Emirati, regional and international stars lit up the red carpet on Wednesday night as the 11th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) opened at Madinat Arena.
The festival's Muhr Awards jury head, US director Lee Daniels, along with his jurors, Lebanese actress-director Nadine Labaki and US actress Virginia Madsen, were among the black-tie-clad VIPs who watched the festival's opening film, the Stephen Hawking biopic, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones.
"I've never been a head of a jury before, so this is going to be exciting,” double Oscar-nominee Daniels told Gulf News. He's known for his films The Butler and Precious, both of which explore US race relations. "I'm excited to be a black man here in a world filled with coloured people,” he said, before revealing his criteria for winning film: "Good storytelling and great acting to define the storytelling”.
Labaki said she is not familiar with Gulf filmmaking. "So I'm excited to see films from this part of the world.”
Indian singing legend Asha Bhosle, 81, was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the opening ceremony before the film. Bhosle, who has recorded more than 12,000 songs for more than 850 films in a career spanning seven decades, also owns the Asha's chain of restaurants in Dubai. She spoke briefly, to says she was happy to be in Dubai and get the award. As for more restaurants? "You'll have to speak to my son.”
The second Lifetime Achievement Award recipient was Egyptian actor Nour Al Sharif. The 68-year-old is a staple of Egyptian television and cinema with a resume that dates back to the mid-'60s. He walked the red carpet with his Cairo Time co-star Mervat Amin. The film screens as part of the festival on December 15 and December 17.
The opening ceremony was compered by Emirati filmmaker Nayla Al Khaja and animator Mohammad Saeed Harib, whose Freej fame. He designed the Diff logo 11 years ago. She reminded the audience that short films that win at Diff's awards can be sent for consideration to the Academy Awards — the only Arab film festival that can do so.
For Emirati director Ali Mustafa, life came full circle at Diff, which will screen his second feature, From A to B, in a unique union between the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which funded and premiered the film. His first film, City of Life, was funded by Diff and premiered there in 2009. "The reception [to From A to B] in Abu Dhabi was overwhelming. I hope the reaction in Dubai is similar,” he said on the red carpet.
Over the next eight days, 118 films will be screened, including 55 world premieres in 34 languages. Asked for his pick of the festival, chairman Abdul Hamid Juma said he couldn't — it was like "picking a favourite from 118 children”. He was certain about the festival's aim, however:
"We want to encourage younger film makers from here. We want to show them there is money to be made in films.”
Following in the footsteps of her predecessor Cate Blanchett, IWC Filmmaker Award jury head Emily Blunt spoke only to fans gathered on the red carpet, but not to media. The British actress is expected to speak at the awards gala on Thursday night, when she will name one of three GCC filmmakers — Saeed Salmeen Al Murry, Ahd Kamel or Abdullah Boushahri — as the recipient of a fund for a project in development.
Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko also did not speak, but dazzled in a long white dress. She will walk the red carpet on Thursday at Madinat Jumeirah at the gala screening if Russell Crowe's directorial debut The Water Diviner.
One of the year's most awaited films, Into the Woods, featuring a star-studded cast including Blunt, Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick and James Corden, will close Diff on December 17.
Films during the festival are screened at Vox Cinemas in Mall of the Emirates and at the Madinat Theatre in Madinat Jumeirah. Red carpet galas and screenings are held at the Madinat Arena.
Source: Gulf News