UAE film in spotlight at Dubai film festival

The line-up at this year's event will help to inspire local artists to make meaningful movies, organisers say.

The musical Nine, featuring Sophia Loren and Daniel Day-Lewis, will open the Dubai International Film Festival tonight.
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DUBAI // Few Emirati films made much of a splash at the Dubai International Film Festival during its first five years. But organisers hope to reverse that trend this year with a screening of City of Life, the country's first big-budget feature film.

"We are confident that City of Life will inspire more Emirati film makers to realise their dreams of making meaningful movies," said Masoud al Ali, the event's artistic director. The festival, which begins tonight with a premiere of the musical Nine, features 168 films including 10 from the Gulf and 66 from the Arab region from 55 countries over the next eight days. While there has been a strong input from countries such as Iran and Palestine since the event began, contributions from the UAE have been limited.

City of Life, by the Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa, is about three young adults coping with life in Dubai. The film features an international cast including the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels actor Jason Flemyng, and had an estimated budget of Dh26 million (US$7m). The aim of the festival was to create a "vibrant Arab industry", Mr al Ali said. "DIFF will highlight the evolution of Arab cinema with an Arabian Nights selection, and we continue to focus our attention on promoting it through the Muhr Arab awards," he said.

"We are confident some of the finds will blaze a trail in the global film circuit." Nashen Moodley, the director of the festival's Asian and African film segment, said: "The films we have chosen represent what is happening in the Arab world today, from Iraq to Kyrgyzstan and Mauretania. "There are so many problems that Arab filmmakers are just beginning to discuss." The festival opens amid a burgeoning art house movie scene in the Emirates. The country's first permanent venue for screening independent films opened last month in Dubai Mall.

The line-up at Picturehouse, located at Reel Cinemas, has included Paper Heart, a documentary about love; The Loop, which focuses on two superpowers waging war; and the comedy Cold Souls. It has doubled the efforts of the Scene Club, a roving film lovers' group which celebrates offbeat movies but has no permanent home. The organisation is run by one of the Emirates' few film producers, Nayla al Khaja, who launched D-Seven Motion Pictures two years ago with the help of DIFF.

Gordon Kirk, the general manager of Reel Cinemas, said there was a "new wave of cinema in the UAE". "For serious movie lovers, it will bring a wide array of exciting classics, art house and independent films, which will spark debates among our patrons," he said. Abdulhamid Juma, the chairman of the festival, said there was plenty of scope for filmmakers and venues. "We try to help as much as we can in terms of funding and bringing people together to share their experiences," he said.

"The rest is down to the filmmakers themselves." He said the festival gave movie-goers the chance to see films not offered the rest of the year. "There is an appetite for art house films here, and that is our challenge," he said. "In certain places, such as Colorado, where I studied and first picked up a love for film, there is a film culture. "I think Dubai is ready for that now." As well as more obscure films, the festival will feature mainstream movies such as Avatar, James Cameron's epic adventure; Alvin and the Chipmunks; and Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year.

The list of stars attending the festival includes Amitabh Bachchan, Omar Sharif, Gerard Butler, Christina Ricci and Faten Hamama. Tonight's opener Nine is a musical from Rob Marshall, the director of Chicago, with a cast including Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson and Penelope Cruz.