DIFF unveils Muhr contenders

19 must-see features capture compelling stories from the Arab world
We Have Never Been Kids is among the films in the Muhr line-up.
We Have Never Been Kids is among the films in the Muhr line-up.


The 12th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) has unveiled the second half of the internationally renowned Muhr Feature programme. Featuring work from directors around the region, the Muhr Feature competition selects films for the way in which they reflect the complex issues facing the contemporary Arab world.

The first feature shortlisted in the category is from renowned Palestinian director, Kamal Aljafari. Known for his haunting portrayals of Palestinian communities drawn from documentary, fiction and personal memoirs, the award-winning director will take the audience to the brink of empathy with his latest feature, ‘Recollection’.

Utilising footage from the 60s to the 90s, Aljafari takes viewers through the eyes of an unknown protagonist who returns to Jaffa. By removing main characters, the audience is able to truly experience the memories of a town and the recollections of its people.

Award winning short filmmaker Rifqi Assaf’s debut feature-length film ‘The Curve’, supported by Enjaaz, gets its world premiere at DIFF 2015. Centering on Radi, who is living in his old VW minibus, he obliges three strangers by agreeing to drive them to their destinations. With the four unlikely companions confined to the small van, each one comes to see that though their backgrounds are different, they are all at a crossroads in their lives and this road trip may be the spiritual challenge they need to set them on the right path once more.

Acclaimed filmmaker Hala Khalil’s world premiere of ‘Nawara’ is set in the final death throes of Mubarak’s regime. Nawara is a young woman working as a maid for a family well connected with the old establishment. Sensing the shifting tides in Egypt, Nawara’s employers flee the country and leave her behind to look after their palatial home. ‘Nawara’ explores the dangerous days in which the long-standing regime finally crumbled and Egypt’s future hung in the balance, with those seeking retribution for years of oppression going unchecked.

Supported by Enjaaz, Fares Naanaa’s first feature film, ‘Borders of Heaven’, will hold its world premiere at DIFF 2015 and examines the relationship of blissfully married couple, Sara and Sami. As their relationship crumbles in the wake of a tragedy, they fight to cling on through their grief and their relationship is pushed to breaking point. In this poignant film, the ‘new’ Tunisian nation is reflected by the floundering couple; torn between reconciling the past and moving into the future.

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‘Go Home’ is the first feature film from director Jihane Chouaib and was supported by DIFF’s Enjaaz programme. Exploring the ethereal nature of identity that so many of the Lebanese diaspora experience, the film follows Nada, a young ballet dancer returning to Lebanon for the first time since she was a child. She finds the bombed remnants of her family home and instead of leaving the past behind, she resolves to find the body of her grandfather, who vanished during the Civil War. Spanning the length and breadth of the country, Nada’s sombre journey is imbued with adventure as she takes in legends and visits the places once confined to childhood memory.

Director Leyla Bouzid’s debut feature film ‘As I Open My Eyes’ comes to DIFF after acclaim at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals. The film is set in the summer of 2010 in the city of Tunis, a few months before the Revolution. Farah, 18 years-old, has just graduated and her family already sees her as a future doctor - but she doesn't think the same way. A singer in a political rock band, she has a passion for life, gets drunk and discovers love and her city by night against the will of her mother Hayet, who knows Tunisia and its dangers too well.

‘We Have Never Been Kids’ is the follow up to Mahmood Soliman’s ‘Living Among Us’ (2003). The world premiere documentary, supported by Enjaaz, tracks the lives of the same subjects from Soliman’s initial film over the most turbulent period in modern Egyptian history. This film reveals how, over the last decade, Nadia’s eldest, once the best student at school, has become a 21-year-old drug dealer; how 11-year-old Omnia, her only daughter, came to life; and how Nadia herself, a strong woman struggling for her kids and trying to escape from a cruel husband, became a mother in her fifties striding through the streets of Cairo in search of her sons. The collapse of this reflects Egypt’s deterioration, especially in the last 10 years of Mubarak era, and the attempts of his regime’s remains to thwart the January Revolution.

Afraa Batous brings the world premiere of her debut feature ‘Skin’, supported by Enjaaz, to DIFF. The documentary is a deeply personal film that explores the director’s memories of her two closest friends, Hussein and Soubhi, as they struggle to reconcile their actions in politically and socially trying times. As Afraa observes their gradual collapse from behind the camera, she realises later upon reflection that their disintegration mirrors her own.

Award winning director Omar Sharqawi’s latest film ‘Al Medina’, which received support from Enjaaz and is making its world premiere at the Festival, examines the limits of man’s faith when facing the extremities of human endurance. Alongside his Danish wife Sarah, Yusif is visiting ‘Medina’, his birthplace, for the first time in many years. Overwhelmed by the experience, Yusif begins following a voice that he believes was divinely sent to guide him to happiness.

In his desperate search a series of tragic events occur and Yusif finds his faith being tested behind the cold bars of a prison cell. During a prison riot Yusif escapes, but now he must face a world that will challenge his beliefs at every turn.

Legendary Egyptian director Mohamed Khan picked up the FIPRESCI prize for his highly acclaimed feature ‘Factory Girl’ at DIFF13 and returns to DIFF with the world premiere of his latest film ‘Before The Summer Crowds’. The Egyptian ‘aspirational class’ are represented by Dr Yehia and his wife Magda, a couple growing increasingly disillusioned with their marriage, who decide to make their way to their usual summer get away before the onrush of holidaymakers escaping the heat of the city. Once there, they realise that Hala, their neighbour, a divorced mother of two, has obviously had the same idea as them. With only each other for company the same tensions and frustrations that existed at home are played out by the sea and the three adults must finally face the issues they had suppressed for years. ‘Before The Summer Crowds’ is a film that pulses with sincerity, humour and authenticity.

Photographer-turned-incipient-director, Mohamed Ouzine, unveils his latest feature film ‘Samir in The Dust’ for its world premiere at the 12th edition of DIFF. With a heavy focus on his origins and culture in his previous works, the French-Algerian director presents another intriguing tale set in the final resting place of Sidi Amar. The features’ central protagonist, Sidi Amar, was the marabout for the region and it is through the medium of cinema that Ouzine gives audiences an insight into his life as a confidant and aid for the people of the local area.

Antoine Khalife, Director of Arab Programming added: “The second line-up of films in the Muhr Feature programme has a vibrancy and richness that we have come to expect from the competition. Each film, across the category, offers something unique that is sure to enthral and enlighten DIFF audiences. This year’s crop of films from across the region is certain to enhance the already stellar reputation of the Muhr competition and propel Arab films further into the global conscious.”

Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Dubai International Film Festival’s Artistic Director, said: “The Muhr Feature programme of the Dubai International Film Festival has grown exponentially in reputation since its inception in 2006. We can now confidently say that it represents a benchmark of quality in Arab films each year. It’s also encouraging to see that many incredible films continue to be made by female filmmakers and are highly visible on the world stage. The growing number of women behind the lens means a different take on life in the region, making the overall selection more varied in perspective.”

The Muhr Feature Films will be showcased at the 12th annual Dubai International Film Festival, December 9 - 16, 2015. The DIFF box office is now open at www.dubaifilmfest.com. Additional information is also available through the Festival’s dedicated customer care number, 363 FILM (3456).

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