Cinema for solidarity

One common thread runs through the 98 films pooled in from 46 countries to be screened under 12 segments at the second edition of Dubai International Film Festival: They celebrate the essential oneness of humanity, and conform to the unique tagline of Diff — ‘Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds.’ Rajeev Nair writes

Often, the simplest of statements, cliched as they may sound, can move minds. That is what ‘Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds’ has been doing for the Dubai International Film Festival.
It is a unique tagline for a film festival. It doesn’t preach glamour, it doesn’t endorse glitz, it doesn’t even talk films per se. And yet, it works. Which explains the inclusion of 98 films from 46 countries in the second edition of Diff.
It also explains why an actor of Morgan Freeman’s stature should declare his willingness to attend the festival a second time round. That could be a pointer as to why Bob Geldof, the singer, song-writer, actor, social activist, agrees to attend a gala event to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Indeed, the world’s film community is coming down to Dubai to endorse the essential solidarity that cinema — as a creative expression — brings about on audiences, anywhere in the world.
While the second edition of Diff has the “strongest collection of Arab cinema in the entire world,” it does not dilute its core of opening a forum for dialogue through cinema. “We are using cinema from around the world to bring people together,” says Neil Stephenson, director, Diff.
Hannah Fisher, co-programmer of the Operation Cultural Bridge segment, says “Diff looks at films that show the basic humanity of all people — no matter the culture, colour, creed or nationality. We have selected films that show we are all the same.”

Having attended Cannes and Rotterdam, among other film showcases, Fisher says Diff is “very well received abroad. They are very impressed with how it has been organised.”
Operation Cultural Bridge, this year, features some landmark films:
* Ron Fricke’s Baraka, a film that takes viewers through 24 countries
* Being Osama, directed by Mahmoud Kaabour and Tim Schwab that offers intimate glimpses into the lives of a group of men who share the first name Osama
* Irish director Gerry Nelson’s Kosovo: The Hand of Friendship, filmed over three months in Kosovo and the UAE
* Director Dominic Savage’s passionate love story of a British Pakistani Muslim girl and “a local white thug,” Love + Hate
* Marilyn Agrelo’s exuberant documentary of a group of boys and girls learning ballroom dancing, Mad Hot Ballroom
* Ruba Nadda’s Sabah that draws two delineated cultures — the North American world and that of an Arab woman living in the West
* Director Arsi Sandel’s musical-comedy West Bank Story of an Israeli soldier falling in love with a Palestinian girl
and the much-awaited Hollywood premiere of Albert Brooks’ Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.
“The very fact that Brooks is coming with his film to Diff is marvellous,” says Fisher. “His intention (with the film) is to break down barriers. The film bridges cultures and helps develop ties where people get to know more about one another.”
She says Looking for Comedy is a “fascinating film” and underscores the Operation Cultural Bridge’s objective of “making people understand that there are so many misconceptions about this part of the world amongst people in the West.”
Diff asserts it message of cultural bonding with the opening gala Paradise Now, which won the Blue Angel Award for Best European Film at Berlin International Film Festival 2005. The film by Hany Abu-Assad is about two Palestinian friends who are asked by the commander of a guerrilla organisation to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv.
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, programmer, Arabian Nights, says the selection was made after careful deliberation. “We went through a struggle in choosing this film,” he recalls. “The synopsis might sound controversial but it is a beautiful film that is also very neutral. It explores the mindset of suicide bombers — why does he do it, is his vision correct?”
Ali says the difficult part about choosing the Arab films was to find sufficient numbers of film productions. “The pool is small and you do not have a wide range to select from. The alternative is to find other pools of films — that have been made by Arab directors in different countries.”
At Diff 2005, Arab films are highlighted in four segments: Arabian Nights, Arabian Shorts, Dubai Discoveries and Emerging Emaratis.
In choosing films for Arabian Nights, Ali observes that the aim was not to pick films that made overt political statements or speeches. “Instead, the selected films, present not just political concerns but also cultural conflicts and moral dilemmas — all rooted in human stories, no rhetoric.”
In Arabian Shorts segment, women dominate in several of the choices — thematically and behind the camera — including Women in Struggle by Palestinian filmmaker Buthina Canaan Khoury about Palestinian film-makers in Israeli jails; and Yasmin’s Song, a love story by Palestinian Najwa Najjar.
Dubai Discoveries, a new segment, is deigned to provide a platform for young Arab filmmakers to showcase their “determination to establish cinematic forms that diver from the commercial mainstream,” observes Ziad Al Khuzai, programmer.
Moroccan director Yasmine Kessari’s The Sleeping Child, Abdellatif Kechiche’s The Dodge, Iraqi director Oday Rasheed’s Underexposure, Bader Ben Hirsi’s A New Day in Old Sana’a, Nour-Eddine Lakhmari’s The Gaze and Nidal Al-Dibs’ Under the Ceiling are the selections.
Emerging Emaratis showcase five films by UAE filmmakers: Abdullah Hassan Ahmed’s Ameen; Ali F. Mostafa’s Under the Sun, Omar Ibrahim’s An Ordinary Day, Saeed Salmeen Al Murry’s Hoboob and Nada Mohammed Alkarimi’s Dying for Fun.

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