Head of Dubai International Film Festival remembers a special moment with the late Sheila Whitaker

Sheila Whitaker
CREDIT: Courtesy Dubai Film Festival

The recent passing of one of the UAE's biggest figures in the film industry has caused mourning across the country as many start to reminisce.

Sheila Whitaker, 77, died on July 29 from motor neurone disease. She was the director of international programming at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) for nine years.

One of the people who worked closely with Whitaker was Abdulhamid Juma, the chairman of DIFF.

He says his most memorable moment with Whitaker was when they had to chose the opening film for DIFF 2010.

“I have to give the go-ahead for the opening and galas. I don’t get involved in the films they choose, but regarding the opening film, I have to look at all aspects of it.

“The opening film is very important, most of the people who come to the opening night are not always filmgoers, so I have to make sure it satisfies everybody,” he says.

When Whitaker chose the The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, Juma admits he was nervous.

“She had already given them the promise that it would be the opening film, but I hadn’t seen it yet. I had to accept the promise.”

Less than a week before the festival, Juma and Whitaker went to see the film together.

“After the film finished, I was really putting my hand on my heart, hoping I liked it. I had no choice anymore. But I just looked at her and said, ‘Beautiful’. And she said, ‘Did you have any doubt?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I did actually!’

“But it was one of the best films we ever chose.”

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