It’s a wrap, as Diff 2017 looks forward to new horizons

Cosplayers joined the party for ‘The Last Jedi’, while there was also much for the local film industry to celebrate, writes Chris Newbould

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - DECEMBER 13:  Director Annemarie Jacir (R) with the Muhr Best Fiction Feature award for "Wajib" with actor Mohammad Bakri (L) and HH Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the Muhr Awards on day eight of the 14th annual Dubai International Film Festival held at the Madinat Jumeriah Complex on December 13, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for DIFF)
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The 14th Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) drew to an intergalactic close last night with a sell-out gala screening of the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi. Tickets had been like gold dust at the festival all week, so it was no surprise that the Madinat Arena red carpet was packed for the event, with plenty of fans in full themed costume, including members of the UAE Outpost of Imperial cosplayers, the 501st Legion, adding to the party atmosphere of the closing night.

The festival featured a full eight days of cinematic treats, with 140 films including 51 World and International Premieres from around the world. This year, though, it was two political decisions that brought the biggest news from the festival. The decision by US president Donald Trump to unilaterally declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel in defiance of both international law and opinion brought widespread condemnation from filmmakers. Rob Reiner was among the most vocal critics, describing the president as “a moron”, while Palestinian filmmakers Annemarie Jacir and May Odeh added their weight to a petition launched to protest the decision.

It wasn't all bad news on the politics front – on Monday there was jubilation at news that Saudi Arabia is to allow cinemas to open early next year – the first time public cinemas have been allowed in the conservative kingdom since the early 1980s. The news may have been widely expected but the timing caught everyone by surprise – not least the DIFF organisers who, we understand, believed that the announcement would be made at the festival with Saudi filmmakers including Wadjda director Haifaa Al Mansour on hand to offer reaction from the stage.

In a statement, DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya said: “There are many talented Saudi filmmakers and actors already successfully working in the industry, many of whom we have been honoured to host at the Dubai International Film Festival this week. Giving a larger and even more diverse regional audience greater access to film can only be a good thing for the development of the industry.”

There was more good news for the development of the industry at the festival, with five Arab filmmakers sharing the US$60,000 (Dh220,380) of grant funding available through Dubai Film Connection. Al Mansour, meanwhile, solidified her place as Saudi's most successful filmmaker, picking up the $100,000 IWC Filmmaker Award for her project-in-development Miss Camel.

Big names at this year's festival included Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men legend Sir Patrick Stewart, who picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award and took part in a public question and answer session; We Need to Talk About Kevin director Lynne Ramsay, who was screening her film You Were Never Really Here; When Harry Met Sally and A Few Good Men director Rob Reiner, with his political thriller Shock and Awe; and popular documentary maker Morgan Spurlock who screened and talked about his sequel Super-Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!.

The Diff 2017 awards were presented before the final screening. The big winners were Simon Curtis, who picked up the NBD People's Choice Award for Goodbye Christopher Robin; Nujoom Al Ghanem, who won the Muhr Award for Best Emirati Feature for Sharp Tools; and Annemarie Jacir, who claimed the Muhr Award for Best Fiction Feature, for Wajib. Jacir told The National following her win: "I'm so, so happy, a little bit in a state of shock. It's very emotional for me because Dubai is such an important place to me, I'm really stunned."

Al Ghanem was delighted with her award too. "After I finished and saw it on the screen I felt this emptiness inside me after being so busy on a daily basis, day and night, with the script, the dialogue, the actors and the poetry, and this is a real achievement, but also a responsibility – there is still a long way to go," she said, adding she was pleased to see so many Emirati films in competition this year, a record-equalling 13, including five features. 

“It’s getting more competitive year on year and I’m glad there were a lot of good films and we were all competing at the end. It can only help the local industry and local filmmakers improve.”

For all the winners, and all the news from Diff in the past week, go to

Winners in full:
People who make a DIFFerence Zeina Sfeir         
People who make a DIFFerence Antoine Khalife  
People who make a DIFFerence Monty Shansez  
People who make a DIFFerence Basil Sarhan   
The DIFF Young Journalist Award: Sanjay Shankar
Arab Film Studio Scriptwriting Award: Sajda Almuallemi for Unexpected Holiday
Ministry of Interior Award: Rawia Abdullah for The Contact Line of Domfront
The Emirates NBD People's Choice Award: Simon Curtis for Goodbye Christopher Robin
Muhr Emirati                 
Best Director: Abdullah Aljunaibi for Camera
Best Short: Hana Alshateri and Yaser Al Neyadi for Horoob (Escape)
Best Feature: Nujoom Alghanem for Alaat Haddah (Sharp Tools) 
Muhr Gulf Short                        
Jury Prize: Dhyaa Joda for Sabyea 
Best Film: Ulaa Salim for Faedreland (Land of Our Fathers)
Muhr Short                    
Jury Prize: Cyril Aris for The President's Visit
Best Film: Mahdi Fleifel for A Drowning Man
Muhr Feature                
Best Actress: Menha El Batroui for her role in Zahret Al Sabar (Cactus Flower)
Best Actor: Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri for Wajib
Best Director: Sofia Djama for Les Bienheureux (The Blessed)
Jury Prize: Lucien Bourjeily for Ghada El Eid (Heaven Without People) 
Best Non-Fiction Feature: Ziad Khalthoum for Taste of Cement 
Best Fiction Feature: Annemarie Jacir for Wajib


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