In focus: Gulf film

With dynamic film festivals across the world showcasing Arab film at its best and Dubai attracting Hollywood studios with sophisticated new infrastructure, the UAE fulfils silver screen dreams

Buzz, culture and red carpet glamour were the order of the day at Dubai’s Festival City last week when the annual Gulf Film Festival took the emirate by storm. Celebrating and encouraging excellence in regional film, this sixth edition of the cinematic platform comprised an impressive 169 quality films from 43 countries, 93 of which originated from within the GCC.

GFF Chairman Abdulhamid Juma has high hopes for the festival’s success as a platform for both nurturing intercultural understanding and developing film making talent in the region. “We would like to thank our jury and congratulate the members of the GCC film community for consistently building a new and vibrant industry that reflects the lives, values and vision of the people of the Gulf.”

Cultural differences were juxtaposed to universal themes: The short film Half Life, by first-time Emirati director Abdullah Aref, captured audience’s hearts with the story of a girl living with a rare mental condition that makes it difficult for her to differentiate between what is reality and what is an illusion. Another moving story was Baghdad Messi by Iraqi director Sahim Omar Kalifa, focusing on the life of a one-legged eight-year-old boy obsessed with football.

The festival spotlight, though, fell on Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al Mansour’s film, Wadjda. This seemingly simple story tells the tale of a young Saudi girl determined to own a bicycle despite possible social repercussions. The feature film began as a script at the 2008 edition of the GFF and is an example of the important educational and funding opportunities embedded in the festival values.

Haifaa Al Mansour had already been garnering worldwide acclaim earlier in the month as London's Birds Eye View festival put a welcome focus on female directors from the Arab world. Rich and powerful stories from the region’s foremost film making talent included In the Shadow of a Man, an indepth study of women’s place in contemporary Egypt and Habibi, a tale of forbidden love between two young Palestinians in the West Bank.

In our world of shifting geo-economic boundaries, the Middle East is a rising star within the global film industry. Recently Dubai Studio City (DSC) announced the funding of two huge 25,000 square foot sound stages due, infrastructure aimed at attracting international film makers to the region with state-of-the-art facilities. This is just one of the structural and logistical initiatives that makes Dubai an increasingly attractive location for film production. The stage is set for more powerful cinema to emerge from the region and the whole world is watching.