For filmmakers, the people's struggles — for democracy, for freedom — have provided rich material, as has the region's cultural struggle against modernity and encroaching globalisation. Those themes — as well as simple tales of everyday life — are at the heart of this year's Dubai International Film Festival's Arabian Nights segment, a yearly ode to the films made by and about the Middle East.
Leading the charge is Richard Symons' documentary The Price of Kings — Yasser Arafat, featuring interviews with those close to the late Palestinian leader, the only president without a fully recognised nation state — his closest relatives and friends, and his widow, Suha. The film is from British director Symons, one of several international perspectives on the region at the festival, and will be screened on Thursday at Mall of the Emirates Vox 12, and on Saturday at Mall of the Emirates Vox 9.
"Our Arabian Nights programme is a window into the Arab world by filmmakers based in the region and from across the world," said Antonia Carver, Programmer for Arabian Nights.
"The growing number of global collaborations is a testament to the interest internationally in the Arabic film industry. We are delighted to showcase such an eclectic collection of films that capture the varied facets of life in the region."
UK animated film director Dave Osbourne has adapted Dr Naif Al Mutawa's Islamic comic book characters into The 99 Unbound, an animated feature about 99 superheroes based on the names of Allah. The film — aimed at sharing Islamic tradition with children worldwide — will have its international premiere at the festival, screening twice, on December 13 at 5.30pm, First Group Theatre (the premiere), and the following day at 11.15am at Vox 7, Mall of The Emirates.
Other fascinating features include After The Silence, a German documentary about two women — one the widow of a Palestinian suicide bomber, one the widow of the Israeli architect he killed; At Night, They Dance, a feature on the fading world of Cairo's belly dancing scene; and a short, Almost, by Oscar-nominated Hany Abu Assad, featured as part of Do Not Forget Me Istanbul, a series of short films inspired by the Turkish city. Film fans will recall Abu Assad directed the acclaimed Paradise Now, which screened at Diff in 2004.
Another world premiere is Ala' Abu Ghoush's Goldfish, in which nine-year-old Palestinian refugee Bashar decides to take his goldfish to a bigger home. See it on Friday at Mall of the Emirates Vox 11, and on December 12 at Mall of the Emirates Vox 1.
Staying true to its name, Diff also brings in films from every corner of the world, offering filmmaking variety from two very different places: Asia and Africa.
The AsiaAfrica segment features some of the most interesting movies from the Philippines to Taiwan, from Tibet to South Africa via Rwanda.
Filipino filmmakers are among the most intriguing in Asia, consistently making waves at film festivals across the world. Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr's Fable of the Fish looks like it will be no exception, with its story of an ageing, poverty-stricken couple's desire for a child resulting in the wife giving birth to a fish. Former Diff juror Johnnie To returns to the festival with his Hong Kong money-driven suspense drama Life without Principle.
Don't miss it Tickets for regular screenings are Dh30 (Dh10 for students with ID). Red carpet galas are Dh80, while the Cinema for Children Gala is Dh50 for all. Buy tickets at the Diff box office online at dubaifilmfest.com and at the Diff box offices in Dubai Media City, JBR The Walk, Mall of the Emirates and Madinat Jumeirah. Additional information is also available through the Festival's dedicated customer care number, 363 FILM (3456).
By Natalie Long