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Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


Twenty films to see from Cinema of the World at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

This year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival has 49 films in Cinema of the World section. Here are my top 20 picks. Out of this selection I have already seen Loveless, No Date No Signature and You Were Never Really Here and strongly recommend you don't miss them, especially You Were Never Really Here which is one for the big screen and big speakers.  

I've added a bonus reason to watch each film recommended below. I hope the film schedule will allow me to see as many of these films. 

Click on each title for more information, schedule and to buy tickets. 

A Ciambra
Director: Jonas Carpignano
18+ | Italian dialogue with English subtitles | 120 min 

A coming of age story abou Pio Amato, a Romany teenager in rural Calabria. Despite his tender years, Pio’s got the attitude and the connections – he moves effortlessly between the locals, the Romany and the immigrants as he shadows his streetwise older brother Cosimo around town. But when things go wrong and Cosimo vanishes, Pio finds that he has to be a man now, for real.   

Bonus reason to see it: This is Italy's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. 


Director: Aktan Arym Kubat
PG | Kyrgyz dialogue with English subtitles | 89 min

Anyone who craves adventure, black humour, dark deeds, mysterious legends and mythical beasts, will find much to love in Centaur. A rare submission from Kyrgyzstan, Centaur revolves around the epic titular hero, who lives in the depths of the countryside, with his deaf-mute wife and son. 

Centaur has quite a bit of peace and quiet then, to dwell on his obsession with horses and specifically, the loss of Kyrgyz national pride and unity. As the two concepts become ever entwined in Centaur’s mind, he hatches a crazy scheme that will, in his mind, restore his countrymen to their state of former glory and power. 

Bonus reason to see it: How often do we get to see a film from Kyrgyzstan? 


Custody / Jusqu'à La Garde 
Director: Xavier Legrand   
15+ | French dialogue with English subtitles | 90 min   

Through the eyes of young Julien Besson (Thomas Gioria), we watch the harrowing breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Yet, amidst the turmoil, our suppositions and assumptions are constantly challenged, in a storyline that twists and turns back and forth. 

Is Antoine, Julien’s dad, a violent, unpredictable monster? Is his mother Miriam manipulative, dishonest and controlling? It would be spoiling the eventual climax to tell you more, so we will just sincerely urge you not to miss this one.  

Bonus reason to see it: It won Silver Lion for Best Director and First Film Winner at the Venice Film Festival. 

Director: Armando Iannucci 
15+ |  English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 106 min

A gripping, hilarious drama based on the real-life demise of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. A surreally satirical and blackly comedy with a cast (including Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi and Rupert Friend) portraying the lunacy and chaos that explodes after Stalin’s messy passing.

The searing script, meanwhile, offers slyly pertinent political commentary, with Iannucci skewering the sheer idiocy, craven ambition and doctrinaire oafishness of Stalin’s inner circle.

Bonus reason to see it: Armando Iannucci’s credits include The Thick Of It, In The Loop, Veep, Alan Partridge.   

The Disaster Artist
Director: James Franco
18+ | English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 103 min

James Franco transforms the tragicomic true-story of aspiring filmmaker and infamous Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau—an artist whose passion was as sincere as his methods were questionable—into a celebration of friendship, artistic expression, and dreams pursued against insurmountable odds.

Based on Greg Sestero’s best-selling tell-all about the making of Tommy's cult-classic disasterpiece The Room (“The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made”), The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and welcome reminder that there is more than one way to become a legend—and no limit to what you can achieve when you have absolutely no idea what you're doing.    

Bonus reason to see it: This film has been receiving nothing but great reviews over the past couple of months. 


A Gentle Creature / Krotkaya
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
15+ | Russian dialogue with English subtitles | 143 min  

This powerful, slow-burning Russian drama, inspired by the Dostoyevsky story of the same name sees the unnamed central character – a taciturn young women running a petrol station in the middle of nowhere – embark on a long, difficult journey to the heart of deepest Siberia, where her imprisoned husband has apparently vanished. 
Once she reaches the chaotic end of the line, her quest for answers comes up against unexpected - and sinister - opposition.   

Bonus reason to see it: Sergei Loznitsa's filmography includes stand out films like Maiden and The Fog.

Hunting Season / Temporada De Caza
Director: Natalia Garagiola 
15+ | Spanish dialogue with English subtitles | 105 min 

The feature debut by Argentinian director Natalia Garagiola, Hunting Season is a heartwarming drama, set amidst the gorgeous, dramatic scenery of Patagonia. When young Nahuel’s (Lautaro Betton) mother dies from cancer, he goes off the rails in pretty dramatic fashion, culminating with his expulsion from school.
Trying to sort himself out, he tracks down his absent father Ernesto (Germán Palacios), a respected hunting guide in Patagonia, living a serene and settled life. When estranged father and son confront each other, a welter of emotional tides and waves rise and fall in conflict and tension.

