The fifth edition of the Gulf Film Festival, which kicks off in Dubai and Abu Dhabi next week, will be its most exceptional yet, driven by its offer of 155 quality films from 40 nations, three highly contested regional and international competitions, a rigorous filmmaker development programme and the resurgence of the region’s cinema tradition.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), the Festival will run from Tuesday, April 10, to Monday, April 16, at Grand Cinemas Dubai Festival City. The lineup, which is presented free to the public, includes 82 world premieres, 12 international premieres, 27 Middle East premieres, 11 GCC premieres and four UAE premieres.
GFF is also celebrating its landmark 5th anniversary with a special weekend of festival film screenings in Abu Dhabi from April 12 to 14, 2012, at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, in partnership with the Sultan Bin Zayed Centre for Culture and Media.
“This is without doubt an exceptional edition,” said Festival Chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “The quality, diversity and strength of the features, documentaries and shorts from the region is a mirror of its potential. We are also privileged to host a stellar lineup of world cinema, and honoured to be able to take these films to new audiences in the UAE – and we look forward to entertaining, engaging and challenging residents and visitors alike.”
The Festival opens Tuesday night with Tora Bora, a Kuwaiti feature film directed and written by Walid Al Awadi and starring Saad Al Faraj, Khalid Ameen, Al Araby Al Sassy, Yassine Ahajjam, Kais Nashef, Asmahan Tawfiq, Abdullah Al Zaid and Abdullah Al Tararwah. The film revolves around a young man’s decision to join extremist forces in Afghanistan, and his parents’ agonised search for him, also marks the veteran Kuwaiti actor Saad Al Faraj’s return to feature films after decades.
At the opening ceremony, the Festival will honour veteran Bahraini filmmaker Bassam Al-Thawadi and salute legendary Iranian actor Behrouz Vossoughi for his contribution to cinema. In all, 347 films are being screened at the festival, across its Gulf, Gulf Student and International shorts competitions; and the out-of-competition Lights, Intersections, Films for Children, Cherries of Kiarostami and Gerard Courant showcases.
At GFF2011, world-renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami challenged more than 45 emerging and established filmmakers from the Arab world, Iran, Germany and Denmark to produce a short film interpreting ‘Loneliness’ during his 10-day master class. The Festival is screening the resulting 39 short films for the first time this year, via two ‘Cherries of Kiarostami’ screenings.
The Festival will also screen 153 vignettes crafted by avant-garde French filmmaker Courant, including 134 of the four-minute personal sketches of UAE residents and GFF guests that are now part of the world’s longest movie, Cinematon. Another 19 films by Courant, including documentaries on Dubai and short portraits with luminaries including German director Werner Herzog, will be screened on special monitors across the festival venue.
Whittling down the nearly 1,250 submissions to the final programme of 155 films was no easy task. Festival Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali said.
“From the Gulf shorts competition, where the quality and topics of the films outstrips every edition so far, to the international competition with more than 700 seasoned filmmakers competing for 15 slots, narrowing down a final selection was a struggle. We have out of competition sections that are as powerful, in many cases, as our competitions.”
GFF2012 is also witnessing the comeback of many seasoned filmmakers who have not made a film for the last four to five years, and the cinematic resurgence of nations like Bahrain and the emergence of Yemen and other non-traditional filmmaking nations, he added.
“For many young Gulf filmmakers, GFF is the preferred destination to debut their film. Their passion drives the industry forward, and inspires even newer talent. We are delighted to be a catalyst and facilitator to shaping a vibrant Gulf film industry, proud to be the referral and reference point for cinema from the Arabian peninsula,” he said.
The UAE dominates the shortlisted programme, with an impressive 42 films, with 31 making their world premiere. There are 16 films from Iraq, 12 from Bahrain, 11 from Saudi Arabia - all of them world premieres, nine from France and seven each from Jordan and Oman, and three each from Qatar and Yemen.
The Festival will screen nine films in its Official Gulf Feature Competition; 47 films for the Official Gulf Shorts; 30 films for the Official Students Shorts and 15 films for the International Shorts competitions; and seven films in its special ‘In Focus: Jordan’ programme.
The other segments of GFF include: Lights that present diverse perspectives in film-making from around the Arab world with 21 films; Intersections, a showcase of international films distinguished by their subject matter, narrative approach and the cinematic techniques employed, with 17 films; and Films for Children with nine movies. Industry and student workshops, master classes, nightly industry discussions and other special events including the first Gulf Script Market for Short Films will also be held as part of the week-long festival.