Sheila Whitaker, who served as Director of International Programmes for the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)  has passed away. She was 77. Whitaker had been working with DIFF since the inception of the festival in 2004.
She was previously Director of the London Film Festival from 1987 to 1996, and head of programming at the National Film Theater in London from 1984 to 1990. Earlier this year, soon after the last nineth edition of DIFF, Sheila was diagnosed as having the first indications of motor neuron disease. She faced the increasingly debilitating consequences of the disease with fortitude, grace and humour, watching films and listening to music to the end. She died peacefully at home in London on July 29.
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Artistic Director of DIFF wrote on festival’s website, “I knew Sheila to be meticulous, clear, understanding, opinionated, professional, and passionate. She dedicated her life to understanding emerging cinema including Arab, Iranian, and Latin American cinema. She engaged with the people of those regions, with their culture and true nature. She knew them well and she formed so many friendships.”
A lifetime lover of film, she headed the British National Film Archive collection of stills and posters and co-edited Life and Art: The New Iranian Cinema and An Argentine Passion: The Films of Maria Luisa Bemberg. She served on festival juries from Venice to Syria and was also founding editor of Writing Women, a journal of women’s writing. In addition, she wrote obituaries of entertainment figures for the Guardian newspaper. She was awarded a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Newcastle and an Honorary Doctorate of Law by the University of Warwick.