While the Islamic world seethes over what it says is a blasphemous US-made film about the Prophet Mohamed, the Gulf countries prepare for their upcoming cinema season.
With at least six festivals a year, the Gulf's budding film industry is making a place for itself on the international stage. Thanks to the commitment of visionary artists and investors, and of governments like that of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the region now boasts several funds for emerging filmmakers.
Among them are Sanad, which distributes up to 500,000 dollars to directors from the Arab world, Enjaaz, which provides 100,000-dollar grants to filmmakers of Arab origins, and the Dubai Film Connection, which selects 15 projects a year, mentoring them all the way from financing to production to distribution. The most important festivals are Abu Dhabi (October 10-20), Doha Tribeca (November 17-24), Dubai (December 9-16), and the Gulf Film Festival, to be held in April 2013.
The region's latest international success is the Saudi film Wadjda, which premiered to much public and critical acclaim at the recent Venice Film Festival. It tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who wants a bicycle, in a country where women are forbidden to ride them. Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda is the first film to have been entirely shot in Saudi Arabia, by that country's first female director. A wondrous achievement in a nation that has no movie theaters, and in which going to the movies is forbidden.
In 2009, the international critics' darling was Ali Mustafa, whose film City of Life told three intersecting stories of hope and betrayal in Dubai.