Dubai International Film Festival 2017 - Notes from the Press Conference

The tag line for this year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival is "Film Will Find You" with a total of 140 films from 51 countries spanning feature, non-fiction and short films schedule to screen between 6th and 13th December 2017.

Despite the diverse line up, the press conference I attended just focused on the opening and closing films, gala screenings, the screenings at The Beach and "Oscar contenders". Over the past few years DIFF feels like it is mostly pandering to an audience that is only interested in "Hollywood' films, and I'm seeing less PR for the smaller films, including the Arab films. There was no mention of the films in competition in the Muhr awards which I found quite suprising. 

Whilst I understand this is mostly done for PR reasons and to attract crowds, but I do believe there is room to also give attention to the smaller films, especially films that will never get a theatrical release here.  It was truly ironic to hear Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the festival's Artistic Director describe DIFF as "international in spirit but Arab at heart".  

A few of the highlights announced at the festival:

- It's yet another year where thf festival chooses to open with a non-Arab film. This year will see Hostiles (dir. Scott Cooper, Black Mass, Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart), described as a "Western masterpiece" starring Christian Bale, and Rosamund Pike opening the festival on Wednesday, 6th December. Set in 1892, it's about legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands.

Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains.

Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.   

- The film will close with Star Wars: The Last Jedi  on Wednesday, 13th December (last year the festival closed with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - see the pattern here?). 

- The red carpet Gala screenings includes the following films: 

  • 7th December: On Chesil Beach,Orchestra Class
  • 8th December: Ferdinand, The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country 
  • 9th December: Shock and AweJumanji: Welcome to the JungleThe Disaster Artist
  • 10th December: The Shape of Water
  • 11th December: Induced LabourThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 12th December: You Were Never Really Here,Downsizing

Out of these I am looking forward to The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country and the Disaster Artist. I strongly recommend you do not miss You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay, one of my favourite films from the London Film Festival last month. 

- The open air screenings at The Beach which are free to attend includes the following a mix of documentaries and feature films, including two classics:

  • 6th December: Beyond the Clouds
  • 7th December: Mountain
  • 8th December: Grain of Sand (plus live music after the screening) 
  • 9th December:  The Man Behind the Microphone (plus live music after the screening)
  • 10th December: Where to?
  • 11th December: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards
  • 12th December:  King Kong
  • 13th December: The Bachelors

At the conference they paused to mention they will screen the restored version of King Kong from 1933, but no acknowledgement to Where to? by Georges Nasser, a 60 year old film that screened for the first time in 1957 at the Cannes Film Festival. Another classic and epic film, The Message by Moustapha Akkad from 1976 will also be screening during the week of the festival at VOX Cinemas was also not acknowledged at the press conference.

A series of talks will be part of the schedule, including The Academy: Women at the Helm which includes Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, 1999), Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, 2012 and her latest, Mary Shelley, which is screening at DIFF), Niko Caro (Whale Rider, 2002), Dee Rees (Mudbound, 2017).

- There's a UK Spotlight at the DIFF, part of the UK/UAE 2017 Year of Culture. This will include a costume design masterclass presented by BAFTA and Swarovski with BAFTA and Academy Award-winning designer Alexandra Byrne, her filmography includes, Elizabeth (1998), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and most recently Murder on the Orient Express (2017). There will also be a special costume design exhibition between 6-13 December at the DIFFHeadquarters in Madinat Jumeirah.

- The three DIFF Honorary Awards which will be presented on the opening night ceremony will go to the one and only Patrick Stewart, Egyptian writer Wahid Hamed and acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan

The complete line up can be found on DIFF's website. Tickets go on sale on Friday, 24th November. Here's a trailer showing all 140 films. Look out for my annual top picks of films to see at the festival, expect more than one list this year.