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Dubai axes three Syrian films from official selection

Dubai and Cairo film festivals remove films by pro-Bashar al-Assad filmmakers from line-ups.

The Dubai International Film Festival has dropped three Syrian films from its official selection, amid growing criticism in the Arab film world of the directors’ pro-Bashar al-Assad stance.

The festival, running Dec 9-16, said in a statement it would no longer screen Basil al-Khatib’s historical drama Mariam, Abdul Latif Abdul Hamid’s The Lover (El Asheq) and Joud Said’s My Last Friend (Sadiqi Al Akheer).

The decision to remove the films came after growing protests from within the Arab film community over the directors’ support for President Bashar al-Assad amid the ongoing civil war between his forces and pro-democracy supporters which has left more than 40,000 people dead.

All three filmmakers signed a declaration in 2011, dubbed the “Syrian Filmmakers Statement”, demanding reform within President Bashar Assad’s regime but also pledging support for the beleaguered leader amid the pro-democracy struggle. 

None of them have ever publicly removed their signatures from the statement. The festival contacted all three directors prior to dropping their films from the line-up to inform them of its decision.

“The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) embraces the theme of ‘bridging cultures, meeting minds’, providing a forum for people from different cultures regardless of their race or religion and respects their innate right to have an opinion and express it,” the festival said in a statement.  

It continued it was for this reason that the festival had originally decided to include films produced by Syria’s state-backed National Film Organisation.

“They were initially regarded as projects with their own discourse, statements, ideas and visions aiming to shed light on the current Syrian reality whose films, illustrate various approaches to the situation in the region,” said the statement.

“However, we cannot ignore that the directors of Mariam, My Last Friend and The Lover signed the ‘Syrian Filmmakers’ Statement’, issued in May 2011, which called for reform under the leadership of the president of the republic, and have not retracted their support.

“Therefore, in light of the tragic ongoing situation that the people of Syria face every day and, in accordance with the politics of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in advocating the Syrian people and their ambitions, we cannot justify celebrating these films.”

At beginning of November, the UAE joined other Gulf States in recognising the broad-based Syrian opposition group as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people as part of a first formal joint endorsement by  the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

DIFF’s removal of the three titles follows a similar move by the ongoing Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) running Nov 27 to Dec 6.  

The event dropped The Lover from its Human Rights film category competition, due to both the director and lead actor’s pro-Assad position.

A selection of Syrian films remain in the official DIFF line-up. 

Meyar Al Roumi’s Round Trip tale about a Damascus taxi driver is competing in the Muhr Arab Feature section.  There are three Syrian entries in the Muhr Arab Short section: Waiting for P.O. Box, Swings and the animated The Good, The Bad and The Sadistic.

Nidal Hassan’s True Story of Love, Life, Death and Sometimes Revolution screens in the documentary section.

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