Gulf Film Festival 2013 - My Top 20 Picks

The sixth edition of the Gulf Film Festival is back this month with line up of 169 short and full feature films from 43 countries, including the Gulf region and around the world.The festival is on from 11th-17th April in it's usual home, Grand Cinemas in Festival City, Dubai. 

Here's my list of top 20 picks, and you can see the full line up, along with the schedule here. The tickets are free for this festival, so if you do have time, I strongly suggest you try to watch a few films, there are some real gems in this year's line up.

Away, 17 mins
Director: Anna Sarukhanova

A young man is offered a job abroad and he is forced to make a choice: leave for the opportunity or stay in the place he knows so well and where he has a girlfriend and his family. 

Baghdad Messi, 19 mins
Director: Sahim Omar Kalifa

Iraq 2009. Eight-year-old Hamoudi has only one leg, but is addicted to football. He and his friends – like the rest of the world – are looking forward to the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester (Messi versus Ronaldo). But then the television breaks down.

Bekas, 92 mins
Director: Karzan Kader

Dana and Zana are two homeless orphans in Iraqi Kurdistan under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. Their only hope for escape is to reach the United States of America and live with their friend "Superman". But how do they get there? They have no money, no passports and their only means of transportation is a donkey.

Berlin Telegram, 82 mins
Director: Leila Albayaty

Leila is a singer-songwriter with nothing but her voice to accompany her as she wanders from one place to another. With her heart still carrying the heavy burden of unrequited love, she resolves to leave her town.

Armed with a camera and her music, Leila takes the audience on a trip that draws attention to her hopes and fears. In this lyrical road movie based on a true story, through the wonders that music presents, there is no path and no destination. Except that of the heart.

Calcutta Taxi, 20 mins
Director: Vikram Dasgupta

Calcutta Taxi is set against the grimy backdrop of a city going through a political crisis and unravels the story of three lives that coincide and affect each other. 

Ephemeral, 17 mins
Director: Diego Modino

Alicia lives in a cozy windmill with her grandmother and dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. She waits for the pivotal moment when she can audition, but realises that the world outside her own, is not as idyllic as she thinks.

Father, 16 mins
Directors: Asparuh Petrov, Dmitry Yagodin, Ivan Bogdanov, Moritz Mayerhofer, Rositsa Raleva, Veljko Popovic

When did you last talk to your father? Will you ever ask him about the things that hurt you? This film turns reality around by creating a dialogue between a child and a father that never happens. 

A Fallible Girl, 104 mins
Director: Conrad Clark

Lifei sets up a mushroom farm in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi with her best friend Yaya, using the hard-earned money that the two Chinese girls made to create a better life for themselves.

Life gets tough quickly and Yaya is quick to return to her former life but Lifei perseveres, trying to find her footing. However, personal tragedy strikes and she has to return to China, but not before she has to pay off her ever-increasing debts.

Grand Marriage, 52 mins
Director: Faisal Al-Otaibi

One of the most unique Arab wedding ceremonies takes place in the tropical islands of the Comoros. The celebrations last for two weeks and they can paint the future for the bride and groom, allowing the couple to demand honour and respect.

Inertial Love, 6 mins
Director: César Esteban AlendaJosé Esteban Alenda

The relationship between Javier and Anna runs out of steam. She hits the breaks and Javier is dragged down into a state of inertia until he learns to get over it. 

It's About To Rain, 91 mins
Director: Haider Rashid

It's About to Rain is a film about a very particular situation – an Algerian father and two Algerian-Italian sons, struggling to come to terms with an Italy that appears to reject them – that's extraordinarily universal.

Starring the charismatic newcomer Lorenzo Baglioni as Said Mahran, this is a subtle, emotional and gripping story, one that relates to everyone that's ever found themselves between different countries, belonging somewhere that doesn't make them wholly welcome.

Lyrics Revolt, 51 mins
Directors: Ashlene Ramadan, Melanie Fridgant, Rana Khaled Al Khatib, Shannon Farhoud

Music and politics often go hand in hand and as pro-democracy revolutions spread throughout the Arab world, one sound in particular is echoing the hopes, dreams and frustrations of the people.

Arab hip-hop has emerged as the soundtrack of the resistance and Lyrics Revolt features the leading musicians around the world, looking at the role music plays in this game-changing moment for the Middle East. 

The Man Inside, 51 mins
Director: Karim Goury

The film-maker books a hotel room in a foreign land where his absent father once lived and worked. Equipped with a camera, a cassette player and a stack of unread letters, he sets about re-imagining a man he never knew.

Man in Suit, 10 mins
Director: Anna Van Der Heide

A busy working mother has to take her children to the fun fair alone after her husband forgets about the outing. Trapped in her loneliness, she reaches out for warmth and security, forgetting about her husband – and common sense.

No One's Land, 30 mins
Director: Babak Amini

During the Iran-Iraq war, a German girl loses her way while trying to visit Baghdad to see her fiance, who is a NATO soldier. She is found by a Kurdish family living on the border. 

Portraits (Los Retratos), 14 mins
Director: Iván D. Gaona

Sunday is the local market day and Grandma Paulina wants to prepare Creole hen for her husband’s lunch, but she doesn’t have enough money. She wins a Polaroid camera in a raffle but soon runs out of film and finds herself still hungry. 

Rhinos, 14 mins
Director: Shimmy Marcus

A young couple is brought together by circumstance. Despite a language barrier, they learn more about each other than they thought was possible. 

The Scream, 82 mins
Director: Khadija Al-Salami

Yemen, a country that has little place for a woman’s voice – and the rest of the world – was stunned when Yemeni women took to the streets to draw attention to their suffering. Women played an important role in the Yemeni uprisings against dictatorship. 

From the Yemeni film-maker Khadija Al-Salami, whose films focus on women’s issues and corruption, The Scream examines the aftermath of their participation: they hoped for democracy, but what did they ultimately achieve? And more importantly, what are they left with? 

Studio Beirut, 15 mins
Director: Mokhtar Beyrouth

Toufik, a young photographer owns Studio Beirut. His business is threatened when the mayor installs the city's first photo booth next door. 

Wadjda, 97 mins
Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

Every day Wadjda passes a toy store window with a beautiful green bicycle. Although it is forbidden for girls to ride bicycles, Wadjda concocts a plan to earn enough money to afford the bike by secretly selling 'illicit products' in her schoolyard.

But her plans are soon exposed, leaving her with only one last chance to make the money she needs: a Quran recital competition with a big cash prize. Wadjda tries to find a sly and cunning way to rise above her fellow competitors to make her most cherished dream come true... the green bicycle.