My Top 20 Picks for Dubai International Film Festival 2011

The 8th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival starts on 7th December and will end on 14th December. The theme this year is "Films that lead you to the unexpected" - and the line up looks very good. I think they've really stepped up their game this year.

The festival's opening film is Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocal which features our very own Burj Khalifa. But besides a few Hollywood titles, the festival incudes a great selection of films and documentaries from the Middle East, Europe, India, Asia, Africa and South America. There's even a silent film in the mix. Hurrah! 

So without much further ado, here's my top 20. Let me know if you have a list and see you at the festival front row and centre.

Boiling Dreams

In a tiny Moroccan village, a young father of two plans his illegal crossing into Spain. He assures his wife that he will telephone her three days after his departure, to confirm his safe arrival in Spain. However, the call never comes.  Schedule and ticket information.

Come Rain, Come Shine

Whilst driving to the airport one day, a young woman tells her husband that she wants to leave him for another man. The husband responds with muted acknowledgement and drives on. On the day she is to move out, a massive storm strikes and forces the couple to spend another day together. A lot can happen in one day, as their soon to be new reality sinks in. Schedule and ticket information.


The 81-year-old Bastu is trying to find a new purpose to her life since her husband’s death. With only her granddaughter for company, the film (set in a real village) explores, with wonderful magical realism, the depths of the octogenarian’s vivid imagination, looking at human relations and the co-existence of extremes - life and death, dreams and reality, tradition and modernity – and the spirit of her dead husband who keeps popping up. Schedule and ticket information.


Noora is a young lawyer in Tehran, recently disbarred for participating in activist campaigns against the government. She is also pregnant and alone. Her husband has been exiled to work in the desert, as punishment for his actions as a political journalist. Unsurprisingly, she is in desperate pursuit of a visa to leave her country and navigates through the male chauvinistic hallways of Iranian bureaucracy, nearly impenetrable for a woman with an absent husband. But she persists, for all she wants is her freedom. Schedule and ticket information.


“Habibi,” a story of forbidden love, is the first fiction feature set in Gaza in over 15 years. The film is a modern re-telling of the legendary tragic romance ‘Majnun Layla’, which was set in seventh century Arabia, when a poet named Qays fell in love with Layla. Driven by the intensity of his passion, Qays was known as ‘Majnun Layla’, which translates as ‘madman for Layla’. In the contemporary setting, two students in the West Bank are forced to return home to Gaza, where their love defies tradition. To reach his lover, Qays graffiti’s poetry across town. Schedule and ticket information.

Here We Drown Algerians

In response to the call of the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front), thousands of Algerians from Paris and its suburbs, march on October 17, 1961 to protest against the curfew imposed on them. Fifty years later, the filmmaker sheds light on the events of the day. Blending testimony and unseen archive footage, history and memory, past and present, the film presents the different stages of the day and reveals the strategy and methods applied at the highest level of the French state: manipulation of public opinion, the systematic challenge of every accusation, the censoring of information in order to prevent investigation.

Schedule and ticket information



“Inni” is Sigur Rós’s second live film following the hugely-celebrated 2007 “Heima”. Whereas that film positioned the enigmatic group in the context of their Icelandic homeland, providing perspectives on their “other-worldly” music, “Inni” focuses purely on the band’s performance, which is artfully and intimately captured by French-Canadian director Vincent Morisset (“Arcade Fire’s Miroir Noir”). Interweaving archive material from the band’s first 10 years with the sometimes gossamer light, sometimes punishingly intense, concert footage, “Inni” is a persuasive account of one of the most celebrated and influential rock bands of recent years. Schedule and ticket information.

Into the Abyss

Werner Herzog uses a triple homicide that took place in Texas, as a springboard to explore capital punishment in this thought-provoking documentary. In late 2001, Texas teens Jason Burkett and Michael Perry were arrested for murders related to a car theft gone horribly awry. Ten years later, Perry sits on death row awaiting execution, and Burkett languishes in prison with a life sentence. Interviewing the families of victims and perpetrators, locals and those convicted of the crime, including Perry on death row eight days before his execution, Herzog travels from luxury to poverty, dispassion to deep emotion, revealing an American gothic landscape that both reveals yet denies any easy explanation. Schedule and ticket information.

Las Acacias

An unexpected road trip on the highway between Asuncion, Paraguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ruben, a lonely truck driver who is a regular on the route, finds himself responsible for transporting a countrywoman, Jacinta, and her 5-month-old daughter, Anahi. With a long stretch of 1,500 kilometres ahead, the journey starts off on a uncomfortable note, but gradually softens as their relationship delicately evolves along the way. Schedule and ticket information.

