The Dubai International Film Festival has announced the eagerly anticipated line-up for its 14th edition, which runs from December 6 to 13.
The opening night gala is usually guaranteed to be a star-studded affair, and celebrities already confirmed to attend this year's event include Cate Blanchett, Patrick Stewart, Sarah Jessica Parker, Morgan Spurlock, Alesha Dixon, Irrfan Khan, Rob Reiner and Sonam Kapoor.
Although the organisers haven't yet revealed exactly who else we can expect to see gracing the red carpet on opening night, we're guaranteed two of Hollywood's biggest names on the Madinat Arena's big screen. Christian Bale and Rosamund Pike star in Black Mass director Scott Cooper's latest, Hostiles, which will have its first screening outside North America, at Diff.
The film premiered at the Telluride Festival, Colorado, in September, and had a second airing at Toronto later that month. Bale stars as a United States Cavalry officer and ruthless killer of Native Americans, who is forced to face his own prejudices when he is ordered to escort an elderly, imprisoned Cheyenne chief (Dances with Wolves' Wes Studi) on a perilous cross-country journey to die on his ancestral lands. Pike plays a traumatised widow the party encounter en route, whose family have just been slaughtered by hostile Comanche warriors.
There's no prize for guessing this year's closing film. It's been one of the worst-kept secrets in Dubai for some time now that, following a precedent set last year when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story regionally premiered to close the festival, Star Wars: The Last Jedi would close things this time around.
Confirmation finally came this morning that the movie would be premiering ahead of its general release the following day, and the organisers will once again be teaming up with fans and hardcore cosplayers, such as the 501st Legion, to bring a sprinkling of intergalactic celebrity to the closing night carpet.
In between these two tent-pole galas, audiences can look forward to 140 films from 51 countries in 38 languages. These will include an impressive 50 world or international premieres, and 81 Mena debuts, 16 red carpet galas and 14 special presentations. As ever, films will be split between Diff’s Arab and Emirati Muhr competition sections, and out-of-competition sections dedicated to children’s films, the Arab world, virtual reality and global cinema.
Alongside the galas and presentations at the Madinat Arena and Theatre, Diff films will also be screening at Vox Cinemas at Mall of the Emirates, the ever popular outdoor cinema The Beach at JBR and, in a first for this year, Vox Galleria Mall in Jumeirah. On the sidelines of the main festival, meanwhile, the local industry will be out in force for the Dubai Film Market, while technophiles won’t want to miss the returning DIFFerent Reality, showcasing the very latest in Virtual Reality and Alternative Reality filmmaking.
Diff runs at Madinat Arena/Theatre, Vox Cinemas, JBR Beach and Galleria Mall from December 6 to 13. For tickets, schedule and package details visit www.diff.ae
Diff can always be relied on to bring some of the best movies from around the world to town each December, whether global or regional premieres or hits from the year’s festival circuit that might not otherwise make it into the UAE’s blockbuster-centric cinemas.
Highlights this year include Armando Iannucci's critically praised The Death of Stalin, a Soviet-era political satire exploring the death of the dictator and its aftermath, and starring Michael Palin, Steve Buscemi and Jason Isaacs.
Venice Golden Lion winner, Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water, will be getting its regional debut, as will James Franco's critically lauded The Disaster Artist, a fictional look behind the scenes of the real-life "worst film ever made", Tommy Wiseau's 2003 cult favourite The Room.
Alexander Payne, meanwhile, can possibly claim the prize for most star-studded movie. His sci-fi satire Downsizing is headed up by a stellar cast of Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Laura Dern, Jason Sudeikis, Alec Baldwin and Neil Patrick Harris.
Another highlight of September's festival season making the trip to the desert is Janus Metz Pederson's Borg v McEnroe, starring Shia LeBeouf and Sverrir Gudnason as the warring tennis legends.
It's impossible to list the full complement of international gems coming to town here, although it would perhaps be remiss not to mention The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos's follow-up to 2015's surreal classic The Lobster. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman star in this unsettling black comedy which this writer has already tipped as the best film of 2017. Whether that tip will prove to be presumptuous in light of some of the as-yet-unseen movies about to drop anchor remains to be seen.
Outside of the films, audiences can look forward to this year's In Conversation With... British thespian Patrick Stewart, star of Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men and many, many more.
Diff's Muhr Awards are always hotly contested. With a record-equalling 13 films from Emirati directors in the mix this year, all set for their world premiere at Diff, competition for this prize of up to Dh75,000 should be fiercer than ever. The wider Muhr competition will bring shorts, documentaries and features from across the Arab world together, with a top prize of Dh200,000 at stake for the Best Feature winner.
Elsewhere, two of the biggest prizes in the region will also be up for grabs. The IWC Schaffhausen Award offers US$100,000 (Dh367,000) to help bring one talented filmmaker's script to the screen, and will this year be contested by four hopefuls – three of them women – from the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman. The same amount is offered to the winner of the UAE Ministry of the Interior's Cinema Award, which will once again be presented at this year's festival.
The ever-popular The Beach outdoor cinema returns this year, offering an ideal movie-going opportunity to those who love to catch a film, but not to the degree that they’re motivated to put on their best clothes and attend a red carpet gala, or sit through a day of panels and Q&As for the pleasure.
Screenings on the beach are free throughout the festival, and the action starts when the festival does, with live coverage from the Opening Gala red carpet, followed by Iranian director Majid Majidi's acclaimed Beyond the Clouds.
This year's live music/movie crossover screening comes in the form of Grain of Sand, a documentary about traditional Khaliji fishing songs from British guitarist, and former UAE resident, Jason Carter.
This year's remastered classic will be Merian C Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's seminal 1933 monster movie King Kong. The last time The Beach featured a monster movie as its classic selection, Jaws' Richard Dreyfuss popped by to introduce the screening to celebrate the shark-shocker's 40th anniversary, in 2015. Given the 84-year gap in King Kong's case, we won't hold our breath for an appearance from Fay Ray.
Dubai Film Market
The Dubai Film Market (DFM) is the festival's industry arm, taking place concurrently within the Madinat Arena and featuring panels covering topics from women in cinema to cinematography and Q and A's with industry figures, including documentarian Morgan Spurlock, whose Supersize Me 2: Holy Chicken! premieres at Diff, and Emmy Award winning director/producer Michelle MacLaren. Her credits include Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad.
DFM, and the incorporated Dubai Film Connection, is also where filmmakers can go to seek out funding, co-producers, sales agents and distribution. Outside of the business talk, DFM also plays host to DIFFerent Reality and its centrepiece, The du VR Cinema, where visitors can check out 10 of the latest VT films, as well as the latest innovations in Alternative Reality technology from around the world.
In case it passed you by, 2017 was the UK/UAE Year of Creative Collaboration, and Diff will be helping to bring the year to a close in style. As well as the many British films among this year's line-up, Bafta will be in attendance to present a costume design masterclass with Oscar-winning designer Alexandra Byrne, whose recent work includes Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). The masterclass will be in partnership with Swarovski, as is Bafta's costume design exhibition, which will be at Diff HQ for the duration of the festival. The British Film Institute, meanwhile, will be teaming up with the British Council to hold a writers' workshop and script development session as part of DFM.