually surface, while struggling to deal with their own secrets and deep-rooted guilt. The daughters start to question everything about their mother’s life after a peculiar encounter…

MAWLANA / THE PREACHER (DIR. MAGDY AHMED ALI, EGYPT)
Muhr Feature, World Premire
Genre: Drama
Sheikh Hatem (Amr Saad) stands out in a society influenced by fundamentalist views. From leading the prayers at a government mosque to becoming a popular TV celebrity issuing fatwas that deviate from the traditional religious rhetoric, he has amassed millions of fans. His responses on TV reveal a witty and eloquent person against a backdrop of darkness, where power struggles rage. Hatem finds himself caught within a complex web of conflict – his personal life unravels and he tries to stay above the politics of institutions. When he is entangled in a delicate matter, he has to find a way to make a dent in the climate of hypocrisy and fear.

HONEY, RAIN & DUST (DIR. NUJOOM ALGHANEM, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, World Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Aisha, Fatima and Ghareeb are amongst the best known honey specialists in the northern parts of the UAE. Ghareeb is also considered a beekeeper because he established a sanctuary at the top of the mountains, where he can be in control of the surrounding environment and protect his honeybees. Fatima and Aisha prefer to roam the mountains freely to find the highest natural honey. Meanwhile, the bees are coping with climate change, survival challenges and the production of honey. Involuntarily, the bees have become integral to the lives of Aisha, Fatima and Ghareeb. But, for how long and to what extent can the bees keep providing?

WOLF & SHEEP (DIR. SHAHRBANOO SADAT, AFGHANISTAN)
Cinema of the World, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama
Writer/director Shahrbanoo Sadat’s acclaimed film, which won a prize at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, shrewdly strikes a tonal balance between documentary and drama as it dwells on life in a small Afghan village, where little has changed over the years. Sadat’s camera and story focuses largely on the children of the village, weaving together a story that subtly tackles the importance of tradition and rituals in a community, where life is tough but also supportive, and where storytelling takes its place alongside life’s lessons. It may be simple in structure and tone, but its insight and sincerity shine through.

THE WORTHY (DIR. ALI F. MOSTAFA, UAE)
Muhr Emirati, MENA Premiere
Genre: Thriller
In a dystopian future, when the water supply has been poisoned, a group of unlikely survivors has taken refuge in an abandoned hangar. They struggle to stay alive and protect one of the last remaining sources of uncontaminated water. After a near-deadly altercation with bandits, who want to seize the water, two strangers appear to help fight off the bandits. The survivors’ leader agrees to host the strangers, as long as they conform to the camp’s rules. When one of the strangers betrays the group, the compound descends into madness, leaving only one question: who is worthy to live and to lead?

STILL BURNING (DIR. GEORGES HACHEM, LEBANON & UAE)
Muhr Feature, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
André, a Lebanese filmmaker, living and working in France unexpectedly meets Walid, a dear friend from his youth. During the Civil War, when they were in Beirut together, André and Walid were both driven by the same artistic vocation: cinema, and also by the same woman, Amira. Will their reunion – an all-nighter – revive repressed demons from their past?

76 MINUTES AND 15 SECONDS WITH ABBAS KIAROSTAMI (DIR. SEIFOLLAH SAMADIAN, IRAN)
Cinema of the World, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Photographer Seifollah Samadian (also a friend and collaborator of Abbas Kiarostami) put together this affectionate and insightful documentary after the death in Paris of the influential Iranian director and artist, utilising footage that takes in many phases of his busy artistic career. There are no interviews, which allows the footage to reflect Kiarostami’s own simplicity as a technical filmmaker and shows his sense of playfulness and embrace for the world around him, while the title reflects not only the running time but also that he died aged 76 and 15 days old.

ALI, THE GOAT, AND IBRAHIM (DIR. SHERIF EL BENDARY, EGYPT)
Muhr Feature, World Premiere
Genre: Drama
Ali falls in love with a goat, whom he names Nada. Ibrahim works at a recording studio and starts to hear voices that frighten him. Ali yields to his mother’s wish that he visit a healer, even though he doesn’t believe he is psychologically unstable. At the healer’s clinic, Ali meets Ibrahim. The healer diagnoses Ali and Ibrahim as “cursed” and prescribes a solution to break the spell; they must throw three “magic” stones in Egypt’s three water bodies. Ali, Ibrahim and Nada set off on an adventure that takes them to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Nile in this touching tale of friendship, reconciliation, self-discovery and self-acceptance.

