Fifteen extraordinary and award-winning short films from 14 nations will screen to UAE audiences this month, as part of the fifth Gulf Film Festival, to be held from April 10 to 16, 2012, at Dubai Festival City. The lineup, part of the Festival’s international shorts competition, includes two world premieres, two international premieres and eight Middle East premieres.
The films, shortlisted from more than 700 entries from Argentina to Uganda, include several shorts that have won awards at international film festivals, and cover themes from environmental activism to extraordinary stories of selfless love.
The International Shorts selection includes films from Austria, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, Estonia, France, Italy, Germany, Iran, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and the United States. 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 GFF 2012 screenings are free for the public both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Making its world premiere is The Beacon, the entry from Azerbaijan directed by Fariz Ahmedov, about Akif, a young drug addict who has built a comfortable life for himself. However, the sudden entry of his father, who had last seen Akif when he was only three years old, challenges his entire existence.
Also making its world premiere is Light, O Light from France, directed by Hoda Kerbage. The film follows the travails of Nour, who lives in Paris and desperately wants to reach Lebanon by phone. She wanders across the city to get a phone connection, and unknown to her, a man follows her. He holds a mystery that could potentially change everything.
Swiss entry Bird, by Naima Bachiri, is the story of a couple spending the last day with their autistic son, who is being sent to a special care institution. The agony of separation and the promise of better care for the child makes for a memorable film, which will make its international premiere at GFF.
From the United States, the Sea is All I Know, directed by Jordan Bayne, is an extraordinary story of love in the face of death. The film follows an estranged couple who come to the aid of their dying daughter, an experience that sends them spiraling into a spiritual crisis and brutal heartbreak. Finally, it takes an act of selfless love to renew their lives and transcend their loss of faith. Screened at the Cannes, Palm Springs and Rhode Island International Film Festivals among others, the film won the Audience Award as ‘Best of Festival’ at Palm Springs, and Best Actress prize for Melissa Leo at the Rhode Island fest and North Country fest.
Eight films are debuting in the Middle East at GFF 2012. The Austrian entry Hatch, directed by Christoph Kuschnig, is another festival favourite. The film follows two couples and the heartwrenching decisions they must make. One couple, illegal immigrants, cannot raise their child; the other, older and more stable, long to welcome a child into their lives. Both must make a decision out of desperation, which causes their lives to cross – if only for a brief period.
Frozen Stories from Poland, directed by Grzegorz Jaroszuk, is about a young girl and boy who work in a supermarket. They are the worst employees and they have been asked to find a purpose in life, for which they are given only two days.
The two Romanian films at GFF 2012 are both award winners and stand out for their content and execution. We’ll Become Oil by Mihai Grecu is a short experimental animation inspired by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and won the ‘Best Animation Award’ at the Tampere International Film Festival this year. Tudor Giurgiu’s Superman, Spiderman or Batman takes a new tangent by exploring how superheroes can save the soul. The film unravels through the life of a five-year-old boy, who sets out on a journey with his father to save his mother’s life. The film was named Best European Short at the Valladolid Film Festival.
A cage maker who lives alone up on the roof of his cabin is the protagonist of the Iranian entry, Sound of Rain by Jalal Saedpanah. The man trains a number of birds, and a young Mongolian boy is captivated by them. The cage maker refuses to let the boy anywhere near them – their cat-and-mouse game eventually becomes a full-fledged challenge.
Brazilian entry The Factory by Alysson Muritiba is about a prison inmate who convinces his mother to smuggle in a cell phone to make a crucial phone call. The film won the Best Film, Best Screenplay and Best Actress awards at the 44th Brasilia Film Festival, and Best International Film at the ninth Asiana International Short Festival, among others.
Another winner of multiple awards in the international short film festival circuit is Ice Flowers by Susan Gordanshekan from Germany. It narrates the encounter between two people – a young Bosnian who has lost his cleaner’s job and takes up a home-care provider’s job, and is assigned to assist a woman with dementia. One day, when the man is caught up by his past, he reveals his secret to the old woman – for a moment, they hold to each other, only to lose one another soon after.
The gritty story of a group of committed eco-warriors comes to life in Fireworks, a co-production by France and Italy, directed by Giacomo Abbruzzese. Fifty years ago, as the rest of the world celebrate the arrival of a new year, this committed group of international ecologists blow up the biggest steelworks in Taranto, which is also the most polluted place in western Europe. The short won the Students Award for European Student Film at Festival Premiers Plans d'Angers.
Body Memory, an Estonian film directed by Ülo Pikkov, makes its GCC premiere at GFF 2012. It is a metaphysical look at the human body – which remembers more than what we think is possible right from the sorrow and pain of our predecessors to sustaining the stories of our ancestors. Another GCC premiere, Winter Frog by Slony Sow from France, is about Benjamin (played by Gérard Depardieu) who must watch his wife die in his arms following a long bout of illness. Death, he believes, is his only escape, until a young Japanese woman comes into his life by chance, and helps him to tide over the pain, through an exchange of symbols from two entirely different cultures.
The final short in the competition is Payback, an entry from Egypt, directed by Omar Khaled. The film explores the different characters that the female protagonist comes across – each unveiling a world of oppression, violence and social injustice.
Salah Sermini, Gulf Film Festival Consultant, said: “It was a challenge that we carefully and professionally evaluated when we introduced the ‘International Shorts competition’ to GFF last year. In its second year, it has become an essential part of the festival, giving it momentum, weight and international reach. It serves as a window for participants and local viewers to international short cinema.
“The festival received a large number of submissions from all around the world, highlighting how filmmakers globally perceive short films as a strong cinematic platform, and not just as a training ground or pathway to enter feature films.
“Short-listing the films for the festival from this selection was an interesting process but we only had the room to select 15 films. We reviewed the submissions continuously for the topic, dramatic style and aesthetics. We are confident that the selection will touch the hearts of viewers.”
GFF also presents a rich showcase of films from across the Arabian peninsula, a diverse programme on children’s films as well as compelling feature films presented in the Intersections and Lights segments.