Festival fever

The Dubai International Film Festival took place last month with the event marking a milestone in the emirate's campaign to establish itself as a major player in world cinema.
Analysis, Broadcast Business
Analysis, Broadcast Business

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The fourth instalment of DIFF coincided with Dubai Studio City receiving its first tenants and a number of new clients also revealing their intention to set up home at the development. As the local industry continues to grow, DIFF is evolving into an increasingly supportive event for the local industry, as well as a red carpet showcase.

The festival has introduced several new elements since its inception in 2004, including the Muhr Awards, an Arab film competition. The second instalment of the Muhr awards included seven world premieres across its three categories (shorts, documentaries and features).

The competition also introduced seven additional award categories this year, including Best Actor and Best Actress, which both carried prize money of US$10, 000. New awards recognising the achievements of production staff were also added. The Best Cinematographer and Best Editor awards offered $7, 000 in prize money each.

The dedicated section of the Muhr Awards for UAE filmmakers was also broadened to include the categories of Best Emirati Filmmaker, Best Emirati Female Filmmaker and Best Emirati Talent, with each category worth $5,500.

"In our second year, the response from filmmakers has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 300 films were submitted in the competition, and a number of those selected are world premieres," stated Masoud Amralla Al Ali, DIFF's artistic director and coordina tor general of the Muhr awards. "The high calibre of the films demanded that we increase the number of films in each category from 10 to 12. It is an indicator of the trust between filmmakers and DIFF that they chose to show their films here, and we are proud of the quality of cinema we are able to showcase for festival guests this year.

Associate director of the competition, Mohammed Rouda added: "This year we have seen a diverse range of topics, in addition to the social issues and current political situation of the Arab world. Arab cinema is no longer just presenting issues, but trying to draw attention to artistic and stylistic film techniques.

This year's event saw the introduction of the People's Choice Awards. Members from the audience were able to rate films in the short, feature and documentary categories after each screening. The ratings on each ballot were tallied up by DIFF, with the winner receiving the People's Choice Award for audience appreciation.

The 2007 Industry Office programme was also expanded.

The UAE's first feature film project market was launched. The Dubai Film Connection exposed Arab filmmakers to international film professionals, including many distributors.

A series of workshops and panel discussions for producers were also incorporated into the programme. The sessions were organised by the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs (EAVE). The Professional Coaching for Producers series included training on script development, legal issues, finance and distribution.

"There was an overwhelming response to the Industry Office's events and networking opportunities last year. The Dubai Film Connection offers a more focused platform that allows us to further our mandate of promoting an Arab cinema," commented Shivani Pandya, DIFF's managing director.

"The aim this year was to make DIFF visibly larger and more vibrant than ever before. We are very grateful to have the support of the Dubai community in bringing this event to life.

DIFF also continues to enjoy heavyweight sponsorship support, with the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), the world's fastest growing financial centre, signing up as the festival's sole 'Supported By' sponsor.

"Our ambition is for DIFC to highlight Dubai's reputation, not just as a hub for business and finance, but as a centre for excellence and innovation across the board," His Excellency Dr Omar Bin Sulaiman, governor of the DIFC said. "Whilst the DIFC is driving the growth of the region's financial sector, it is also stimulating Dubai's expansion into other areas, such as art and culture. By supporting DIFF, we are supporting the development of regional talent.

DIFF chairman Abdulhamid Juma commented on the deal saying, "Our areas of activity may seem far removed, but in fact are united in purpose: to raise Dubai's reputation globally and to continue to guide its development as a community with much to offer both residents and visitors alike.

"In 2007, we have enjoyed 141 of the best international films from 52 different countries, many of them from the Arab world," said Juma. "We made numerous improvements for the fourth edition that have taken us further in our mission to celebrate excellence in cinema.

Film festivals are all about publicity. As more and more of the films benefiting from the publicity created by the festival are produced (or at least co-produced) in the Middle East, DIFF is likely to become increasingly relevant, and valuable, to the local production industry.

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