Bonus reason to see it: This feature debut won the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week prize.     

I am Not a Witch
Director: Rungano Nyoni   
12+ | English, Bemba and Nyanja dialogue with English subtitles | 95 min

This debut feature from Zambian director Rungano Nyoni artfully satirises her homeland’s more esoteric traditions and beliefs. ‘I Am Not A Witch’ is a blackly comic account of a young girl, Shula, who is declared a witch by her neighbours in a rural Zambian village.
She’s sent to a bizarre ‘witch camp’, under the care of a creepy, pompous official Mr Banda who gets busy exploiting the child’s supposed talents in ever-more bizarre situations. There’s more than a whiff of black comedy here, and the performances, especially by Shula Maggie Mulubwa as Shula and Henry BJ Phiri as Mr Banda are superbly pitched.   

Bonus reason to see it: The film received high praise from audiences and critics alike at the Cannes 2017 Directors’ Fortnight. 

Director: Alexandros Avranas 
18+ | Greek dialogue with English subtitles / Colour / 103 min

A wealthy Greek couple hire an impoverished migrant to act as a surrogate mother. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it transpires. As the narrative unfolds, emotions bubble and roil to the surface, tension builds and the trio are soon sparking off each other as the situation descends into horrific tragedy and heartbreak. 
Touching on themes uppermost in the Greek collective consciousness today – ethical, financial and familial pressures conflict with the reality of migration, cultural issues and the unknowable wiles of the heart. These various facets are brought to bear upon a narrative that examines a marriage, a society and a nation in a state of unknowing turmoil, in a superbly-crafted, thrilling and suspenseful drama.   

Bonus reason to see it: The same director made Miss Violence, one of my favourite films from DIFF 2013.

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev 
18+ | Russian dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 127 min   

A compelling meditation on the complexities of life in modern-day Russia, from acclaimed director Andrey Zvyagintsev, that takes a broken family as a metaphor for the state of a nation in flux. Middle-class couple Boris and Zhenya are divorcing and starting new lives.
The split has been extraordinarily bitter, an emotional rupture of seismic proportions, and their 12-year old son Alyosha has borne the brunt. When Aloshya vanishes, after a particularly ugly encounter between his warring parents, they are forced to work together to try and find him. Full of darkness, tension and suspense, ‘Loveless’ brilliantly casts a critical eye over the morals and hypocrisies of everyday life in Russia.    

Bonus reason to see it: Andrey Zvyagintsev is a thought provoking director holding a mirror to Russian society. Also, look out for one particular scene featuring the boy which has stayed with me ever since I watched this film at the London Film Festival.
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof  
12+ | Persian and English dialogue with English subtitles | 117 mins   

A powerful tale of tradition and moral rectitude in the face of creeping commercialism, A Man Of Integrity is the story of Reza, a taciturn and reserved individual, happy to run his goldfish farm and exist peacefully with his wife and small child in the beautiful landscapes of rural northern Iran.

But his serenity is shattered when a corrupt local company, with links to the authorities and apparently, every intention of crushing the local population to its will, threatens Reza’s tranquil life. How does he retain his integrity in the face of shameless commercial bullying? A Man Of Integrity is an inspiring examination of the resilience of the human spirit, that shows you how.

Bonus reason to see it: The film was screened in Un Certain Regard section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and won the main prize. 
My Pure Land
Director: Sarmad Masud
15+ |  Urdu dialogue with English subtitles | 92 mins      

British director Sarmud Masud delivers a taut, wired story based on true facts, set in rural Pakistan. Set over the course of a single night, it sees a homestead being attacked by a group of marauding men, intent on seizing the property from two girls.

The star of the film is Suhaee Abro, playing teenager Nazo, who has to look after her younger sister and defend their home from her frankly, revolting uncle Mehrban, who has already killed Nazo’s father and brother. As the fighting intensifies, Nazo needs every molecule of strength and fortitude to deal with these men - who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the property.

Bonus reason to see it: The buzz around this film described as a feminist Western set in Pakistan is enough reason for me to watch it. 

No Date, No Signature / Bedoune Tarikh, Bedoune Emza
Director: Vahid Jalilvand 
PG | Persian dialogue with English subtitles | 104 min 

Dr Kaveh Nariman (Amir Agha’ee) is a forensic pathologist. He’s a tough, hard-working, dedicated professional, whose life takes a dangerous turn one night when he accidentally hits a motorbike, on the highway. To Nariman’s horror, the bike is carrying a young family, a couple and their eight year old son, Amir Ali, as well as a baby.

Although nobody is seriously hurt, when the body of Amir Ali arrives at Dr Nariman’s autopsy room a few days later, he is shaken to the core. Was his death caused by Nariman’s carelessness? Or was it, as the child’s father believes, brought on by spoiled meat?

