15 December 2005

Dubai Film Festival Day 3

Dashing between sites today, I realised that the Madinat venues are way more glamourous, they even have red carpets.

But then again, the movies I want to see are mostly here at the thoroughly populist shopping mall. I only dashed over to the Madinat to watch 'Walk the Line', the new Johnny Cash biopic. That's when I noticed the glamourous red carpet, complete with huge spotlights and black-suited bouncers. All the gala events are at the Madinat arena, which houses a huge auditorium with super-comfy seats and a massive screen. Pity I never get invited to the star events...

Anyway, after all the hard-core films I watched yesterday it was a strange experience to see a Hollywood movie like 'Walk the Line', albeit a serious, unfussy biographical effort like this. The production values were way up there ('The Hero' by comparison, one of the more expensive films so far, had cost €800k, while I suspect that most other films have been self-funded), as was the emotional manipulation, using well-worn techniques we have all learned to react to in just the way the filmmakers expect. Still, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were quite believable and those kind of films are certainly an easier ride than heavy-duty docs like 'Massaker', for example.

'Kiran over Mongolia' was not heavy-going at all, but certainly illuminating about other cultures and remote parts of the World (to us). A young man who wants to carry on the tradition of eagle hunter that his grandfather once practiced goes out to find a teacher and learns how to catch and train an eagle to hunt for foxes and rabbits. A film in the vein of 'The Story of the Weeping Camel', this film was four years in the making, entirely self-funded by the director and sound designer, and had a lightness of touch that came through despite the utter remoteness of the subjects. Why don't they show films like that on the discovery channel?

And at last some more shorts! I love shorts, they give you so many stories in such a short space of time. Plus the filmmaker can be more creative in a short, as it's not such a financial commitment as a feature film. The films were all made by Arabic filmmakers, based in Algeria, Palestine, Egypt and Switzerland. 'Haunted' was a scary and accomplished ghost story about a murder in a house at night time. Can the burglar solve the mystery before he is the next victim? 'Cow and Company' (I liked the French title '100% Vache' better, somehow) is a circular story of a peasant swapping milk for a car repair, the car repair man using his satellite box to bribe the teacher about to expel his son, and the teacher's husband who picks up the milk from the peasant. It was badly let down by terrible sub-titling, which ruined any funny moments there may have been. '6 Girls' takes a simple premise, that is to film one's own living environment and creates a spirited result. A documentary of 6 students living in a communal flat in Port Said, it shows an unexpected reality for women in a Muslim country as well as general acceptance of their lifestyle choice from family and neighbours. Unfortunately it was way too short. The last last short, 'Yasmine's Song' was a beautifully developed love story set in a Palestinian area of Israel with the added urgency of the building of the wall by the government. The increasing enclosure of the community is brilliantly visualised when more and more obstacles appear in the path of the young man cycling to see his lover's father to ask for her hand in marriage before she is given to someone she doesn't love.

The last movies today were by far the best, with 'West Bank Story' topping the chart of today, and 'Being Osama'. 'West Bank Story' is a hilarious take on West Side Story set in the West Bank where the Kosher King fast food joint fights for business with Hummus Hut while a love story develops across the border between a Palestinian girl and an Israeli soldier. It has a great future as a Broadway musical, but funnily it's the most contentious film in the post-screening Q&A so far. 'Being Osama' takes the very simple premise of Canadian Arabs who have the feared name of Osama in common. They talk about their background and their reality, how 9/11 has affected them when people find out they share the name of the most hunted terrorist in the World.

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