Gulf Film Festival 2011 - My Top 20 Picks

The 4th edition of the Gulf Film Festival returns this month from 14th-20th April at Dubai Festival City and will screen more than 150 films, all free to the public.

“The Gulf Film Festival celebrates cinematic excellence in the Gulf, offering a solid platform for regional talent to highlight their competencies. This year, complementing our credo of promoting regional filmmaking, we are also opening doors to showcase international shorts for the first time in the region, which will serve as an interactive experience for participants.  Short films are a compelling artform that capture the dynamism of cinema within a short span of time. By inviting international talent to the Gulf Film Festival, we want to highlight the diverse approaches in short filmmaking across the world.” Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Festival Director

The festival includes Gulf-wide, student and international shorts competitions, as well as out-of-competition segments, a children’s cinema segment. Two important highlights at this year's festival is the focus on experimental and eclectic French filmmaker Gérard Courant by screening ‘Cinématon’ the world's longest film, 156 hours long featuring short, silent, self-portraits of over 2,347 artists, directors, and cinephiles and the master class with renowned director Abbas Kiarostami and a series of workshops and discussions open to a limited number of participants. 

Whilst the Dubai International Film Festival is the older and more glamourous sister festival and showcases films from around the world, the Gulf Film Festival is the humble younger sister that focuses on films from the Gulf region and this year will also include films from around he world including non-traditional film markets such as Afghanistan, Lithuania, Gabon, and Kyrgyzstan. If you have not been introduced to films from the Gulf, this is your chance to get acquainted

Here are my top 20 picks of short films, full features and documentaries from/about the region. See you at the festival, front row and centre.

Hamama (UAE)

Director Nujoom Al Ghanem

Hamama is nearly 90-years-old, a spiritual healer renowned as a living legend across the United Arab Emirates. Blessed with an incredible gift of healing, she nevertheless has to face her increasing frailty which threatens to impact her work and her livelihood. Her skills are incredibly valuable to hundreds who continue to visit her each day where she lives in Al Dhaid (Sharjah), seeking her essential cures. Yet, Hamama struggles with the responsibility of providing the care that is so greatly needed, while confronting her own personal hardships.

The Philosopher (UAE)

Director Abdalla Al Kaabi

Baggio is a successful footballer, martial artist and a pianist living the high life with his fame and fortune. Unfortunately, all of the perfections do not help satisfy that urging need in Baggio to do ‘something’ with his life. So he embarks on himself to drop all his titles and adopt a new title as a – philosopher! But if only things were that easy!

Al Seefah (UAE)

Director Mohammed Ghanim Al Marri

"Al Seefah" translates to the word beach in Arabic.  A fictional drama that conveys the problems that many UAE nationals face, as explored through the eyes of an old fisherman. With new fishing restriction laws being put into effect, fishermen are struggling to preserve their ancestors' source of living. This film demonstrates how an old fisherman reminisces about the old days when it was possible for anyone to place their fishing nets in the sea without paying fines.

telePhoni (UAE)

Director Hassan Kiyany

telePhoni tells the story of a nine-year-old boy who discovers a secret through the first test shots taken on his new iPhone.

Soweer (UAE)

Director Saud Merwesh 

A traditional game lies between the reality and the imagination.

Letters to Palestine (UAE)

Director Rashid Al Marri

Letters to Palestine is a documentary film which gathers the voices of various Arabs who are sending their unread letters to the Palestinian people living under occupation in current day Palestine. It captures the stories which never had the opportunity to reach the homes and the families of the Palestinians living under occupation. From young to old, the Arabs captured in this film have the chance to send their love, their stories, their aching for Palestine to the homes, families and children of Palestine.

Al Kandorah (UAE)

Directors Lamya Al Mualla and Maitha Al Haddad

A social commentary on the national attire directed.

Sabeel (UAE)

Director Khalid Al Mahmood

Two small boys live with their elderly grandmother in the mountains of the UAE. Spending their days tending their vegetables and then selling produce on the road, they have to earn enough money to buy medicine for their sick grandmother. This sweet, poignant film explores their lives and the world in which they live. 

Kanary (Qatar)

Director Sophia Al Maria

Kanary is a coming-of-age story about an alienated Qatari teenager (Najla), who rebels against her family and their rules. But when she is caught riding in a car with a boy, a dramatic duel between father and daughter ensues.

A Night to Remember (Saudi Arabia)

Director Fahmi Farouk Farahat

Two films by director Fahmi Farouk Farahat’s will be screened at this festival, the documentary A Night to Remember is a docudrama of music and dance set in the holy city of Makkah. His other film, The Corporation is a comedy about working in a mixed-gender office, a rarity in Saudi society.

Maher's Camera (Saudi Arabia)

Director Mansour Al Badran

Mansour Albadran’s comedy Maher's Camera follows a talented photographer who decides to participate in a photography competition about tourism in Saudi Arabia and has to face several difficulties.

Photon (Saudi Arabia)

Director Awadh Alhamzani

A short documentary about the story of a pioneer photographer, Sufyan Al-Khazraje, who left Iraq to Sweden when he was young.  He left with a dream. Later , his art won over  Swedish prize for photography 10 times in a raw. It's the journey of a photon, started from a peaceful soul that learned to live in harmony lined up with contradictions forced by absence of home and being in different times and places at the same time.

The Power of Generations (Bahrain)

Director Mohammed Jassim

Mohammed Jassim’s thriller The Power of Generations shines a light on the developments that the region has witnessed from the beginning of time. A commentary on progress, its fragility and the importance of maintaining development, the film revolves around a man sitting in a chair in the desert, when the world around him starts to evolve and devolve.

Lulwa (Bahrain)

Director Osama Al Saif

Lulwafocuses on the sensitive issue of sexual harassment, from a personal to the community level. The film tells the story of the glamorous Lulwa, who is harassed by a family member as well as a leading community figure, and the repercussions within her family and the reactions of the community at large as the wrong people are implicated in the traumatic incidents.

The Quarter of Scarecrows (Iraq)

Director Hassan Ali Mahmood 

Flocks of crows attack a rich landowner’s property. The landowner tries a variety of ways to prevent them from eating his harvest. A fierce battle ensues between the two parties with the village children becoming victims of the conflict.

Leaving Baghdad (Iraq)

Director Koutaiba Al-Janabi

Leaving Baghdad follows the personal cameraman to Saddam Hussein, as he tries to escape the grip of the regime, while being pursued around the world.

Golakani Kirkuk (The Flowers of Kirkuk) (Iraq)

Director Fariborz Kamkari

The Flowers of Kirkuk is the story of a young doctor who must choose between her family traditions and her own dreams in 1980s Iraq.

Fragments of Life and Death (Iraq)

Director Mano Khalil

Mano Khalil’s Fragments of Life and Deathshows stories of people who stayed alive by chance after mass killings carried out by the regime.

Goodbye Babylon (Iraq)

Director Amer Alwan

Goodbye Babylon tells the story of an American soldier drafted to Iraq whose initial belief in the mission of liberation starts to fade over his three years in the nation

Baghdad Film School (Iraq)

Director Shuchen Tan

In 2003, only a few months after the liberation of Baghdad, two Iraqi born filmmakers opened the first independent film school in Iraq. Baghdad Film School is the true story of the first independent film school in Iraq and its students’ struggle to fulfil their dreams of making films in the midst of chaos, fear, death, and hardship.

Complete festival schedule can be found