Amir Ali’s plunge into grief-stricken despair and Dr Nariman’s parallel internal anguish and fear, powers this quietly forceful, magnificent second feature by acclaimed director Vahid Jalilvand. 

Bonus reason to see it: The film won the Orizzonti Award for Best Director and Best Actor at Venice     

The Outlaws / Beomjoidosi
Director: Kang Yoon-Sung 
18+ | Korean and Chinese dialogue with English subtitles | 121 min 

Based on real events that occurred in 2007 dubbed the "Heuksapa Incident", this South Korean crime thriller follows a turf war in Seoul that grows between the local Garibong-dong gang and the fearsome Heuksapa gang from China, led by the bloodthirsty Jang Chen.

When the police get involved, they cook up a tense and thrilling plan to tackle Jeng and his gang with extreme prejudice. 

Bonus reason to see it: Who could say no to a Korean crime thriller?

Director: Rouzie Hassanova 
12+ | Bulgarian dialogue with English subtitles | 84 min 

For a young rock 'n' roll fan, Bulgaria in 1971 was a distinctly un-swinging place to be. An oppressive Communist government blamed it firmly on the boogie and for a young hip cat like Ahmet (Aleksander Ivanov), life is grey and dull. So, when his father walks almost 100km to the nearest town, to buy him a new radio, it’s a truly heartwarming gesture.

But beyond this tribute to paternal love, this fantastic screenplay addresses deeper issues that were at play behind the Iron Curtain. Director/writer Rouzie Hassanova’s film portrays the difficult lives of Muslims in Bulgaria, eking out a living in the rough, wild countryside. The family’s local Party officials are pressuring Muslims to convert to Christianity and Ahmet’s radio is broken – there are difficulties to surmount everywhere, large and small. 

A beautifull and poignant film is part paean to the director’s own childhood in Bulgaria and a subtle, powerful treatise on dignity and fortitude in the face of bigotry and totalitarianism.

Bonus reason to see it: A portrayal of life in Bulgaria in the 1970s we don't get to see at the cinema.

Director: Kamila Andini 
PG | Balinese and Indonesian dialogue with English subtitles | 86 min 

We love this beautiful Indonesian dream-like film, less a story and more a sustained art piece, that meditates on love, loss, duality and symbiotic relationships. Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) adores her brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena), who is seriously ill in hospital.

Detailing the intangible yet deep link between these twins, director/writer Kamila Andini invokes drama, fantasy and the outer reaches of the imagination to create a haunting homage to traditional Balinese spiritual beliefs. As Tantra retreats into a world of make-believe, fantastical stories and wonder, the contrast with his grim hospital surroundings and worried family are thrown into clear relief.  

Bonus reason to see it: Magic and fantasy through the eyes of children. As escape we all need.


Sweet Country
Director: Warwick Thornton 
15+ |  English dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles / Colour / 112 min

Watching this breathtaking Australian epic, the first thing that strikes you is the harsh beauty of the rural Outback landscape. The second is the ghastliness of the white men who exploit and abuse the Aboriginal natives working on it. One exception is a kindly preacher, Fred Smith (Sam Neill), who treats his workers with dignity and respect.

When Sam (Hamilton Morris) is sent to the homestead of a fierce bad hombre, Harry March (Ewen Leslie) to help with renovations, things soon turn ugly, before getting really bad. Bullets fly, blood is spilled and Sam is on the run. But will he be believed? Having scored a critical triumph with his previous feature, 2009’s ‘Samson and Delilah’, director Warwick Thornton was tipped as a talent to watch. This memorable and poignant masterpiece thoroughly vindicates that prediction.

Bonus reason to see it: Lots of critical acclaim for this film, it won the Special Jury Prize award in Venice. 

The Square
Director: Ruben Östlund
15+ | English, Swedish and Danish dialogue with English subtitles | 142 min

A hilariously biting satire on the contemporary art world that scooped a Palm d’Or at Cannes this year, The Square is set in a museum in Stockholm, and neatly sends up the hollow puffery of the art world, the egotism of wealthy curators and collectors and the ridiculous pretentions that pass for meaningful art.
Museum curator, Christian (Claes Bang), is a wily, enigmatic character who has just unveiled ‘The Square’, an installation piece that challenges viewers about their moral and ethical values.
But the gap between art and reality becomes increasingly vivid as Christian’s life takes an unexpected turn, sparked by the theft of his cellphone. Along with a reporter (Elisabeth Moss) and a crazed performance artist Oleg (Terry Notary), Christian finds himself heading into a shattering, existential crisis which threatens to derail that fragile skein of make-believe and delusion that make up his comfortable, complacent world.   

Bonus reason to see it: Same director who made Force Majeure in 2014. 

The Workshop / L'atelier
Director: Laurent Cantet  
15+ | French dialogue with English subtitles | 113 min 

A well-known novelist arrives in a rural French village to run a creative writing class. Antoine is one of a group of youngsters, selected to work on a crime thriller with the novelist, Olivia, but things soon start getting strange. As Antione gets reluctantly pulled into the deep, dark history of his hometown, his angst and violent behavior causes mayhem amidst the other members of the writing circle.  

