This year’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) got underway with two lavish parties – the opening at Madinat Jumeirah and the IWC Filmmaker Award gala dinner at the One&Only Royal Mirage on the following night.

There are the films…and then there are the parties. And the truth of it is that the Dubai International Film Festival knows how to throw a rather nice party.

With the opening night party now firmly located on the fort island (and the area that was once water and is now covered by flooring) at the front of the Madinat Jumeirah, it was a stylish and nicely lavish start to a festival that is now firmly established as an end-the-year favourite with festival-goers.

Some of us regulars have fond memories of when the opening bash was on the beach in front of the Burj Hotel, but there is something rather cool about the current location. The fact that it is right in front of the venue where the galas are all held makes all of that annoying walking so much more bearable, and the sprawling space is perfect for ambling from one bar to the next.

The film festival opening night bash is a tough one to get right, but DIFF has cracked the balance of a lavish welcoming with the right tone to launch the event. Earlier in the evening the red carpet saw the likes of Emily Blunt, Lee Daniels, Virginia Madsen, Asha Bhosle, Nour El-Sherif, Nadine Labaki, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Olga Kurylenkoin their finery attend the opening night screening of James Marsh’s The Theory Of Everything.

Those of us who had seen the excellent film beforehand made for the opening night party and enjoyed the low-key ambience before the doors opened and the main audience made their way to the event. In the quiet before the storm there was time to relish the attentive service (there is a strict policy to let no champagne glass go unfilled) and weigh up the plentiful food options. As the evening wore on there was a worrying temptation to hang around to closely to the dessert area – a spot that seemed to rival Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a place for a late night sugar fix.

The following night it was a change of pace as DIFF bonded with Swiss luxury watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen (an official sponsor of the event) for the third annual IWC Filmmaker Award, that saw Kuwaiti director and producer Abdullah Boushahri receive a $100,000 prize (and an IWC watch) to support his upcoming film The Water.

The award was presented at a black-tie dinner for about 150 good-and-great of the film and social world (and me, who happened to be on the IWC jury this year) at the One&Only Royal Mirage, where Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen hosted the event with humour and grace, and where my fellow jurors Emily Blunt and director Marc Forster added to the already hefty star quota.

As the prize was presented the audience was surprised and rather thrilled to hear chart-topping soul singer and songwriter Aloe Blacc perform his hit The Man, accompanied by just a guitarist. The charming Blacc was there to entertain the after party guests with a set – that blended his songs with some film-themed classics – but his brief and classy acoustic performance complemented the style of the evening.

And, before anyone asks…no, I didn’t receive an IWC Schaffhausen watch! Though I admit to looking enviously at Georges Kern’s rather classy number when I sat next to him at the jury meeting at the Al Qasar Hotel earlier in the day. I think he may have objected if I had tried to snaffle it off his wrist….