Dubai International Film Festival 2009 - Review

I have recovered from a very enjoyable week of a movie marathon session at the 6th edition of DIFF, which ended on 16th Dec. Thanks and gratitude to the programmers and for their movie choices that entertained, challenged and provoked us. Your selection made us laugh, cry, angry, or quite simply, lost for words. Looking forward to next year’s line up.

As much as I love DIFF, it is my favourite event in Dubai, I do have gripes and experience things that I wish could be improved.

  • My main issue is the lack of Arabic subtitles in all the non-Arabic language movies. Yes, they do have English sub-titles, but that’s not enough. We are in an Arabic speaking country and for a festival that is trying to ‘bridge cultures’, I do feel it fails when it comes to the Arabic speaking audience. Which maybe explains the lack of Emirati audience, I hardly see any at Western/Asian movies. Perhaps the language barrier isn’t the only reason, perhaps there isn’t any interest. Over the years, I have not seen any improvement on this front and I sometimes question how much “bridging cultures and meeting minds” is actually happening.
  • It should be the duty of every moderator/presenter to instruct/remind the audience before every screening to turn off their mobile phone. Yes, it is necessary, because unfortunately, there are still some who manage to ruin the movie watching experience because of their lack of cinema etiquette.
  • After the movie ends, it should be the duty of every moderator/presenter to start off with questions in case no one from the audience have any questions to start the questions/answers session. It takes away from embarrassment and awkwardness when no one has any questions. A lot of the DIFF moderators were great, but there were a few that weren’t.
  • “Reserved” front row(s) really winds me up. Especially when it doesn’t get occupied by the people it’s supposed to be reserved for (industry, judges, press). I know the volunteers are following instructions, but a little common sense would go a long way. In all my years going to DIFF, only a handful of seats that are reserved get occupied by the people it’s reserved for. They then get filled up by late comers or people that were on standby. Unfair not to give first choice to people that actually paid for their tickets. Can you tell that I’m a front row kind of person?
  • It looked like this year, DIFF focused heavily on using digital channels, which is great. But to have their site down on the first day of the festival is annoying for ticket buyers. The constant text messages to buy tickets was even more annoying, especially if it keeps being sent to people that already bought tickets. I won't go into the social media side of things, which wasn’t very engaging, but hopefully things will be improved next year.

The following is aimed at the audience as it isn’t DIFF’s fault.

  • For a multi-cultural city, I find the lack of sophisticated/intelligent discussions during the question/answer sessions after the movies quite suprising. It seems that the audience is very good at giving unconstructive criticism and questions that lack depth. I sometimes worry that the filmmakers and people from the industry leave Dubai thinking of the crowd as a bunch of muppets who have lots of money, and no substance. It’s bad enough that most of the festival is held in a shopping mall, so let's make some more effort next year by showing we can be less mall rats and more cinema enthusiasts.
  • I also can’t help but feel that if there is a movie from the Arab world, it is always expected to be about politics or social issues. Any form of narrative seems to be dismissed, as if Arab filmmakers can’t be story tellers. Again, a bit of open mindness would be great.

If you are still reading this, thanks for staying put. Now, here's a list of what I watched:

Documentaries:

  1. Zanzibar Musical Club - A great look at the tarab music scene in Zanzibar, with some amazing old timers and fun live performances.
  2. Good Hair - Very funny documentary. Ends with a great quote by Ice T: "If a woman aint happy with herself, she's gonna bring pain to every-fucking-body."
  3. Les Plages D'Agnès - An autobiography like no other, so charming, quirky and a great insight into the history of French cinema.
  4. As the Poet Said - A tribute to the late poet Mahmoud Darwish. A selection of his poems read in different languages in significant locations.
  5. Tehran Without Permission - I hated this one. A very poor movie. Filmed with mobile phone, which is what interested me, but the content was rubbish.
  6. To Shoot an Elephant -  Very hard hitting and moving. This was the most difficult thing I watched at this festival. I felt very helpless after watching it. This documentary will be downloadable via their site soon. http://toshootanelephant.com
  7. The Silver Fez – I loved this. An endearing look at Cape Town's Islamic subculture and an unknown choir competition, amazing characters & music.
  8. The Other Song - A marvellous look at singers from a period long lost in India, a world of courtesans and their music/art.
  9. Corso: The Last Beat – I loved this. Very enlightening look at one of the last poet from the Beat Generation.

Movies:

  1. The White Meadows - A beautiful movie, but very unsettling. You watch it with caution and right at the end, it hits you in the face.
  2. Metropia - Loved the animation style, but the story felt a bit weak in parts. The part with The Asylum reality show was funny!
  3. Lost Paradise in Tokyo - I loved this. A very touching look at relationship between the three main characters and finding own personal happiness - without being cheesy.
  4. Nang Mai (Nymph) - More mystical than I imagined it would be. Also had a great opening shot in one long sequence in the forest.
  5. The Man Who Sold The World - I loved this movie from Morocco. A visual delight and should have been the darling of this year's festival. It had the best art direction I've seen in an Arabic movie. Each shot looked beautiful, even the end credits. I wanted to be transported in the visual delight they created.
  6. Zindeeq - An exile's relationship with Palestine, mixed with memories, imaginations & reality all rolled into one day/night. The Q+A session after the movie was awkward though.
  7. Moon - An elegant looking sci-fi movie, I enjoyed it and wanted it to last longer. Clever use of Chesney Hawke's I am the one and only.
  8. Amreeka - A heartwarming movie with lots of personal insights by its writer/director Cherien Dabis, with many funny and few sad moments.
  9. Fantastic Mr Fox - I was anticipating this for months, so glad to finally see it. Brilliantly done, very funny and a joy to watch. Some great quotes too. "Don't cussing point at me!"
  10. Mother - Great story telling, original with multi layers that includes dark humour, dark secrets and the strong will of a mother.
  11. La Teta Asustada (Milk of Sorrow) - Addressing a violent past in Peru thru the lovely lead actor. Her silence spoke volumes, very haunting. The milk of sorrow is reference to the suffering/pain transmitted through the breast milk of women who were raped.
  12. UnProphete - Absolutely brilliant. Gritty and violent, but great story and some very surprising moments. Deserves all the hype.