Magazine article Screen International

The Power of Three

Magazine article Screen International

The Power of Three

Article excerpt

The Gulf festivals are playing a central role in the Arab film-making renaissance.

To say this has been a year of transition for the Arab film festival circuit would be a serious understatement. Two of the oldest festivals in the Middle East - Cairo and Damascus - have been engulfed in political uprisings. Cairo cancelled last year's event in the aftermath of the Tahrir Square uprising and is aiming to stage a 35th edition this November, after a last-minute change of director. As for Damascus, the cancellation of its biennial festival last year is the least of Syria's problems right now, and as things stand there is not much hope Damascus will see the 20th edition of the festival that is supposed to take place in 2013.

Even under peaceful circumstances, both festivals - and established ones in neighbouring Lebanon - were already being overshadowed by a trio of lavishly endowed festivals that have sprung up in the Gulf. Starting with Dubai in 2004, then Abu Dhabi three years later and finally Doha in 2009, these events have shifted Middle Eastern film-making's centre of gravity towards the Arabian peninsula. Dubai also added another festival, the Gulf Film Festival in April, which focuses just on the region's cinematic output. And Abu Dhabi has also teamed up with Tropfest, the world's largest short-film festival, to create an Arabic edition that holds promise as an outlet for the region's new talents.

'We have been overwhelmed with the quantity of submissions received from film-makers'Shivani Pandya, Dubai International Film Festival

The Gulf is not resting on its laurels. For the first time in their brief but high-profile histories, all three of the region's major festivals are being spearheaded at the same time by locals. In July, the Doha Film Institute (DFI) brought in Issa Bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi as the vice-chair of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival following the departure of executive director Amanda Palmer. In August, Abu Dhabi announced that Ali Al Jabri was replacing Peter Scarlet as its festival director. Doha has yet to announce its own new festival director.

With managerial shift has come perceptual change. At the outset, these festivals were primarily known for their prize money and hospitality; now the film world thinks of coming to the Gulf for its own sake. Where festival programmers once had to chase down premieres, they are becoming spoilt for choice. …

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