Arab filmmakers in full cry at DIFF

Among all the red carpets and visiting Hollywood glamour, DIFF features 70 Arab movies this year - a notable advance on the single title shown at it's debut seven years ago.

The actor Colin Firth with fans on DIFF opening night at the Madinat Arena. As well as plenty of Hollywood glamour, there are 70 Arab films showing in the festival this year.
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Among all the red carpet gala screenings, numerous world premieres and Colins (Firth and Farrell), there's a film showing at the Dubai International Film Festival that, in many ways, encapsulates the potentials of the eight-day event more than any other.

Nomad's Home, the debut full-length feature from Iman Kamel, sees the Egyptian filmmaker in dialogue with an inspirational Bedouin woman living in the Sinai peninsula, struggling against patriarchal traditions to bring an education to the women of her group.

Kamel, who herself lives a somewhat nomadic life having lived away from her homeland for the past 20 years and now resides in Berlin, discovered that while they have many differences, she and the Bedouin are more connected than one might think, which becomes gradually apparent in the film.

"It's about the area of moving, questioning of ideologies, the question of communities, where you can consider home when you have a laptop and all your friends online to chat," she says.

While the film has clear contextual connections with the UAE, where a fair majority of the population could be considered "nomadic", having moved here from across the world while remaining permanently in communication with their homelands, its links with the film festival run even deeper. Indeed, without the festival's involvement, it might never have even progressed beyond an idea.

"It all started at the film festival three years ago, when I was doing a producer coaching course here," says Kamel. The Professional Coaching for Producers initiative, a training course created in conjunction with the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs organisation, was established in 2007, aimed at providing expert panel and case studies on topics such as script development, legalities, budgets, marketing and distribution.

"I had a follow-up the following year, in 2008, where I met my producer Talal al Muhanna," says Kamel. "And we started to work together. And last year, we came to the Dubai Film Connection at the festival with our project."

It was at 2009's DIFF that Kamel was really able to move forward with Nomad's House, with the Dubai Film Connection - also set up in 2007 - especially aimed at supporting Arab filmmakers. "It was incredible," she says, "because the festival embraced the project, even though it's not regular filmmaking, it's not reportage. It's very simple, but poetic."

At DIFF 2009, the festival gave Kamel and Nomad's Home, which was then just a 30-minute preview, an industry screening. "While there weren't many people there, they were important people," she says.

Nomad's Home was nominated for the Desert Door DIFF Work in Progress Award, a US$25,000 (Dh92,000) prize competition aimed at encouraging Arab filmmaking. While it didn't take the top prize, which eventually went to the Palestine-UK production Zindeeq by Michel Khleifi, Nomad's Home did take a runner-up spot. More importantly, it was eligible for funding from Enjaaz, a programme launched at the Dubai Film Market designed to support films in the post-production phase, and this helped see it through to completion.

"As soon as I left Dubai last year, I had the funding and was able to work on the film right away," says Kamel, adding that through the arrangement, Enjaaz and DIFF, along with Al Muhanna, became co-producers on the film. Now, a year later, the full fruits of this partnership are ready to be screened.

Coincidentally, coaching Kamel in 2007 was the Egyptian filmmaker Marianne Khoury. Zelal, Khoury's sobering look at her country's mental health institutions, is itself receiving a regional premiere at this year's DIFF, and in the same Arab Documentary category as Nomad's Home.

With her DIFF debut Nomad's Home set to see its world premiere this week, Kamel plans to return in the future, and not just with new projects. "I'd love to come back to the festival to coach Arab filmmakers, to work with them."

Nomad's Home is one of 70 Arab films being shown at this year's DIFF, a figure that - like Kamel's story - demonstrates exactly what this event has helped achieve over the past seven years. In 2004, when it started, there was only one.

Nomad's Home screens at MOE 7 on Thursday, 10.15pm, and Saturday, 12.30pm.