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Celebrating film with DIFF

DIFF press conference 2The impact of technology on filmmaking, changing audience behaviour and the future of Gulf films were some of the trending topics at the 11th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival. We bring you a report 

The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) showcased regional as well as international films, and brought together industry experts from across the world to discuss the business of film. Emirati films and Arabic content were at the forefront of this year’s edition as several new initiatives were announced to fuel their growth.

The annual Muhr Awards rewarded the region’s best filmmakers for their work in the industry, and were presented by His Highness Sheikh Mansour Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum during a ceremony at the Burj Al Arab. Categories in this year’s Awards were the Muhr Feature (for non-fiction and fiction feature films), the Muhr Emirati and Muhr Shorts.

The inaugural Ministry of Interior Award for Best Societal Screenplay went to Emirati filmmaker Saeed Salmeen Al Murry for his project Going to Heaven. The award carried a prize of $100,000 for Al Murry’s screenplay, which addressed child welfare.

A mix of talent including Arab and international stars walked the red carpet at the Festival this year. Two veterans of the industry received the prestigious DIFF Lifetime Achievement Award: acclaimed Egyptian actor Nour El Sherifand Indian playback legend Asha Bhosle, who has recorded more than 12,000 songs for over 850 films in her 81 years.

DIFF’s Arabian Nights Programme was a celebration of Arab cinema, showcasing films made in the region as well as outstanding international films that focus on the region. This year’s line-up featured a selection of insightful, culturally-enriching narratives that offered a genre-challenging perspective of the Arab world and those who live across the region.

DIFF’s Artistic Director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali, called the Arabian Nights programme the heart of the Festival.

“The Arabian Nights’ line-up offers the vision of some of the Middle East’s most celebrated directors as well as the perceptions of highly talented filmmakers from other parts of the world. The films, with their unique medley of viewpoints, techniques and stories, are a powerful, thought-provoking take on the issues facing the Arab world today,” he said.

The Cinema of the World section brought together films from the world’s brightest directors, producers, scriptwriters and filmmakers from all walks of life and diverse corners of the globe.

DIFF introduced a number of new initiatives this year, such as the Dubai Film Market’s Dubai Distribution Programme. Through the programme’s efforts, five Middle East distributors have agreed to acquire at least one Arab title from the DIFF line-up and release it theatrically across the region, with Dolphins, Abood Kandaishan and Cairo Time among the first titles selected. Distributors include Empire, Gulf Film, VOX Cinemas, Iraqi Cinemas and Front Row Filmed Entertainment, which is participating alongside its business partner, Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC).

The business hub of the Dubai International Film Festival, the Dubai Film Market (DFM), ran from December 11-15. It is now considered the world’s leading industry stage for Arab cinema, and a platform that contributes to shaping and developing the Emirati film industry. In a bid to improve the visibility of a range of Arab productions. DFM combines a showcase of Arabic content from the small and big screen, enabling international buyers to sample the very best from the Arab world. In addition, it also provides a platform for content providers in the region to acquire the latest offerings from around the world.

This year, DFM increased the number of exhibitor stands for companies to take advantage of the opportunities to interact with industry leaders, view their products and network with major players in the region and beyond. The market explored growth opportunities to expand the network of partners both locally and internationally in the coming months. DIFF will now be supporting filmmakers and distributors through targeted marketing campaigns, during the run up to each film’s release.

Enjaaz, the Festival’s production and post-production support arm and part of DFM, supported 17 films this year.

DFM hosted a number of forums as platforms for industry experts to discuss issues that have an impact on regional film and broadcast. The topics of discussion ranged from the merging of TV and film to distribution, marketing and finance and co-production.

DFM hosted a broadcast day dedicated to all matters of broadcasting with panels focusing on the new narratives, key players and digital opportunities for both film and TV. At the marketing and distribution day, filmmakers heard about crowdfunding and discussed ways to overcome challenges of distributing films in the Arab world. All of the panel discussions were followed by networking sessions.

The panels also discussed funding and financing structures for up and coming filmmakers and shed light on co-production as the way forward to reach content to the right audience. The attendees discovered the latest co-production treaties, incentives and tax credits that make co-production an increasingly popular way for creating compelling content. Established producers shared their success stories with the attendees and spoke about what works and what doesn’t in today’s fast-changing media environment.

The future of film and TV was discussed and so was the role of the various platforms and services available to content creators. With audiences consuming content in new and diverse ways, how can the industry keep up with their demands. The panellists represented traditional and new media and addressed how technology was impacting storytelling, especially digital technology.

DIFF’s key business initiative this year was to encourage the use of DFM as a launchpad for new production and broadcast companies. The launch of a new interactive online channel, Dubai ON Demand, was announced during the Festival.

The channel is set to launch on YouTube in 2015, bringing together some of Dubai’s favourite presenters and tastemakers. Partnering with Ti22 Films, Dubai ON Demand will produce short clips ranging from health and fitness to make-up and celebrity gossip.

Visitors to the Dubai Film Market also got a glimpse of the UAE’s first interactive film, in the form of an interactive documentary (#ZaabiliDoc) directed and produced by Emirati visual storyteller Hassan Kiyany.

The film focuses on a school with more than 35 years of history that was vacated in late 2011 with no sign of recovery or maintenance. The school was filmed by Emirati talent Ammar Al Attar in an attempt to document it, using analogue and digital photography techniques, as signs suggest the place is set to be demolished or converted.

Emirati producer Hassan Kiyany commented: “We have structured the photographer’s journey to document the building with his thoughts and opinions while on-site, visiting the location, and reporting on its significance to the history of Dubai and the local community at large.”

Barajoun Entertainment, an animation and visual effects studio headquartered in Dubai, marked its debut outing at DIFF this year with the announcement of a new film for 2015, featuring Hollywood actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the Festival, Ayman Jamal, Barajoun’s Producer and Managing Partner, announced the company’s partnership with the actor for the new project.

Agbaje is notably known for starring in TV shows and films such as Lost, The Bourne Identity and Thor. His forthcoming film, Annie, is set for a December 2015 release, and he will feature in popular TV show Game of Thrones next year.

Barajoun Entertainment provides a full suite of animation and CGI productions, from concept design to final render. The team comprises professionals with expertise in working on distinguished projects, including blockbusters, theme park content and award-winning character modelling.