Somehow one just doesn’t associate horror genre films with movies from the United Arab Emirates. That is probably wrong I know, but we are more used to seeing dramas – political, religious, family-orientated etc – coming from the region, rather than a good old chiller.
So, having come to Dubai for the 3rd Gulf Film Festival hotfoot from the gore-heavy Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival, it was oddly reassuring to see horror finding its way into the official competition section.
From Maher Al-Khaja came the 18-rated The Curse of the Devil (Laanat Iblees), about a rather nasty island where a group of journalists vanish and which then sees a battle between humans and ghostly djinns, while Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Helal presented Hidden Evil (Al Shar Al Khafi), about a villa built over the ancestral home of someone murdered at the site of the building.
Add to the mix the 33-minute short film Djinn Hunters (Sayyadoo Al Jin) by Latifa All Karrani and Shamsa Ahmad, and the sci-fi short Levity: Xero Error Minus 1 by Ashrf Ghori (part of the film student section), and you almost have a whole genre sub-section.
There is also the festival’s only 3D movie, The Last Mortal Journey (Al Fana’a), made by Kuwaiti director Omar Al-Masab, an 18-minute short film that according to the official blurb is about “the last journey into the next dimension…one that delves deep into the human mind”. Indeed.
Of course, the Gulf Film Festival is not trying to present itself as a genre event, but rather an opportunity to view work from some of the new young filmmakers from the region. The fact that its opening film was City of Life, the 2009 Dubai film that was premiered at the Dubai International Film Festival late last year, indicates that this festival is not trying to compete with its big-budget big-brother, but rather carving its own niche.
The event is based in Festival City, a hotel and shopping/entertainment complex located by the site of Dubai creek, not far from the airport. As I sat with my laptop on the terrace of the Intercontinental Hotel, the view includes shops, marina, a plethora of cranes (most idle) and in the distance the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, its crooked spire reaching up towards the incoming clouds.
The screenings have all been pretty well attended, and as with most festivals the titles on show are a mixture of intriguingly professional and amateurishly ambitious, though the informal atmosphere add much to the occasion.
As with both Dubai film festivals the notion of tourism always comes into play. Here shopping is the thing (within a few minutes you can be browsing in Marks & Spencer or Ikea), especially important since the Intercontinental pool was closed during the festival. At DIF the main festival hotel sits on the Jumeriah beach and is a brief walk away from the Wild Wadi Waterpark, which excited some buyers I attended the 2009 event with a great deal.
At Festival City there is little for camera-happy snappers to photograph…though there has been much excitement at the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel – not through the arrival of a movie star, but because one of the front door staff stands some seven foot tall and could be taken for Richard Kiel in his younger days. Cue plenty of tourist photo’s with the genial door man….it might not be showbiz, but it’s a close thing.