The fifth Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) opens today with Oliver Stone's W ., kicking off a week long programme that includes 181 films, 11 world premieres and runs parallel to the inaugural Dubai Film Market.
Dubai Film Market
For Ziad Yaghi, director of the Dubai Film Market, the market was a natural extension of the festival.
'We thought, all of the big companies are here and they want to do deals, so why not start a market that provides a professional platform to do that'' Yaghi said.
Yaghi, a former Middle East acquisitions executive himself is confident deals can be done during DFM.
'There are over 450 satellite TV channels in this region,' Yaghi told ScreenDaily.com. 'And there are also a lot of European and American companies expressing desire to buy Middle Eastern, Asian and African content.' he said.
The market's 212 movies will be offered on its new digital library, Cinetech.
The 20 viewing stations will also allow viewers to immediately contact rights holders while viewing work.
Prior to kickoff, DFM has more than 450 participants registered.
Companies include: Disney, Fox, Voltage, Wild Bunch, The Match Factory, Summit Entertainment, Paramount Vantage, Elle Driver, Fortissimo, Celluloid Dreams, ARTE France, IFC, Gulf Film, 2929, Reliance, and Front Row.
Increased Industry Focus
Underlining the festival's increased industry focus, DIFF has started two new awards for its Dubai Film Connection co-production market:
The DIFF Development Award, a $10,000 prize sponsored by the Bahrain Film Production Company, to help writers and directors in the writing stages; and
The DIFF Works In Progress Award, with $25,000 sponsored by Desert Door Productions, to help with completion funding. The three finalists are Cherien Dabis' Amreeka, Dima el Horr's Everyday is a Holiday, and Haider Rashid's Tangled Up in Blue.
The Dubai Film Connection (December 13-17) has an increased 18 projects selected for 2008. From the class of 2007 five of 15 films have been shot and three more are set to shoot by the end of 2008.
Films generating buzz in advance of the festival include the Arabian Nights Gala, Palestinian director Najwa Najjar's Pomegranates and Myrrh (Al Mor Wa Al Rumman).
The film is touted for potentially having crossover appeal similar to Lebanese hit Caramel and it has also been selected for Sundance 2009.
The cast features Yasmine al Masri of Caramel with Ali Suleiman (Paradise Now) and Hiam Abbass (The Visitor, Lemon Tree).
Another potential crowd pleaser is Melodrama Habibi (Une Chanson Dans La Tete), the debut feature from Lebanon's Hany Tamba.
The film, billed as 'Lost In Translation in Beirut,' is about a washed-up Lebanese pop star from the 1970s who works as Paris hotel receptionist until an avid fan recruits him for a performance.
The Muhr Awards for Arab cinema will continue to honour features, documentaries and shorts.
In addition, the festival has also selected 15 titles to compete in the new Muhr Asia Africa awards.
Those titles, selected from 450 submissions, include: Deepa Mehta's Heaven On Earth; Guka Omarova's Native Dancer (Baksy); So Yong Kim's Treeless Mountain; and Nandita Das' Fire.
The competitions offer more than $576,000 in total prize money. Also, FIPRESCI will give an award in Dubai for the first time this year.
Out of Competition
As previously reported, the festival's non-competition programmes include Cultural Bridge (about the meeting of the Islamic and Western worlds); Arabian Nights (contemporary Arab cinema); Indian Cinema, Cinema Of The World; Cinema of Asia Africa; Gulf Voices (an expansion of Emirati Voices);
Industry events and guests
Panels will include topics such as Middle East exhibition, shooting in Morocco, and looking at new forms of distribution.
Honorees of the festival include The Dark Knight producer Charles Roven, UK-based director Terry Gilliam, French-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb and Hong Kong director Tsui Hark.
Guests expected in Dubai include Nicolas Cage, Laura Linney, Danny Glover, Brendan Fraser, Abhishek Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Toronto's Cameron Bailey, Sundance's Geoffrey Gilmore, Deepa Mehta, Ahmed El Maanouni, Naomi Kawase, and Hany Abu-Assad.
DIFF and DFM run through December 18.