Bonus reason to see it: Laurent Cantet is best known for the 2008 Palme d’Or-winning docudrama The Class.    

Director: Lynne Ramsay
18+ | English dialogue with Arabic subtitles | 95 min 

Based on the novella by Jonathan Ames, this is a brutal, brilliant thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix which won him the Best Actor prize at Cannes this year, with its inspired direction by the acclaimed director Lynne Ramsay. 

A missing teenage girl. A brutal and tormented enforcer on a rescue mission. Corrupt power and vengeance unleash a storm of violence that may lead to his awakening.  

Bonus reason to see it: The music in the film is by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead). 

Ten Arab Films to See at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

Here's my list of top 10 films to see from the Arab world. Out of thes 10, I've already seen The Blessed (dir. Sofia Djama) and Wajib (dir. Annemarie Jacir), two strong films by two female directors that I strongly recommend you don't miss, and I am looking forward to discovering new (and hopefully good) Arab films this year.  

Click on each title for more information and to buy tickets. 

The Blessed / Les bienheureux
Director: Sofia Djama
Algeria | 15+ | Arabic and French dialogue with English subtitles | 102 min

In Algiers, a few years after the end of the civil war, Amal and Samir decided to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in a restaurant. On their way there, they discuss the state of their country. 

Amal talks about lost illusions and Samir about the necessity to cope with them. Meanwhile, their son Fahim and his friends Feriel and Reda wander through a hostile Algiers and encounter the harsh reality of life in the city. 


Cactus Flower / Zahret Al Sabar
Director: Hala Elkoussy
Egypt | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 102 min 

Aida is a struggling actress in her early thirties, from a provincial background. She finds herself on the streets of Cairo along with her elderly neighbour Samiha, a reclusive bourgeois.

With no money and nowhere to go, the two women, aided by young Yassin, a street-savvy kid, embark on a journey to find shelter. 
An extraordinary friendship grows among the unlikely trio, a friendship comparable to a delicate flower blooming from a thorny cactus. 

Kiss Me Not / Balash Tbousny
Director: Ahmed Amer
Egypt | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 88 min

The film follows a young and ambitious Egyptian director who faces issues while shooting a kissing scene in his new film with the leading actress Fajr who decides to pursue a more religious path.

Never Leave Me 
Director: Aida Begić
PG | Arabic and Turkish dialogue with English subtitles | 96 min

A tender tale of solidarity between a trio of young orphans. After his mother dies, 14-year old Isa is sent to an orphanage for Syrian refugees in Turkey. There he makes an uneasy alliance with 11-year old Ahmad and 10-year old Motaz.
The boys are grieving for their parents - Ahmad’s father disappeared in Syria, while Motaz was abandoned by his mother when she remarried. So, whilst not quite sure of each other, the boys are united by their dreams of leaving the orphanage to pursue their various ambitions. 
Although the three boys are very different in their temperament and desires, in face of adversity, they are forced to start relying on each other. The dangers that threatened to ruin their lives will give them a reason to find love, friendship and hope. 

One of These Days
Director: Nadim Tabet
Lebanon | 
18+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 91 min

It’s a sunny autumn day in Beirut and we’re following three young people, Maya, Yasmina and Tarek, as they live their lives amidst a rumbling backdrop of civil unrest, terrorism, war and weapons. 

Yet, like young kids the world over, their minds are more preoccupied with staving off boredom and negotiating the delicate politics of seduction and romance. Over 24 hours, we follow the trio as they navigate the beautiful, damaged, traumatized, electric city they call home.  


Until the Birds Return
Director: Karim Moussaoui
Algeria | PG | Arabic and French dialogue with English subtitles | 113 min

Modern-day Algeria is a maelstrom of stories, as its citizens negotiate the fragile barriers between past and present in these three short stories, reflecting various aspects of life in the North African state.
A nouveau-riche property developer’s past catches up with him unexpectedly. An ambitious neurologist finds his military past isn’t so easy to shake of and a woman finds herself in a dilemma between head and heart. Three tales of small human dramas that somehow successfully speak to universal themes and quandaries to which we can all relate.  


Until The End Of Time / Ila Akher Ezaman
Director: Yasmine Chouikh
Algeria | PG | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 93 min


In the cemetery of Sidi Boulekbour, Ali the old gravedigger meets the 60-year-old Johar, who is visiting her sister's grave for the first time after losing her husband. Johar wants her final resting place to be next to her sister, so she decides to organize her own funeral and asks Ali to help her.
But preparations for the final journey go awry when Ali and Johar unexpectedly start to realize they have feelings for each other.  

