That’s a wrap: Highlights from the 12th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival

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The 12th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival drew to a close last night with a packed gala screening of Adam McKay's The Big Short, a dramatic tale of four bankers' attempts to take on global finance after their predictions of the global economic collapse of 2008 were ignored. The star-studded ensemble piece, starring Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie, brought the curtain down on eight days of cinematic treats, celebrity encounters and glitzy parties. Here are some of our favourite moments.

Jaws on The Beach

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's seminal shark movie, Diff screened the classic to a packed outdoor cinema on JBR beach. Veteran actor Richard Dreyfuss, who played marine biologist Matt Hooper in the movie, introduced the film and took questions from the audience, revealing that although he wouldn't be keen to make another Jaws movie, he'd happily work with Spielberg again "if the right idea came along".

Abla Fahita takes Diff by storm

The Diff Forum is a vital part of the festival's DNA, bringing industry professionals together to discuss the trending topics of the day. Subjects such as virtual reality, finance and distribution were covered in depth during forum sessions, but although these are all important topics, they can be a little dry for the average film fan. Step forward Abla Fahita, the Egyptian puppet superstar and host of her own weekly TV show, The Duplex. Fahita was ostensibly here to talk about her successful journey from YouTube celebrity to TV presenter, brand ambassador and pop star, which she did admirably. But it was clear this wouldn't be a typical Forum session when Fahita slapped her hapless interviewer down with a biting: "Hmm. That's a boring question. I don't want to answer that."

Terrence Howard performs a new tune

The star of Empire was in town to show his support for the Global Giving Gala, which returned to Diff with long-time patron and co-host Eva Longoria. Other stars in attendance included Creed star Michael B Jordan and British actor Rupert Everett. The audience was in for an unexpected treat when Jordan took to the stage to perform on the piano. The surprises kept coming when Howard duetted with Palestinian opera singer Omar Kamal, who told us Howard "had been working on in his hotel room last night".

The Idol gets its regional premiere – at last

Omar director Hany Abu Assad finally brought his latest movie, The Idol, a biopic about Palestinian refugee-turned Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf, for its regional premiere at the open-air cinema on JBR Beach. Except he didn't. High winds meant that the outdoor screen could not be safely raised, but Assaf saved the day with a live performance. Diff also stepped in, granting the film a red-carpet premiere at the Madinat Arena in a free slot on Sunday night. Tickets were free, by way of an apology to disappointed fans, and Assaf, Abu Assad and the film's cast walked the red carpet before a packed screening.

Emirati cinema comes into its own

It was a vintage year for Emirati cinema. From A to B director Ali F Mostafa noted: “It’s the 12th edition of Diff and we have 12 Emirati films at the festival. That’s never happened before.” Among the highlights were Majid Al Ansari’s Zinzana, which had its regional premiere in front of a packed audience at the Madinat Arena, demonstrating that local directors can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s best genre filmmakers. Bilal, meanwhile, which was produced entirely in Dubai, set a new standard for animation in the region and treated film fans to a star-studded red carpet. Zinzana producers Image Nation also used the festival to offer a sneak preview of their next movie, Ali F Mostafa’s post-­apocalyptic thriller, Worthy.

Starting in style

Opening night is always a thrill and this year was no exception. Among the stars on the red carpet were French legend Catherine Deneuve, Richard Dreyfuss, Michael B Jordan, Hend Sabry, Terrence Howard and Hany Abu-Assad. But it was Slumdog Millionaire star Dev Patel who elicited the biggest screams, gamely posing for selfies with fans. The moment was captured on The National's front page the next morning – Patel was so proud, he told us he kept it for his mum ("she'll be so proud"). But it was Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah, one of four Lifetime Achievement Award honorees, who charmed us most. The 66-year-old used his acceptance speech to offer a heartfelt tribute to the UAE, its people and rulers, and shared stories from his 35 years of visiting the country. "It's no longer a mirage in the desert – but a beautiful mirage that is real."

Zinzana fever

If Diff 2015 is remembered for just one movie moment, it won't be the opener, Room, closing film The Big Short, or the multitude of world premieres – it will be for the moment regional audiences finally got to see Zinzana. The heart-stopping thriller had already impressed critics and festival audiences around the world, earning glowing reviews along the way – but in the words of its Emirati director, Majid Al Ansari: "That was all just a rehearsal for Dubai." Its place in festival lore was guaranteed, not least with the eye-catching advert for the film given pride of place on the back cover of the official programme.

Songs in the key of Diff

Music is a universal language, they say – a point amply proved in Song of Lahore. The moving documentary charts how a group of ageing, traditional Pakistani musicians travelled to New York to perform with jazz star/impresario Wynton Marsalis and his big band after their inventive, sitar-led cover of Dave Brubeck standard Take Five went viral. If the fiery footage failed to convert everyone, seeing the musicians play live did the trick. After an atmospheric free screening at The Beach on Monday, the Sachal Jazz Ensemble took to the stage for a spirited 30-minute performance that included an inspired fusion take of The Pink Panther Theme and, of course, Take Five.

A star in the making

For one Hollywood star, the highlight of festival week was not walking the red carpet on opening night. Not appearing onstage to present his Oscar-tipped new movie. Not even being nominated on the same night for a Screen Actors Guild award. It was a visit to Wild Wadi. Jacob Tremblay, the 9-year-old star of opening film Room, also visited the Toronto International Film Festival in September but said he preferred Diff: "I really like this one because I like the beach and I'm really excited to go to Wild Wadi. Also, I've never been in a hotel where it's like a huge building like this. I had to take a boat to get here."

SRK proves a big draw

Diff 2015 welcomed its fair share of celebrities, with big names from Hollywood, Bollywood, Arabian, European and even Australian cinema all well-represented on the red carpet. But the biggest moment of crazed fandom was surely saved for Shah Rukh Khan when he showed up at Saturday night's Bollywood Gala, hosted on Fort Island by Diff partner Filmfare magazine. The packed venue went crazy for the Bollywood superstar. Our reporter at the event Jessica Hill said: "I've never seen anything like it. I was literally knocked off my feet by overexcited, middle-aged women trying to get close to him."