We scour the Dubai International Film Festival listings
We take our hats off to the programmers: from more than 1,700 films submitted for this year’s Dubai International Film Festival, someone had to cherry-pick the line-up of 171 movies – from 56 countries and in 32 languages, from Catalan to Cantonese – that make up this year’s schedule.
The emirate’s eighth annual celebration of film, running from December 7-14, has inevitably been touted as the best yet. In terms of A-listers on the red carpet, it certainly packs a punch – in case you’ve been on another planet for the past month, Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise will be in town for the festival’s opening night, while starlet Scarlett Johansson, Oscar winner Colin Firth, Bollywood heavyweight Shah Rukh Khan and strong-nosed comic Owen Wilson will all step out in front of the paps. Directors Peter Weir (The Truman Show) and Werner Herzog (Bad Lieutenant) are also confirmed guests, while at the time of going to press we were trying to firm up rumoured stop-offs by George Clooney, George Lucas and even Kermit the Frog.
In the words of festival chairman Abdulhamid Juma, ‘the red carpet is the most beautiful thing, but behind that is an engine room’ – and this year the cogs and pistons are firing harder than ever. The number of films has grown from 157 last year to 171 this edition: the schedule features everything from big-budget blockbusters to arty shorts and probing documentaries. Meanwhile, the number of world-firsts has rocketed, from just one world premiere hosted at the festival’s 2004 debut, to 46 world firsts this year.
There are also more red-carpet gala screenings, including the world premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Oscar-tipped The Descendants, and family-friendly The Muppets. What’s more, Rhythm & Reels, the free open-air programme of music-themed movies at JBR, will screen a restored version of 1929 silent film Pandora’s Box – accompanied by the 60-piece UAE Philharmonic Orchestra.
To help you navigate your way around this cinephile’s paradise, we’ve picked the top 20 films to watch, chatted to Lifetime Achievement Award winner Werner Herzog, and celebrated Dubai’s burgeoning film heritage. So sit back, relax and watch the credits roll. Oh, and as you delve into the popcorn, spare a thought for those poor programmers.
The lowdown Venues Vox, Mall of the Emirates; First Group Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah; Madinat Arena; JBR beach; The Walk at JBR
Tickets All tickets are Dhs30 (Dhs10 for students), except JBR and Rhythm & Reels screenings, which are free. All gala screenings except for the opening night are open to the public, but tickets are likely to be limited. For more details and to buy tickets, see www.dubaifilmfest.com or call 04 363 3456.
December 7 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (USA) Director: Brad Bird Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg World Premiere This year’s festival really does open with a bang, hosting the world premiere of the fourth instalment of the Mission: Impossible mega-franchise. With all eyes poised on the red carpet – and movie-goers trying to spot local landmarks during Dubai’s 25 minutes on screen – its unlikely anyone will be too bothered about the fantastical twists in the plot, which this time around sees espionage expert Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his new team go rogue to clear the name of their organisation. December 7, 8pm, Madinat Arena (screening by invite only).
December 8 Bachelor Mountain (China) Director: Yu Guangyi Starring: San Liangzi Middle East Premiere In Heilongjiang Province in northern China, timber supplies have dwindled, and most of the local men have lost their livelihoods. The allure of better jobs in cities has led to an outflow of local women, creating a ‘bachelor mountain’ populated by legions of lonely, impoverished, single men who are chronicled in this insightful documentary. December 8, 5pm; December 10, noon, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
J Edgar (USA) Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench Middle East Premiere It’s said the macho men mellow with age – not so for 81-year-old Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood. As if aware that his career must surely be drawing to a natural conclusion, his recent work is a far cry from the days where he tossed out carefree Westerns with abandon. Having retired from the camera’s view for good following 2008 drama Gran Torino (for which he received a Best Actor gong from the National Board of Review), Eastwood has turned to Leonardo DiCaprio to bring to life the notorious J Edgar Hoover who, as head of America’s FBI for more than 50 years, outlasted eight presidents. DiCaprio’s performance has garnered much praise from seasoned film critics and, although the film itself has received mixed reviews, it’s worth seeing to get a glimpse into Hoover’s often-controversial personal life. December 8, 7.30pm, First Group Theatre.