Director: Annemarie Jacir
Palestine | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 97 min

Internationally acclaimed director Annemarie Jacir, who returns to the DIFF with her latest feature, winner of the Don Quixote Award at Locarno Film Festival and this year's Palestinian Oscar entry, Wajib.

The heart-warming story of the rediscovery and reconciliation of a troubled father-son relationship, Wajib follows a day in the life of Abu Shadi and his son Shadi. With his sister’s wedding a month away, Shadi travels from his job as an architect in Rome to help his father in the customary hand-delivery of the wedding invitations. As the estranged pair spend the day together, the tense details of their relationship come to a head, challenging their fragile and very different lives. 

Watermelon Club / Nadi Al Batikh   
Director: Yaser Al Neyadi
United Arab Emirates | 15+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 75 mins

Six men meet up to practice weird and mysterious rituals that recall their shocking past secrets. 

Director: Sahim Omar Kalifa
Iraqi Kurdistan | 12+ | Dutch and Kurdish dialogue with English subtitles | 95 mins

Havin, a Kurdish shepherd's wife, flees to Belgium with her nine-year-old daughter, when she is accused of having an affair. Her husband Zagros believes her and follows her to the West, only to be plagued by doubts once he is there. 


Ten Documentaries to See at Dubai International Film Festival 2017


There are approximately 20 documentaries in this year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival, categorised as "non-fiction" or "creative documentary".    

These are my top 10 picks and I've included a couple of lines for each one explaining why. Click on each title for more information, synopsis, schedule and ticket details.  


69 Minutes of 86 Days
Director: Egil Håskjold Larsen | PG | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 70 min

A story about the global refugee crisis, from the point of view of a small child, with the camera filming one metre above ground level, capturing the story from the point of view of a three year old child named Lean. 


Faces Places / Visages Villages
Director: Agnès Varda, JR | PG | French dialogue with English subtitles | 93 min

Agnès Varda. That is all. 

Last Men in Aleppo
Director: Feras Fayyad | 18+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 104 min   

I've been hearing great things about this film from Janrary after it won the Grand Jury Prize (World Cinema – Documentary) at Sundance.  I don't suspect this will be an easy film to watch, but it is an important film to see. 


The Man Behind the Microphone
Director: Claire Belhassine | PG | Arabic, English and French dialogue with English subtitles | 98 min  

I am curious about this documentary about Hedi Jouini, dubbed the "Frank Sinatra of Tunisian music". 

Naila and the Uprising
Director: Julia Bacha | PG | Arabic, English, French and Hebrew dialogue with English subtitles | 76 min

About Naila Ayesh and her non-violent mobilization in Palestinian history - the First Intifada in the late 1980s.


Director: Rana Eid | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 69 min 

An ode to a city (Beirut), memories and loss. 

The Prince of Nothingwood
Director: Sonia Kronlund | 15+ | Dari and French dialogue with English subtitles | 85 min   

About Salim Shaheen, who has made over 100 films in Afghanistan. One for cinephiles. 

Sharp Tools / Alaat Haddah
Director: Nujoom Alghanem | PG |  Arabic and English dialogue with English subtitles | 84 min  

A personal portrait of renowned UAE contemporary artist Hassan Sharif who passed away last year (and there's currently a retrosptective exhibition of his work at Sharjah Art Foundation). He wasn't just an artist, but a writer and critic, he created provocative and conceptual work since the 1970s that was ahead of its time here in the UAE.  

Stories of Passers By
Director: Koutaiba Al-Janabi  | PG | Arabic and Hungarian dialogue with English subtitles | 67 min 

Memories, stories and experiences of thousands of Iraqis who have filled the corners of the earth over the past 40 years.

Taste of Cement
Director: Ziad Khalthoum | 12+ | Arabic dialogue with English subtitles | 85 mins   

Another documentary set in Beirut, but this one is about Syrian construction workers are building skyscrapers, while their own homes in their homeland are being shelled. A look at their restricted and deprived lives as refugees.


Three Classic Films at Dubai International Film Festival 2017

The Dubai International Film Festival does not have a dedicated classic section, but it is screening three classic films, two of which have been recently restored films. 

Over the past few years, the classic films have been screened at outdoor, part of the family friendly screenings at The Beach. But I am glad one of the three films this year will be screened at a cinema. Let's just hope enough people turn up for it so that DIFF can look at getting more classics screened in cinemas. 

Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack | 1933 | 100min
Screening on Tuesday, 12th December at 7.30pm at The Beach (free screening)
The restored version will be screened in Dubai. I am sure this will be lots of fun to watch on the big screen. 

Director: Georges Nasser | 1957 | 81min
Screening on Sunday, 10th December at 7.30pm at The Beach (free screening)  
Described as a "directorial masterpiece", this film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival for the first time in 1957 and the restored version was screened at Cannes this year marking its 60th anniversary. 

