The opening night at the Dubai International Film Festival on Friday was a mix of joy and sorrow, a sense of loss and a sense of gain. As the curtain parted to screen the 10th edition of the festival with Omar, the inaugural event was soaked with memories of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid champion. The South African leader died on Thursday. But Friday was also a day of happiness for the festival had covered one whole decade.
Hollywood actor Martin Sheen, who was honoured with the festival's Lifetime Achievement Award, called Mandela one of the most inspiring leaders the world has ever known. "We should be grateful that we lived at a time when we knew such a great person who fought apartheid," Sheen remarked on the red carpet.
Earlier in the day, the chairman of the festival Abdul Hamid Juma asked guests and the media to watch the Mandela biopic, A Long Walk to Freedom
, which will be shown at the festival next week. "I woke up sad, but then again I am not really sad, because this movie is a beautiful tribute not just for Dubai but for the world," he averred. "Mandela taught people how to be calm and struggle in a peaceful way. Probably only he and Gandhi could have taught us that".
The film features Idris Elba as the iconic leader, and British actress Naomi Harris as his wife. Harris will be present for the screening.
The Dubai Festival opened with Abu Assad's Palestinian work, Omar
, a psychological thriller set on the West Bank. The oldest movie festival in the region, with Abu Dhabi coming a close second having completed seven editions, Dubai aptly chose to roll the event with an Arab work.
The region's cinema is now starting to make its presence felt even in the international arena and festivals such Dubai, Abu Dhabi and even Doha have been singularly instrumental in helping Arab cinema to rise and soar.
As Juma said during an earlier media interview, "We've made the conscious decision that the best way to celebrate is to go back to our roots and push something that we've always been behind, which is Arab cinema. Our celebration this year is really focusing on Arab directors and Arab cinema while continuing the work we do in the Dubai Film Market, and bringing in good international movies along with stars."
This is amply reflected in the festival's programme. It has compiled a list of 100 of the best Arab films till date. Leading critics and writers have helped put this list together. The list is published in a book, Cinema of Passion, that also analyses the history of Arab movies. Egyptian director Chadi Abdel Salem's The Mummy (1969) tops the list of 100 and will be shown at the end of the festival.
Also, the Egyptian critic, Samir Farid, will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. Farid was also a guest at the last Osian's Film Festival held in New Delhi some years ago.
Of the 174 features, documentaries and shorts at the festival, over 100 are from the Arab world. In addition to the Muhr Arab competition, the festival will host two red-carpet galas for Arab works -- the world premiere of Mohamed Khan's Factory Girl and Laila Marrakchi's Rock The Casbah.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the 10thDubai International Film Festival.)