Programmers at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)  announced that 40 per cent of the films in the festival’s Arab programming segments were directed by women, making the region one of the most advanced for female filmmakers in the world.
There are no initiatives at DIFF promoting filmmaking by women, said the festival’s Artistic Director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali. Rather, the festival has focused on promoting the best cinema in emerging markets.
He explained, “It is well known that around the world, the directing side of the film industry is male-dominated, which is evident in the fact that Kathryn Bigelow was the first female director to win an Oscar in 2010–one hundred years after moving pictures were invented. The criteria for our awards and funding programs are innovative stories, solid budgets, and a high level of technical acumen. Gender doesn’t come into it. Although we are situated in a part of the world that is stereotyped as the most patriarchal, we seem to be generating a lot more films by women here than in the West.”
Arab female directors have been highly visible on the world stage in recent years due to breakout success stories like Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s ‘Where Do We Go Now,’ which was the highest-grossing Arab film ever, and Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s ‘Wadjda ,’ the Kingdom’s first entry for the Foreign Language Oscar–and the country’s first feature by a female director. The unusual conditions of production, which saw Al-Mansour directing from inside a trailer to keep hidden, in keeping with Saudi religious laws, generated international attention to the micro-budget film with a sweet, universal story.
Many of the films by female directors at DIFF are venturing into narratives that depict women’s emotional topography. The Palestinian creative documentary ‘My Love Awaits Me By the Sea,’ by Mais Darwazah, delves into love and belonging, while the Sara Ishaq’s ‘The Mulberry House’ exposes changing dynamics in her relationship with her own father in patriarchal Yemeni society. The growing number of women behind the lens means a different take on life in the region, from a female perspective.
Moreover, a number of the female filmmakers at DIFF 2013 are presenting second or third feature. Cherine Dabis and Najwa Najjar both won prizes with their first features, ‘Amreeka’ and ‘Pomegranates and Myrrh,’ and their second offerings look set to embark on the same successful international runs as their debuts.
“Cinema of Passion” which was compiled with input from over 475 of the region’s most prominent film critics, writers, novelists, academics, and other arts professionals, also includes a film by a woman: ‘The Silences of the Palace,’ by Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli. Produced in 1994, it was the first film to be directed by an Arab woman, and sits at position number five.
A new generation of filmmakers is coming up fast, with an indigenous film industry growing fast in the Gulf states, where production infrastructure will soon be on par with North Africa, Egypt and the Levant. The young filmmakers in the Emirati Shorts programme at DIFF are offered extensive training programmes and funding initiatives to generate new films, and will soon graduate to feature filmmaking. There is near gender parity at this level as well.
As Arab cinema increasingly catches the eye of the world, perhaps these filmmakers can set an example that can only benefit world cinema by making it richer and more varied in perspective.
For further information on films at DIFF 2013, including screening schedules, please consult the festival website on www.dubaifilmfest.com .