The Message / Al Risalah

Director: Moustapha Akkad | 1977 | 177min 
Screening on Wednesday, 13th December at 8pm at VOX Cinemas (Mall of the Emirates)

This was an incredibly difficult film to see when it came out and I recall watching a pirated VHS version when I was a kid. A controversial film which I don't think ever got screened in cinemas in this region, I am quite thrilled to know it is coming to DIFF. If you are not familiar with this film, read 40 Years On, A Controversial Film On Islam's Origins Is Now A Classic.  


Dubai International Film Festival 2017 - Notes from the Press Conference

The tag line for this year's edition of Dubai International Film Festival is "Film Will Find You" with a total of 140 films from 51 countries spanning feature, non-fiction and short films schedule to screen between 6th and 13th December 2017.

Despite the diverse line up, the press conference I attended just focused on the opening and closing films, gala screenings, the screenings at The Beach and "Oscar contenders". Over the past few years DIFF feels like it is mostly pandering to an audience that is only interested in "Hollywood' films, and I'm seeing less PR for the smaller films, including the Arab films. There was no mention of the films in competition in the Muhr awards which I found quite suprising. 

Whilst I understand this is mostly done for PR reasons and to attract crowds, but I do believe there is room to also give attention to the smaller films, especially films that will never get a theatrical release here.  It was truly ironic to hear Masoud Amralla Al Ali, the festival's Artistic Director describe DIFF as "international in spirit but Arab at heart".  

A few of the highlights announced at the festival:
- It's yet another year where thf festival chooses to open with a non-Arab film. This year will see Hostiles (dir. Scott Cooper, Black Mass, Out of the Furnace, Crazy Heart), described as a "Western masterpiece" starring Christian Bale, and Rosamund Pike opening the festival on Wednesday, 6th December.

Set in 1892, it's about legendary Army Captain (Christian Bale), who after stern resistance, reluctantly agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to tribal lands.

Making the harrowing and perilous journey from Fort Berringer, an isolated Army outpost in New Mexico, to the grasslands of Montana, the former rivals encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike), whose family was murdered on the plains.

Together, they must join forces to overcome the punishing landscape, hostile Comanche and vicious outliers that they encounter along the way.   

- The film will close with Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Wednesday, 13th December (last year the festival closed with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - see the pattern here?). 

- The red carpet Gala screenings includes the following films: 


  • 7th December: On Chesil Beach, Orchestra Class 
  • 8th December: Ferdinand, The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country 
  • 9th December: Shock and AweJumanji: Welcome to the JungleThe Disaster Artist
  • 10th December: The Shape of Water
  • 11th December: Induced LabourThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • 12th December: You Were Never Really Here, Downsizing

Out of these I am looking forward to The Death of Stalin, Sweet Country and the Disaster Artist. I strongly recommend you do not miss You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay, one of my favourite films from the London Film Festival last month. 

- The open air screenings at The Beach which are free to attend includes the following a mix of documentaries and feature films, including two classics:

  • 6th December: Beyond the Clouds
  • 7th December: Mountain 
  • 8th December: Grain of Sand (plus live music after the screening) 
  • 9th December:  The Man Behind the Microphone (plus live music after the screening)
  • 10th December: Where to? 
  • 11th December: Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards 
  • 12th December:  King Kong
  • 13th December: The Bachelors 
At the conference they paused to mention they will screen the restored version of King Kong from 1933, but no acknowledgement to Where to? by Georges Nasser, a 60 year old film that screened for the first time in 1957 at the Cannes Film Festival. Another classic and epic film, The Message by Moustapha Akkad from 1976 will also be screening during the week of the festival at VOX Cinemas was also not acknowledged at the press conference.

A series of talks will be part of the schedule, inlcuding The Academy: Women at the Helm which includes Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don't Cry, 1999), Haifaa Al Mansour (Wadjda, 2012 and her latest, Mary Shelley, which is screening at DIFF), Niko Caro (Whale Rider, 2002), Dee Rees (Mudbound, 2017).

- There's a UK Spotlight at the DIFF, part of the UK/UAE 2017 Year of Culture . This will include a costume design masterclass presented by BAFTA and Swarovski with BAFTA and Academy Award-winning designer Alexandra Byrne, her filmography includes, Elizabeth (1998), The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and most recently Murder on the Orient Express (2017). There will also be a special costume design exhibition between 6-13 December at the DIFF Headquarters in Madinat Jumeirah.

- The three DIFF Honorary Awards which will be presented on the opening night ceremony will go to the one and only Patrick Stewart, Egyptian writer Wahid Hamed and acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan


The complete line up can be found on DIFF's website. Tickets go on sale on Friday, 24th November. Here's a trailer showing all 140 films. Look out for my annual top picks of films to see at the festival, expect more than one list this year.


Film screenings: Hedi and Foreign Body at The Roxy Cinemas


The Roxy Cinemas will be screen two Tunisian films over the next couple of weeks. 

