By Alexander Wood
If you’ve been thinking there’s been a drought of good films at the cinema lately, you can rest easy knowing the sixth edition of the Gulf Film Festival (GFF) opens today. The perfect antidote to the mainstream, the festival, which runs until 17 April, hosts a slate of compelling film options that is well worth the trip to Dubai – GFF has over 150 short and feature films that are sure to impress even the most discerning film enthusiast.
Unique to this gathering of filmmakers, industry professionals and audiences is its focus on developing Gulf-based film culture, increasing opportunities for filmmakers from the region to present and further develop their projects. Over a full week, festival audiences will get a sense of the high-quality filmmaking being produced by inspired filmmakers from the region and from around the globe.
Running in tandem with the festival, the Gulf Film Market offers an exciting glimpse into the world of production and explores the skills filmmakers need to create, finance, and develop their first or fifth film. Attending filmmakers meet with industry mentors, market their ideas at the Gulf Script Market for Short Films, and compete for the Robert Bosch Stiftung awards.
For filmmakers who want to have their voice heard or get their hands dirty, the festival’s forum is the ideal environment. Combining panel discussions, how-to sessions, networking events and late-night gatherings, it’s the perfect place to hone skills and knowledge in everything from crowd-funding projects to global film distribution techniques.
DFI hosts a showcase of films made right here in Qatar to promote local talent and further the reach of national filmmakers. The screening takes place at 5:00PM on 13 April at the Grand Cinemas. On the programme: ‘His Name’ (Hend Fakhroo); ‘Lyrics Revolt’ (Shannon Farhoud, Ashlene Ramadan, Melanie Fridgant, Rana Khaled Al Khatib); ‘Transient’ (Robert Arlou DeGuzman, Kennedy Somera); ‘8 Billion’ (Riad Makdessi); ‘Gazil’ (Sarah Al-Derham); and ‘Al Muqana3’ (Tarek Abu-Esber).
We had the chance to meet up with Abu-Esber, and asked him what it means to see his work at GFF. ‘I spent my childhood in the UAE,’ he said, ‘so this screening at GFF almost feels like I’m bringing the film home for the first time. When I made “Al Muqana3”, I wasn’t sure if it would have any relevance to audiences outside Qatar. Everyone here knows Ahmed Al-Jaber – if not by name, then definitely from his remarkable cars and motorbikes. Universality is important for any film, so it will be interesting to see the reaction of audiences in Dubai. If they laugh at the right times, I’ll know I’ve done a decent job.’
For those who aren’t filmmakers, but are excited about the event nonetheless, there str all kinds of films hailing from 43 countries to choose from. GFF is even issuing free tickets starting on 12 April, giving everyone the chance to get a taste of what’s on offer.
We have selected ten films that should be a good start to any festival experience and will hopefully inspire film enthusiasts from further afield to jump on the next plane to Dubai:
Sahim Omar Kalifa
Iraq, UAE, Belgium
Iraq, 2009. Eight-year-old Hamoudi has only one leg, but is addicted to football. He and his friends are looking forward to the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester. But then the television breaks down! (View Trailer)
Sweden, Finland, Iraq
Under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraqi Kurdistan, two homeless orphaned brothers are inspired to travel to America after they see ‘Superman’ in the city’s first cinema. They have no passports and no money – and their only means of transport is a donkey called Michael Jackson. With all the odds against them, they set out toward their dream, discovering on their journey that perhaps they are superheroes themselves. (View Trailer)
Belgium, Germany, France
Leila, a singer-songwriter, has nothing but her voice to accompany her on her wanderings. Armed with a camera and her music, Leila takes us on a trip that draws attention to her hopes and fears. (View Trailer)
It’s back to school day. For the first time, eight-year-old Fares is allowed to walk to class alone. On his way, he meets a stray dog he calls Bobby. A new friendship begins until Fares decides to take Bobby home! (View Trailer)
Against the grimy backdrop of a city going through a political crisis, three lives coincide. (View Trailer)
A Fallible Girl
Lifei sets up a mushroom farm in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi with her best friend Yaya, using the hard-earned money they made to create a better life for themselves. Things take a turn and Yaya quickly returns to her former life, but Lifei perseveres, trying to find her footing. Then tragedy strikes. (View Trailer)
Little Kyota Neon Hood
Despite the language barrier that separates them, Kyota, a young Japanese boy, develops a friendship with Tim, his English teacher. Connecting with his mother, however, is a struggle for Kyota, even in their native language. (View Trailer)
Eleonore travels to the south of Chile with her boyfriend Martin in a quest to discover her roots. Guided by Lincoyan, a young man from the area, her encounters with the place and its ancestors bring an old legend to life. (View Trailer)
The appearance of a rope outside Maallem Youssef’s Beirut shop stirs interest in the community. Although he is now a newsmaker, his family, who are only interested in money and fame, abandon him. (View Trailer)
Haifaa Al Mansour
Germany, Saudi Arabia, UAE
The first film ever shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, ‘Wadjda’ is the story of a fun-loving, entrepreneurial 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh. When Wadjda sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale, she wants it desperately, but her mother won’t allow her to have it it, fearing repercussions from a conservative society, so Wadjda decides to raise the money herself. Just as she is losing hope, Wadjda hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school… ‘Wadjda’ won three awards at the Venice Film Festival, and was named Best Film at the Dubai International Film Festival last year. (View Trailer)