Don’t compare the Gulf Film Festival (GFF) to its glamorous older brother – that’s the simple message organisers want to get across. Unlike the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), GFF isn’t about blockbusters, headlines and Hollywood stars. It isn’t about courting international publicity – although now in its sixth year, it’s attracting it thick and fast. And it isn’t about the red carpet – actors and directors enter screenings at Festival City’s Grand Cinemas by walking through the food court. What it is about, however, is something far more sustainable – creating a platform for the region’s filmmakers to meet and share their work with an unfamiliar audience.
‘When DIFF was established, the concept was bridging the gap between cultures, and bringing the best cinema from all over the world to the audience in Dubai,’ explains Samr Al Marzooqi, manager of the Dubai Film Market. ‘The focus [with GFF] is getting the Gulf’s films and trying to give them a better chance when they’re not overshadowed by big international films.’
While the festival does accept international submissions, the bulk of movies screened come from the six GCC countries. At this year’s event, taking place between Thursday April 11 and Wednesday April 17, there are more movies than ever, a jump from 130 films shown at 2012’s event to more than 170 movies this year, most of them short films. And best of all, all screenings are free. ‘The moment we make it paid we might lose the curious people,’ adds Mr Al Marzooqi.
As well as the screenings, this year’s GFF will host a Gulf Film Market for filmmakers and industry types to develop and distribute films, as well as several organised forums for filmmakers. Mr Al Marzooqi says the best bit is the nightly informal debates which frequently rage on until the early hours of the morning. ‘You have all the region’s filmmakers in one place, talking about their projects, joking, staying up until 4am in the smoking section,’ he adds, ‘that’s my favourite part.’
With a mix of fiction and documentary, the movies are split into four competition categories, as well as three handpicked official selections, plus a special programme this year devoted to Qatari cinema. For an international audience the movies represent a unique chance to get inside the homes of the region. ‘Every year we see new themes,’ adds Mr Al Marzooqi. ‘It’s pleasing to see more films talking about women’s rights and social issues. In the UAE we’re getting more films about modern life in the cities.’ But there’s one genre the Arab world is yet to conquer: ‘Horror movies – we’re not there yet,’ he adds. For more, see www.gulffilmfest.com.
To-do list: ten essential films Another Mother Director: Fayez Al Qanaani Country: Iraq A short documentary about Fawziya Al Amoud, who founded the National Orphanage in Basra to offer a bed to some of the one million children left orphaned since the American invasion of Iraq ten years ago.
Another Night on Earth Director: David Munoz Country: Spain In the midst of a revolution, taxi drivers and passengers talk about the violent events raging outside as they’re stuck in Cairo’s notoriously bad traffic, in this short documentary.
Bedouin Woman Director: Hashim Al-Efari Country: Iraq A short documentary about the unity forged among Iraqis of different ethnic backgrounds in their struggle to save a Kurdish child injured in a government clash.
The Beekeeper Director: Mano Khalil Country: Switzerland A feature-length documentary which tells the story of a beekeeper who lost his wife, children, home, and his 500 bee colonies in the Turkish-Kurdish war, but has now restarted beekeeping again in a new home in Switzerland.
Bekas Director: Karzan Kader Country: Sweden/Finland/Iraq The heart-warming, autobiographical feature film of two orphaned children growing up in Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq.
Cotton (Enjaaz) Director: Luay Fadhil Country: UAE A short fictional story about a girl and her experiences while sponsoring a sheep.
Lift Off Director: Sandra Welte Country: Netherlands Colourful children’s animation about a beautiful bird that cannot fly.
Sanctity Director: Ahd Country: France/Saudi Arabia Short fiction about a pregnant widowed woman in Saudi Arabia who is forced to seek work to support herself.
Snap Director: Thomas G Murphy Country: Belgium/United Kingdom Kids’ animation about a young underwater critter who meets a cool frog and unlikely new friend.
Wadja Director: Haifaa Mansour Country: Germany/Saudi Arabia/UAE The first feature from a female Saudi filmmaker, Haifaa Al Mansour won the Muhr Arab Feature’s Best Film award at DIFF last year for her moving tale of a young girl confused by the conservative society in which she is growing up. It opens the festival.