Considered the festival that laid the building blocks for much of the region's growing film industries, the sixth Gulf Film Festival (GFF) kicks off tonight at Dubai's Festival City for a week of talks, workshops, networking sessions and, naturally, filmsAmong 169 films from 43 countries are 78 world premieres, with 93 film originating from the GCC, Yemen and Iraq. Many will compete for prizes across four competitions. With submissions to the festival at an all-time high, the event director Masoud Amralla Al Ali, described by many as the godfather of the UAE's film industry, talks us through the state of moviemaking across the countries taking part.
Although the major Qatar-funded international projects such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Black Gold have grabbed the headlines, locally made films are beginning to emerge.
"For years we'd been struggling to receive films from Qatar," says the event director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali. "But I think since the Doha Film Institute [DFI] was established and they concentrated more on the Qatari film, we've been receiving more and more. This year I think we have the highest participation ever from Qatar, with three or four in competition."
Much credit can be given to the DFI, which was set up three years ago. "But there are also some young independent filmmakers who are really doing a great job working together and they are producing many films," Al Ali says. This year also features a separate, out-of-competition Made in Qatar section.
Films to watch for
Lyrics Revolt by Shannon Farhoud, Melanie Fridgant, Rana Al Khatib, Ashlene Ramadan
After its world premiere at last year's Doha Tribeca Film Festival, it's time for the UAE to get its taste of this impressive documentary looking into the influence of local hip-hop and rappers on the Arab Spring.
Ghazil - The Story of Rashid and Jawaher by Sara Al-Derham
Inspired by Romeo and Juliet, this tale set in the early 1900s revolves around the trials and tribulations of a strict family, a jealous cousin and a society as enemy.
Bidoon by Mohammed Al Ibrahim
His supernatural debut feature, Lockdown: Red Moon Escape, premiered at GFF last year. Now, Al Ibrahim returns with something different: a short about two students from different social backgrounds who fall in love.
Last year, GFF featured a Bahrain spotlight, but this year the country hasn't got such a presence. Political instability could be a factor, says Al Ali. "Unfortunately, it has not been a good year for Bahrain. Last year we had the best year ever from them, but it seems Bahrain is always like this. Every two years we see a wave of films coming out, but the next year is surprisingly dead."
Film to watch for
Accident… by Yaser Al Qarmazi
The award-winning actor and director Yaser Al Qarmazi brings this silent short in which a young man waits by the roadside for a car to take him to an unknown destination.
Undoubtedly the biggest Gulf film of the moment, Haifaa Al Mansour's captivating drama Wadjda will open the festival this evening. But it's not the only sign of cinematic life from a country where cinemas are still banned.
"I think Wadjda came as a conclusion of the efforts of young filmmakers over the past seven to eight years, and I think many young filmmakers will follow," says Al Ali. Other success has come from Ahd Kamel, who stars in Wadjda and whose short film Sanctity screened at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.
"I think Saudi is improving every year, and internationally it has been a very good year," Al Ali says.