Kill List (UK) Director: Ben Wheatley Starring: Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring Middle East Premiere Filmed with gritty authenticity in the British city of Sheffield in Yorkshire, UK cinema magazine Total Film gave this horror flick five stars following its European release, stating, ‘British horror has rarely hit these heights since the mid-’70s.’ The film focuses on a disillusioned British soldier (Maskell) who returns home from Kiev to begin life as a contract killer. Yet his disturbed past starts to rise to the surface and he soon spirals out of control. December 8, midnight, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
Le Harve (Finland) Director: Aki Kaurismaki Starring: André Wilms, Kati Outinen GCC Premiere The winner of a Gold Hugo at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival, judges praised the ‘stylised yet very humane depiction of illegal immigration.’ It focuses on shoe shiner Marcel, who meets an African refugee in trouble with the law. December 8, 9pm; December 9, 6pm, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
Pandora’s Box (Germany) Director: G. W. Pabst Starring: Louise Brooks, Fritz Körtner, Francis Lederer Free rhythm & reels screening After more than a decade’s careful restoration, GW Pabst’s classic 1929 tale of a seductive, thoughtless young woman will be screened to hundreds of movie fans for free at Jumeirah Beach Residence as part of the festival’s music-themed Rhythm & Reels segment. The silent film, which made a star of American actress Louise Brooks will be brought to life with a live performance by the 60-member UAE Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Philippe Maier. December 8, 8pm, JBR.
Woodsman and the Rain (Japan) Director: Shuichi Okita Starring: Koji Yakusho, Shun Oguri. Award Winner When a film crew arrives in a small village in the mountains to shoot a zombie movie, a 60-year-old lumberjack and a 25-year-old first-time film director strike up an unlikely friendship. The film-within-a-film format of The Woodsman and the Rain provides an inspiring and often comical portrait of two men finding in each other a renewed sense of joy in life, and the movie captures the beauty of Japan’s Nakatsugawa forest. December 8, 10pm; December 11, 2pm, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
December 9 The Muppets (USA) Director: James Bobin Starring: Amy Adams, Jason Segel (voices) Gala Screening This new instalment comes more than a dozen years since the last movie in the beloved Disney franchise. The ticketed gala screening at the Madinat is likely to be a highlight for families. December 9, 3pm, Madinat Arena.
W.E. (UK) Director: Madonna Starring: Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Andrea Riseborough Middle East Premiere After notable stints on the other side of the camera, most memorably in 1996 musical Evita, material girl Madonna has dabbled in directing a second time (following 2008’s Filth and Wisdom). Described as a two-tier romance, the movie focuses on Wally Winthrop, an unhappily married New Yorker who seeks refuge in the romance of British monarch King Edward VIII with society girl Wallace Simpson. December 9, 8pm, First Group Theatre.
December 10 Born on the 25th of January (Egypt) Director: Ahmed Rashwan World Premiere Taking its name from the start date of the Egyptian revolution – and a play on Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July – this emotional portrait documents four months of violence, blood and determination as the revolution takes hold, shot first-hand by native director Ahmed Rashwan. December 10, 10pm; December 13, 2.30pm, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
Neil Young: Journeys (USA) Director: Jonathan Demme Free rhythm & reels screening Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia director Jonathan Demme has officially become iconic musician Neil Young’s biggest fan – Journeys is Demme’s third cinematic concert film focusing on the Canadian rocker in just five years. Journeys captures the 65-year-old icon performing an intimate solo set in his native Canada – so intimate, in fact, that a gobbet of the singer’s spit gets caught on the camera, something Demme later called a ‘hundred-thousand-dollar special effect’. December 1, 8pm, JBR.