Hedi by Mohamed Ben Attia will be released on 23rd November and Foreign Body by Raja Amari will be released on 4th December.

Hedi has been to many international festivals winning several awards, most notably the Best First Feature Award, and its lead actor Majd Mastoura won the Silver Berlin Bear at the Berlinale last year. It also won the Golden Athena Award for Best Picture at the Athens International Film Festival and Majd Mastoura also won the Best Actor Award at the Arab Cinema Center's Critics Awards this year.

Foreign Body made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and  has been selected at many international film festivals including the Berlinale.  

Both films were also screened at last year's Dubai International Film Festival and this is the first time we get Tunisian films released in UAE cinemas. The screenings will be at The Roxy Cinemas at City Walk and Box Park, in cooperation with MAD Solutions, the company that distributes both films in the Arab world. For Arabic speakers who don't understand the Tunisian dialect, you will be happy to knoe the film will be subtitled in Standard Arabic along with English subtitles.

I've only seen Hedi and recommend you go see it. I missed Foreign Body at DIFF, so I am looking forward to seeing it next week.

This is a great initiative, so please go watch these films so that we get more diverse films in our cinemas. 


Hedi / Inhebek Hedi   
Director:  Mohamed Ben Attia | 2016 | 18+ | Arabic dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 88min 

Hedi follows Hedi (Majd Mastoura), a young man of few words who doesn’t expect much from the future and lets others make his big decisions for him.

His mother is preparing his marriage to Khadija, but two days before that; Hedi meets Rim (Rym Ben Messaoud) in the city of Mahdia, who captivates him by her free-spirit, and he finds himself obsessed with this new-born passion. 

Screening dates: 23 - 29 November 2017

Booking information and schedule can be found here.  



Foreign Body / Corps étranger 
Director: Raja Amari | 2016 | 18+ | Arabic and French dialogue with English and Arabic subtitles | 92 min


The film follows the first months in France of Samia, a young illegal immigrant who ran away from her brother.

Haunted by the fear of being followed by her extremist brother whom she had denounced to the authorities, Samia first finds refuge at Imed’s home, a former acquaintance from her village, before ending up working for the rich widow Leila. These new meetings mingle with her headlong flight, where desire enhances tensions. 

Screening will start on 4th December. The schedule is not added on the website, but do check it next week for details. 



Highlights from Dubai Design Week 2017

Spent a few hours at Dubai Design Week. Here are my highlights that I shared on Twitter.





Micro MUTEK.AE 2017 


The international festival of digital creativity and electronic music MUTEK is coming to Dubai for the first edition of Micro MUTEK.AE, between 16-18 November 2017 in various venues across the city.

The festival was first launched in 2000 in Montréal, Canada and is now now established in Mexico City, Tokyo, Barcelona and Buenos Aires.  

The Dubai edition will focus on live performances which will take place at W Dubai Al Habtoor City, A/Vision shows at Dubai Knowledge Park Auditorium, and panel talks, workshops and Digi_Labs at SAE Institute. The headline acts include Jeff Mills and Dasha Rush, along 15 with local and regional artists. 

“We’re bringing MUTEK to Dubai because we see the deep potential and interest from people in enriching the city’s music, art and digital culture, which is still in its early stages. We’d also like to shift the emphasis away from clubbing and partying in Dubai and offer a new perspective on the way electronic music and audiovisual practices can be profound, inspiring and revelatory.

MUTEK’s format and curatorial philosophy, with its commitments to local artistic communities in every city it exists, intersects perfectly with this mission. It is going to challenge and inspire them to join this global community with a statement.” Mehdi Ansari, MUTEK.AE Director and co-founder of Analog Room  


Below is the three day line up of MUTEK.AE.

The workshops, panel talks, Digi_Lab and the closing party on 18 November at Dubai Design District (on the last day of Dubai Design Week) are free to attend.    

The rest of the events on 16-17 November are ticketed and you can pay online here

  • PASSPORT - AED 360
    Access to the festival including all programs on 16-17 November

    Access to the festival on 16-17 November excluding the 2 A/Visions shows on 17 November
  • Nocturne 1 - AED 180 (16 November) 
  • Nocturne 2 - AED 220 (17 November) 
  • A/Visions PASS - AED 100 (17 November) 



This video is a taste of MUTEK Montréal and I am looking forward to see how this festival will take shape in Dubai. 


Dubai Design Week 2017 

The third edition of Dubai Design Week
is on from 14-18 November 2017 (13 November is preview day). The line up of exhibitions and events at Dubai Design District (and across the city) week is quite extensive, if not overwhelming. The complete line up and schedule can be found here.

Here are my top five picks which I plan to focus on this week. 


14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Between buildings 4 & 6, Dubai Design District (d3)  

The third edition of Abwab will showcase design from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, featuring techniques, materials and craft from a series of studios across from over 10 countries: Previous editions of Abwab have featured designs from Algeria, Bahrain, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and the UAE. 

