What Next for the Arab Film Festival Circuit, Following Dubai's Demise?

By Goodfellow, Melanie | Screen International, May 15, 2018 | Go to article overview

What Next for the Arab Film Festival Circuit, Following Dubai's Demise?


Goodfellow, Melanie, Screen International


Arab cinema professionals are asking whether another Arab film festival can fill the void left by the closure of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).

‘Yomeddine’

The Arab film world is having a high profile Cannes this year with several buzzy titles premiering here, such as Egyptian Palme d’Or contender Yomeddine, Syria’s Un Certain Regard entry My Favorite Fabric, and Mohamed Ben Attia’s Directors’ Fortnight title Our Son.

The arrival of a big Saudi Arabian delegation to kickstart the country’s drive to build the biggest film and TV business in the Gulf, following the lifting of its 30-year-old cinema ban, has also been a talking point.

But in the backdrop, a less positive topic has been dominating the conversations of the Arabcinema professionals in Cannes over the last week, namely the unexpected closure of the UAE’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) last month.

The 14-year-old festival, taking place in December, had bloomed in recent years to become a major date on the calendar for the Arab film world. Its industry initiatives such as the Enjaaz post-production fund and Dubai Film Connection also played an important role in the independent film production eco-system.

“It’s a big loss. It was the biggest festival in the Arab world. At the very last edition we had 25 films, between official selection and the market,” said Alaa Karkouti, co-founder of the promotional body of the Arab Cinema Centre. “Dubai was when the independent industry set strategy for the coming year, for projects, shoots and releases.”

Another DIFF regular declared: “It’s the equivalent of losing the Arab world’s Cannes.”

According to a statement on the DIFF website, it will be back in 2019 with a new format but few people in the region believe this and speculation is now rife around which festival will fill the void left by Dubai’s demise.

In another twist, rumours are rife that Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s largest and richest emirate, is mulling a revival of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival it mothballed abruptly in 2015.

Potential candidates

There are several potential candidates to take over from DIFF but no frontrunner.

Some suggest Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival, bankrolled by billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris and overseen by respected cinema expert and programmer Intishal Al Timimi, who previously headed up the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, could fill the gap.

The event, unfolding in the Red Sea resort of El Gouna, mixes regional and international films with a raft of industry events. Its second edition will take place Sept 20-28.

Arab and international professionals flocked to Sawiris’s yacht in Cannes over the weekend for a lively soiree feting the fledgling festival but privately many question how long the tycoon will foot the bill for the event which is heavily reliant on his patronage. …

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