17 December 2005

Dubai Film Festival Day 5

It's Friday, which means the Mall is actually populated by people other than film festival attendees.

Actually, I started out with a screening of 'The Constant Gardener' at the Madinat Arena, again the most glamorous of occasions. This one was sold out with a long stand-by queue while outside the waiters were setting the buffet for the night's entertainments. Next year I have to make sure to get myself accredited or invited. The Madinat looks like the perfect networking location.

Anyway, after days of intelligent and relevant films it is really quite a shock to be reminded of the kind of films Hollywood undoubtedly terms 'discerning', it being set in Africa and starring the smart woman's crumpet Ralph Fiennes. Unfortunately it insults and abuses Kenya by portraying the whole country as a savage and criminal cesspit with the usual visual clich├ęs of poor, but brightly-dressed black women queuing for hand-outs, noble but doomed black intellectuals, colourful crowd scenes amidst dirt and rubbish and vicious tribesmen who enslave children and raid villages. 'The Hero' has to be lauded for showing a more complex image of African reality, where Blacks are involved characters and not just ciphers. I am not looking forward to going back to this for another year.

This afternoon saw the screening of five short films in the Emerging Emirati section of the festival. There has only been a film industry in the UAE for the last four years, according the programme scheduler Masoud Amralla Al Ali, and it shows. The outstanding film in the group was 'Dying for fun', a documentary about chicks that are sold in Sharjah market after being dipped in colourful dyes. It was simply powerful, not relying on a voiceover to explain the situation, but letting the pictures speak for themselves, as the chicks are hatched on racks behind metal doors in a vast factory and dipped into dye at the pet shop until they almost drown before being sold to children in paper bags. After the screening there was a lively discussion about the support local filmmakers think they need, undoubtedly fuelled by the presence of Sheikh Abdullah, the UAE minister for information and culture, and Amina Al Rostamani, head of the soon-to-be completed Dubai Studio City.

'The Last Moon' is the autobiographical story of the Chilean director's grandfather, a Christian Palestinian, who helped an immigrant Jew build a house in Palestine after the first World War. It was a personal story that threw an interesting light on the historical background of a country ruled always, it seems, by others. At the beginning of the movie it was the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, later the British. The narrative was simple, with beautiful characterisations of each individual. The story came from a different angle, being that the main protagonists were a Jew and a Christian, rather than the usually perceived Jew vs. Muslim issue.

I was lucky to get a ticket for 'Underexposure', the first film to come out of Iraq since the beginning of the latest war there. Whether the fact that a film can be made in Iraq is a sign that normal life is returning remains to be seen. The whole films runs through with a certain desperation and sadness, like moments snatched. It's about a film maker trying to capture the feeling on the street of Baghdad in August 2003 and 6 months later. It has a documentary feel, showing the crew on location and witness interviews, discussions between director and camera man and musings to camera.

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