WÙLU (DIR. DAOUDA COULIBALY, FRANCE & SENEGAL)
Cinema of the World, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama / Thriller
A slick West African crime drama that follows Ladji (the impressive Ibrahim Koma), an ambitious 20-year-old bus driver in Mali, struggling to make the money he needs to prevent his older sister (singer Inna Modja) from prostituting herself. He decides to switch careers and becomes a drug runner and impresses the operation’s boss (Olivier Rabourdin) with his ingenuity. The film marks the feature debut of French-Malian director Daouda Coulibaly, who hits the right genre notes as Ladji’s life of crime heads into increasingly dark territory. The story is set alongside the run-up to the 2012 Mali Civil War, adding an extra intriguing political dimension.

THE WAR SHOW (DIR. OBAIDAH ZYTOON, ANDREAS DALSGAARD, SYRIA)
Arabian Nights, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
In March 2011, radio host Obaidah Zytoon and her friends joined the street protests against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Knowing the Arab Spring would forever change their country, they began filming their lives and the events around them. However, as the regime’s violent response drove the country into a bloody civil war, their hopes for a better future are tested by violence, imprisonment and death. Obaidah leaves Damascus and journeys around the country. An intensely personal journey, THE WAR SHOW captures recent events in Syria through the intimate lens of a small group of friends.

RESEBA / THE DARK WIND (DIR. HUSSEIN HASSAN, IRAQ, GERMANY & QATAR)
Muhr Feature, MENA Premiere
Genre: Drama
Reko (33) and Pero (23) are a Yazidi couple preparing for their wedding, when ISIS fighters attack their village. Young Yazidi girls, including Pero, are sold as slaves and are tortured and raped. Reko, who escapes the attack as he was at work as a security guard at an American oil firm, is devastated by the attack. While searching for his family and Pero, he witnesses the tragic consequences of the attacks on the Yazidis. Eventually, he finds his family and Pero, who has been liberated and in a refugee camp. A sweeping narrative of love and courage against the backdrop of one of the most horrific war crimes of our time.

KHAREJ AL-ITAR AW THAWRA HATA EL NASSER / OFF FRAME AKA REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY (DIR. MOHANAD YAQUBI, FRANCE, PALESTINE, LEBANON & QATAR)
Muhr Feature, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
OFF FRAME AKA REVOLUTION UNTIL VICTORY deals with the history and development of militant cinema in the Middle East. The film researches the motives and circumstances behind this genre and questions its dramatic end in 1982. In resurrecting a forgotten memory of struggle, OFF FRAME reanimates what is within the frame, but also weaves a critical reflection by looking for what is outside of it.

LAYLA M. (DIR. MIJKE DE JONG, NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, GERMANY and JORDAN)
Arabian Nights, Middle East Premiere
Genre: Drama
Eighteen-year-old Layla, who was born and raised in Amsterdam, is smart, stubborn and of Moroccan origin. As she struggles with the increasing suspicion towards girls with headscarves and boys with beards, her faith intensifies. She joins a group of extremists who fight for their practice of Islam. She opts to marry a fellow extremist, Abdel, and together they travel and raise money for their causes. When they are involved in a shootout, they are forced to flee to the Middle East, where Layla encounters a world that initially nurtures her ideas, but finally confronts her with an impossible choice.

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (DIR. OTTO BELL, USA)
Cinema of the World, UAE Premiere
Genre: Documentary
A young Mongolian girl fights against tradition in this delightful and absorbing documentary (narrated by Daisy Ridley) that delves into the rarely filmed nomad Mongolian Kazakh community and in particular their tradition of building a working relationship with golden eagles. The elders insist it is a male domain (apparently ‘women get cold’), but 13-year-old Aisholpan is the daughter of an eagle hunter and is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps. The film makes the most of spectacular backdrops, as she trains her eagle, eventually entering the community’s annual Golden Eagle competition.

GAZA SURF CLUB (DIR. PHILIP GNADT, MICKEY YAMINE, GERMANY)
Arabian Nights, MENA Premiere
Genre: Documentary
Gaza – a strip of land with 1.7 million citizens – has 26 miles of coastline, with a harbour that no longer services ships. Wedged between Israel and Egypt and isolated from the rest of the world, very little enters Gaza and even less leaves it. Trapped in “the world’s largest open-air prison” and ruled by war, a new generation is drawn to the beaches. Sick of occupation and political gridlock, they find their own personal freedom in the waves of the Mediterranean – they are the surfers of Gaza.

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