Masoud Amralla Al Ali is the ‘godfather of UAE film’, according to the burgeoning industry here. With young protégées including City of Life director Ali Mostafa and The Scene Club’s founder (and the first female Emirati filmmaker) Nayla Al Khaja, he has spearheaded the evolution of homegrown cinema in the UAE, acting as a mentor to the country’s up-and-coming talent and displaying an unrivalled passion for cinema (he has personally attended every Cannes Film Festival for the past 17 years and has a DVD collection of more than 5,000 titles). As creative director of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), Ali is tasked with selecting all of the films for the festival. We caught up with a presumably square-eyed Ali to find out what to expect from next week’s extravaganza.
There are a lot of film festivals in the Gulf region nowadays. We had the Gulf Film Festival (GFF) here in April, and more recently Tribeca in Doha and the Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi. Are there too many now?
It’s great to have all these film festivals. For me, it’s like more schools. You have more education, more awareness. We need films that are not making it to the commercial theatres to be available to the audience [here]. Dubai started this and now [more cities] want to have their own festival. Altogether, it makes us proud that we have this festival and [confirms] that we’re going in the right direction. Having a film festival is very attractive, not just to say that you have one, but to actually make a change.
What kind of change?
Dubai needs to work on its cultural side. The cultural side needs to be [there] alongside Dubai’s other developments. Every city needs cultural channels so that people can attend, discuss and create a dialogue. For me, it’s a must. We can see the start of a [film] industry in the UAE now [after] both DIFF and GFF. We’ve opened doors for people by [giving them] different types of films to watch. It’s helping the Arab film industry to grow.
What makes DIFF different to all the other international film festivals?
This is the only film festival that offers Arab cinema in so many different categories [and genres]. I think we have more than 60 films from Arabs. This is something that people should look at. No other film festival offers that. We know how we want to position this festival: bridging cultures, meeting minds. To do that, we need content from our culture, our country, our identity. In terms of exchange, it’s not only importing films, we’re exporting the culture that we have.
Some would say DIFF is undermined because it lacks a Hollywood presence.
We want to position DIFF as an art film festival – more serious films. But at the same time, you cannot escape the other type of cinema. People all over, they love Hollywood and Bollywood films. This is a film festival and it should also offer something for these people. So it’s balanced. We’re not going over [the top] with Hollywood movies; there are just a few films.
There’s such a variety of films showing this year. How do you select them?
There’s not really a criteria where we have A, B, C. In general, they’re human films, films that tell stories about people, about their life, about their culture. Small films, but with a big heart. You see them and you learn about different tastes, not only the mainstream taste.
Is this going to be the best DIFF yet?
I think every year is the best. Having more world premieres than ever before this year, I think the industry and filmmakers are trusting the festival more. This is an indication for us that we’re on the right track. The filmmakers want to give us this honour, to premiere their film. There’s trust that the festival can do something for them, and that’s to position their film very well on the international scene.
The Dubai International Film Festival takes place on December 9-16 at various locations. Tickets to screenings cost Dhs25, or Dhs10 for students and children. Tickets to gala screenings cost Dhs80. Tickets available from box offices at Cinestar Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Media City Building 2, and First Group Theatre at Souk Madinat Jumeirah. See Time Out next week for full listings and our top film picks from the festival. More info at www.dubaifilmfest.com
Queen of culture
This year, the festival’s Cultural Bridge discussion panel has a very exciting keynote speaker in the form of HM Queen Noor of Jordan. Joining royalty on the panel is Hollywood producer Mike Medavoy (Zodiac; All the King’s Men) and director Julia Bacha, whose forthcoming film, Budrus, explores how a Palestinian leader unites Fatah, Hamas and Israelis in an unarmed push to save her village.
The Cultural Bridge panel is always a big draw at the festival. Last year Harry Belafonte and Indian-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta (among others) discussed cinema’s place in an economically troubled world. This year, the focus is on how cinema is widening or closing the divides between diverse cultures and perspectives. Closing the divides is what this festival is all about, so it should make for an interesting debate.