The Descendants (USA) Director: Alexander Payne Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller Gala screening In this tragi-comedy, George Clooney plays Matt King, a Honolulu lawyer and land owner who is confronted by a series of crises but is ill-prepared to tackle any of them. When his wife slips into a coma after a boating accident, he has to assert his parental authority over his two rebellious daughters, 17-year-old Alexandra and 10-year-old Scotty. He soon comes under pressure to sell his land, yet he also uncovers a disturbing secret about his wife. Clooney has been tipped for an Oscar in what could prove a career-defining role. December 10, 7pm, Madinat Arena.
December 12 God Bless Ozzy Osbourne (USA) Directors: Mike Fleiss, Mike Piscitelli Free Rhythm & Reels Screening Thanks to some nifty marketing, formerly washed-up metaller Ozzy Osbourne found a way to multiply his fan base phenomenally by opening his home to the cameras during the boom era of reality TV back in 2002. But where The Osbournes chronicled Ozzy’s confused interviews and family fights, this feature-length documentary goes back to the beginning of Osbourne’s career to remind us how the music icon first stormed into the public consciousness. It traces how the singer helped to invent heavy metal with Black Sabbath, and how he survived a 40-year binge that would have put many lesser rockers six feet under. December 12, 8pm, JBR.
Las Acacias (Argentina) Director: Pablo Giorgelli Starring: Germán de Silva, Hebe Duarte, Nayra Calle Mamani Middle East Premiere Winner of a prestigious Palme d’Or for best debut feature at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Las Acacias also picked up gongs at San Sebastian 2011 and the Festival Biarritz Amérique Latine. The welcome Middle Eastern premiere of this uplifting Argentinian picture traces the story of Rubén, a lonely truck driver who lacks focus and purpose in his life after driving the same road to Buenos Aires for years. One day he shares the journey with a woman and a small child, and an unlikely relationship starts to blossom. December 12, 8pm; December 13, 1pm, Vox Mall of the Emirates.
The Awakening (UK) Director: Nick Murphy Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton International Premiere Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Frost/Nixon star Rebecca Hall has already been singled out for praise following the premiere of this gritty British horror film, which follows a visit to a haunted school. Hall stars opposite Dominic West – known to millions as The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty. December 12, 9pm, First Group Theatre.
December 13 Into the Abyss (USA) Director: Werner Herzog Middle East Premiere The recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at DIFF, Werner Herzog’s latest documentary sees the iconic German director delving into the depths of the human soul. Herzog focuses his probe on Michael Perry, a 29-year-old criminal just days away from execution, sentenced for a triple murder committed 10 years earlier. Subtitled ‘A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life,’ Herzog’s movie creates a chilling look at mankind at his darkest – Perry’s final interviews for the film were recorded only eight days before his execution on July 1 2010. December 13, 9pm, First Group Theatre; December 14, 11.30am, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.
My Week with Marilyn (UK) Director: Simon Curtis Staring: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench Gala Screening In the summer of 1956, Marilyn Monroe visited the UK for the first time on her honeymoon with her husband, playwright Arthur Miller, and also to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl, which famously paired the icon with celebrated director Sir Laurence Olivier. Decades later a lowly production hand on the film, Colin Clark, then aged 23, revealed to the world in a naked memoir how he enjoyed a whirlwind week-long romance with the world’s biggest star. Scarlett Johansson was originally the frontrunner to play Marilyn; Kate Hudson and Amy Adams were also considered before Michelle Williams landed the role, for which she has received much praise. December 13, 8pm, Madinat Arena.
The Girls in the Band (USA) Director: Judy Chaikin Free Rhythm & Reels Screening Packed with archival footage, The Girls in the Band is a poignant narrative documentary of the untold stories of female jazz and big-band instrumentalists and their journeys from the late ’30s to the present day. Many endured sexism, racism and diminished opportunities for decades, yet continued to persevere.
Three Quarter Moon (Germany) Director: Christian Zubert Starring: Elmar Webber, Mercan Türkoglu International Premiere This award-tipped comedy drama focuses on Hartmut Mackowiak, a grumpy taxi driver who is crushed by the news that his wife of 30 years is leaving him. His life is left in disarray, until one day he picks up six-year-old Turkish girl Hayat and her mother as passengers. 7pm, December 13, Vox, Mall of the Emirates.