This year's pavilion is designed by Dubai-based Fahed & Architects using recovered bedsprings borrowed from waste management company Be’aah. 

More info: 


Akbar Dubai
13 - 18 November: 10am - 9pm
Atrium, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)   

Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center will exhibit copies of the Dubai news magazine Akbar Dubai from its library collection, showcasing typography, graphics, photography, content and page layouts from the late 1970s to the early 1980s.

More info:


GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years and Beyond
14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Ground Floor, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)

GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years and Beyond celebrates the milestone anniversary of a graphic design course at the RCA that marked the beginning of a break with commercial art, and heralded an era that saw graphic design emerge as a major force in business and culture. 

The exhibition features rarely seen works from the RCA archive, including designs by alumni who have gone on to become leading practitioners; Film Society Posters; stamps commissioned by the Royal Mail; the infamous student magazine Ark; typographic experiments; and early examples from pioneers of digital design.

More info:


Iconic City: Loading...Casa 
14-17 November: 10am – 10pm | 18 November: 10am – 7pm
Ground Floor, Building 6, Dubai Design District (d3)  

Loading… Casa is an exhibition described as a "simultaneous, non-linear experience" which will include archival images, sound recordings, a short film, a monumental drawing and contemporary photography will collide. The exhibition includes five parts and will include work by artists, filmmakers, designers. 

Transhumance: Progressively polycentric, Casablanca saw its population migrate within the urban space in pace with socio-economic ascension. In order to adapt, the city invented its own model of planning and auto-regulation.

Mutation: Moroccans have traditionally defined themselves by their tribes, but in Casablanca the phenomenon of diversity first appeared, forging a new Casablancan identity. In three months, one can claim the city as one’s own, without objection.

Counter-culture: Artists render profane that which has been considered sacred, assuming the right to appropriate it, reinterpret it, and take every liberty with regard to legacy. As writer/curator Omar Berrada rightly says, "the popular heritage is like a living body, an agent of permanent cultural renewal".

Amnesiac memory: Not a single commemorative plaque, no inscriptions nor steles exist to inform visitors about the people who created this city. Casablanca cultivates the obligation of oblivion: a tomb without an epitaph.

Hedonism: Hedonism has become a characteristic of the city with the largest tower, swimming pool and cinema (the Vox) in Africa. 

More info: 

Weltformat DXB

13 - 18 November: 10am - 8pm

Ground Floor, Building 5, Dubai Design District (d3) and Tashkeel, Nad Al Sheba 1

Weltformat DXB is a collaboration between Tashkeel, Welformat (a collective of graphic designers from Lucerne), Cairo-based designer Engy Aly and Mobius Design Studio’s Design House, with the support of Pro-Helvetia

It will be the first exhibition of the Weltformat Swiss Poster Festival in Dubai, showcasing the work of generations of Swiss designers. 

In parallel to the wide selection of Swiss-made Plakate, there will be an exhibition of posters created in response to the theme of Delusions and Errors by a diverse group of designers from the MENA region. It attempts to explore notions of embracing seemingly imperfect processes, malfunctions, or the unpredictability of different methodologies of working.

Weltformat DXB is being supported by four poster design workshops, three public talks and a publication.  

More info:   


Previous blogposts about Dubai Design Week:
Dubai Design Week 2016 
Dubai Design Week 2015   


Film Screening: Boy by Taika Waititi


The Scene Club in Dubai is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month by launching The Scene Classics, a new series of monthly screenings of films they've programmed over the past 10 years.

I am helping out with the selection and for the first film we will screen BOY by Taika Waititi, a film from 2010. The film was first screened here in January 2013 and we're happy to bring it back again for another rare opportunity to watch it on the big screen.  

You may know Taika Waitit's other not so little film, Thor: Ragnorak which is currently in UAE cinemas. Come see this small indie film and one of the top grossing films in New Zealand. I will present it by discussing his other films and his trajectory as actor/director. 

The screening will take place on Wednesday, 8th November at 8pm at The Roxy Cinemas (City Walk). The film is free to attend, but please register online if you'd like to see the film.  


The year is 1984, and on the rural East Coast of New Zealand “Thriller” is changing kids’ lives. Inspired by the Oscar nominated Two Cars, One Night, BOY is the hilarious and heartfelt coming-of-age tale about heroes, magic and Michael Jackson.

BOY is a dreamer who loves Michael Jackson.  He lives with his brother ROCKY, a tribe of deserted cousins and his Nan.

Boy’s other hero, his father, ALAMEIN, is the subject of Boy’s fantasies, and he imagines him as a deep sea diver, war hero and a close relation of Michael Jackson (he can even dance like him). In reality he’s “in the can for robbery”.

When Alamein returns home after 7 years away, Boy is forced to confront the man he thought he remembered, find his own potential and learn to get along without the hero he had been hoping for. 




Please join us and spread the word.