On the opening night of the Dubai International Film Festival, Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett glided down the red carpet to catch the opening night film, The Life of Pi.
The Oscar-winning actress didn’t say a word, just waved to the crowded press pen, giving her an ethereal look and making her by default unapproachable.
But 24 hours later, we witnessed a far more dynamic and warm personality.
In her role as the head of the jury at the first-time IWC Schaffhausen Filmmaker Award on Monday, Blanchett was in an upbeat mood as she talked up Dubai, Life of Pi and the promising talents she’s seen among emerging filmmakers from this region.
“I feel privileged to head the jury. When the film festival and IWC cooked up this fantastic idea, I felt it was a great initiative to celebrate the young new voices from this region,” said Blanchett.
At the award ceremony at the Armani Hotel, a film grant of Dh367,000 was awarded to London-based Iraqi filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi, to make her feature Nothing Doing in Baghdad.
“I am from Australia and it has a relatively small film culture. Likewise, there are so many voices in the Arab region and from an outsider’s perspective, it’s great that so many voices which are diverse are merging together … Dubai is a gateway to this region and am thrilled that such a festival is happening here,” said Blanchett, who appears in this weekend’s big release, The Hobbit.
Also nominated for the award were Emirati directors Abdullah Al Kaabi and Ali Mostafa and Bahrain’s Mohammad Rashid Bu Ali.
“The movies I have seen are so different and diverse … but I go with instinct,” said Blanchett of her jury duty. However, it was not all work and no play for the star. In Dubai with her three sons, the actress is soaking up the weather and all that Dubai has to offer.
“I am thrilled to be here. It’s like a Roman Empire, that’s so magnificent and extraordinary at the same time. Last night, I thought Life of Pi was superb and unique,” said Blanchett.
Speaking of her return as Galadriel, the elf queen in The Hobbit, she said: “I have a small role. When Peter Jackson offered me the role, I just said yes. It was wonderful to shoot in New Zealand … I am a small cog in the constantly evolving cinema machine.” Meanwhile, for the four finalists, making it to the final nomination list and rubbing shoulders with Blanchett was reward enough.
“Whether I win or lose, to reach so far is great. It’s so hard to raise the funding for fiction feature films and such initiatives will help us get far,” said Pachachi prior to the awards presentation on the red carpet.
It is the documentary filmmaker’s first attempt at a fiction feature-length film.
“I have edited quite a few, but this is a first. What I have submitted is an untraditional story. It’s not just about a hero and heroine. There are intersecting stories which will find resonance among those living in such hard times,” said Pachachi.
For others, just to know that Blanchett has gone through their script bolstered their artistic spirit.
“Now that she has read the script, I will even offer Cate Blanchett a role,” joked Bu Ali.
“But jokes aside, to be a part of such a competition is a great honour. It gives us credibility as a filmmaker,” he added.
Apart from Blanchett, the jury panel comprised Georges Kern, CEO of IWC Schaffhausen, Abdul Hamid Juma, chairman of Diff, Masoud Amr Allah Al Ali, artistic director of Diff, and Olivier Père, general director of the Paris-based Arte France Cinema.
“It’s not about writing a cheque to the festival. We wanted to contribute more to the festival,” said Kern of the award.
While Blanchett was happy to speak to media, in contrast were Kevin Spacey and singer Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music fame, who chose not to interact with the press. While Ferry saved his voice for a performance at the after-party following the awards presentation ceremony, Spacey chose to pose then make a hasty exit from the red carpet.
The star-studded evening also saw British filmmaker and Diff Lifetime Achievement honouree Michael Apted, Raja Al Jadawi and Sherine Adel walk the red carpet.
“We are a lot of old people it is good to see some young faces and hear their voices,” said Apted.