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Dubai International Film Festival Highlights //

byFajer Al-Kaisi

If someone had told me last year that I would be watching the sun set in the Arabian Gulf, on the beach in a new suit as the Christmas lights illuminated the date palms, all while sipping champagne on something resembling a red carpet, I would have laughed…hard, probably in that someone’s face, while pointing. And yet here I am, in sunny and temperate Dubai in December, attending the 6th annual Dubai International Film Festival — the DIFF as it’s known around here — and I have to say, once you get past the sheer surreal experience that covers most, if not all, of Dubai you can find some real substance within this collection of films.

Enjoy these shots from the festival and check out FEN’s favorite films below…

Amreeka star Hiam Abbas & director Cherien Dabis

12 Angry Lebanese
by Zeina Daccache was a strong contender on the documentary front. The film examines the penitentiary system in Lebanon with 12 inmates of a Beirut prison performing the play “12 Angry Men,” translated into Arabic, as a vehicle for the expression — and confession — of their stories and crimes.

Zindeeq also proved that there is such a thing as an Arab dream team, at least when it comes to film.  From the same team that put Arab film on the map 22 years ago with Urs Jalilee, the story of a filmmaker’s return to his native Palestine after having fled in 1948 showcases the startling reality of the present day conflict that rarely gets brought to light. Here, expressed in light through cinema, the film has already garnered rave reviews as well as an award for the best feature at the festival.

Cherien Dabis’s Amreeka, the heart-warming story of a Palestinian single mother who moves with her teenage son to America’s heartland immediately following the events of 9/11.  It chronicles the alienation and xenophobia of the times while poignantly capturing the tandem struggle for acceptance and survival that so many first or second-generation Arab families experience first-hand. A truly genuine, funny, and moving film that is at its core an immigrant’s tale.

And rounding out the festival was Dubai’s own gem, City of Life. Shot entirely in the fledgling city, with its culturally schizophrenic growth at the very heart of the film, the city itself becomes a sprawling post-modern character, and first time director Ali Mustafa doesn’t shy away from showing us the grimy as well as the glitzy elements of this character. Read more about City of Life here >>

A  gritty look at the disenfranchised youth of a major urban center, marginalized by their ethnicity and forced into a life of hard choices, harder drugs and back alley crime deals. Serhat Caradee’s gem from Australia, the poignant look at the growing Lebanese-Australian immigrant culture, Cedar Boys.

My Father. My Uncle. by Christoph Heller was another strong contender on the documentary front. The film follows the story of German-raised Sinan and his reunion with his long-lost Iraqi family, with Dubai making an interesting backdrop both visually and culturally.

The parties were no slouch either. The galas were a veritable mash up of the who’s who of the region. Celebrities like Gerard Butler and Mandy Moore were spotted on the red carpet alongside international stars like Omar Sharif and Christophe Lambert. And of course, in true Dubai fashion, champagne flowed endlessly in defiance of the economic crisis and foie gras was served right next to the hummus and tabouli. Recession? What recession? This humble reporter wonders if the sheikh ponders these same questions as the sun finally dips into  the ocean and away from sight. Dubai is far from perfect, but it can add a growing film culture and fledgling superstar status to its long list of real estate and financial laurels.


About the Author: Fajer Al-Kaisi is Iraqi born, and French Canadian raised, but otherwise he’s your everyday average American. He lives in Washington Heights, NYC, the last affordable refuge in Manhattan. He enjoys cooking, sketching people on the subway, and DVD marathons. He freelances as an actor, writer, web designer, illustrator and graphic artist, and though he loves the hours, the benefits are crap. (Don’t do it kids. Stay in school…) He has appeared on the hit shows “Nurse Jackie” and “30 Rock,” as well as “Delocated” and “Law and Order,” and could most recently be seen on NYTW’s stage as Shahid, the translator for NY times critics pick Aftermath.

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