Le Havre

Suffused with warm humanism, nods to French classic cinema and odd moments of surrealism and irony, the film has Marcel Marx, a former author and well-known Bohemian, in voluntary exile in the port city of Le Havre, where he works as a shoe-shiner. Marcel is content with his life: work, wife and social hours at his favourite bar. All is well until an underage African refugee crosses his path. With his wife now fighting a debilitating illness, Marcel must, against all odds, rescue the young refugee from a dogged detective and police dragnet closing in on him.   Schedule and ticket information

The Light In Her Eyes

Using Islam as a catalyst for change, Houda Al-Habash encourages women and girls to challenge tradition to pursure higher education and jobs. Filmmakers Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix spent a summer at Houda's Qur'an school in Damascus, Syria, follwing the studies and daily lives of the great diversity of students that attend courses at the mosque. Their compelling film reveals how Houda has transformed her mosque into the center of an inspiring social network, and why women are turning to (their interpretation of) Islam in a rapidly changing world. Schedule and ticket information.

The Mexican Suitcase

Three long lost suitcases that went missing in Europe at the start of the Second World War are found in a wardrobe in Mexico City in 2007. In them, were 4,500 negatives of images shot by Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David ‘Chim’ Seymour, friends, photographers and die-hard anti-fascists, who had left their respective homelands and together travelled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War. This fascinating film uses the find to illuminate and add to the history of the War with archive footage, memories of survivors and refugees and the contemporary search for mass graves. Schedule and ticket information.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

A typical police procedure, in the hands of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, takes on an atypical and unpredictable course. A murder followed by a confession. The murderer leads an overnight search party to the corpse. As the group traverses through the stark countryside, the killer fails to locate the burial spot. Through the seemingly insignificant conversations, clues are served for an audience willing to play sleuth. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia features a grand climax, an eerily beautiful lanscape and Ceylan’s signature exploration of the human condition. Schedule and ticket information.

Otelo Burning

A rare township swimming pool on the Kwazulu-Natal coast of South Africa survived the violence of apartheid, creating a unique opportunity for township boys to learn to swim, taste freedom and escape the misery of their lives. Inspired by this, and set against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the powerful story of Otelo Buthelezi and his friends dives into hope, betrayal and jealousy, and the huge potential for change, which their ability to surf might bring. Schedule and ticket information.

Pandora's Box

"Pandora's Box" premiered in Berlin on February 9, 1929. Largely ignored at the time, it was only recognized after the 1950s, due to the efforts of the Cinémathèque Francaise and George Eastman House. But no original negative nor original print is known to exist, only inferior duplications. The only way to even attempt to restore the original beauty of Georg Pabst’s images was by applying digital tools to the project from which new 35 mm preservation negatives, prints and digital material have been created. See it now in all its pristine beauty as restored by Martin Koerber of the Deutsche Kinemathek. Schedule and ticket information.

Planet of Snail

Young-Chan has been deaf and blind since childhood. His participation in the world is limited until he meets Soon-Ho who, like him, has a physical disability. They wed and he learns to communicate with the outside world through her. "Planet of a Snail" tenderly follows the couple and we see them replacing a lamp together, receiving friends, working on a theatre piece, reading a book, and gliding down a mountain on a sleigh. These everyday scenes are accompanied by a poetic voice-over by Young-Chan, in which he reflects on his existence without sight and hearing. Schedule and ticket information.

A Simple Life

“A Simple Life” is based on real people and events. Chung Chun Tao, or Ah Tao, was born in Taishan, China. Her foster-father died during the Japanese Occupation and her foster-mother sent her to work as a servant for the Leung family where she served four generations over the course of 60 years. Now, with her health failing, it is time for Ah Tao to be cared for. Schedule and ticket information.

Surviving Progress

Ronald Wright’s bestseller “A Short History of Progress” inspired this cinematic investigation of progress as, well progress or a series of pivotal big mistakes? Some of the world's foremost thinkers, activists, financiers and scientists challenge us to overcome “progress traps”, which destroyed past civilizations and lie treacherously embedded in our own, proving the adage that"every time history repeats itself the price goes up". Schedule and ticket information.

Turtles Don't Die of Old Age

Three octogenarians – Chehma, a master fisherman; Erradi, a solitary innkeeper; and Abdesslam, a street musician – still work to earn a living. Driven by a desire to continue living to the best of their ability despite being in their twilight years, this documentary addresses the universal themes of life and old age, and describes a simple way of life that is perhaps dying with this generation of Moroccans. Filmmakers Hind Benchekroun and Sami Mermer have combined stunning cinematography with a narrative anchored in the everyday details of these inspirational men, coating their film with tenderness and poignancy. Schedule and ticket information.

Under Snow

In the Japanese region of Echigo, the local population lives with heavy snowfall six months in a year. They have developed their own customs of everyday life, festivals and religious rituals. In a wonderfully poetic way director Ulrike Ottinger leads us into the reality of the snowy landscape with its beauty and austere living conditions, following the mythical tracks of the “gods of paths and roads” and mountain spirits, and places us within the fairytale world of a beautiful fox and her lover. Schedule and ticket information.

(All movie descriptions via