Behind closed doors, the Gulf Film Festival is known as the ‘anti-DIFF’. This is no sleight on the Dubai International Film Festival’s younger brother, but an affectionate term of endearment; Gulf Film is a welcome antidote to DIFF’s glitz, showiness and competition. You won’t spot Tom Cruise at GFF – instead of Hollywood stars, the focus is on home-grown talent. There are no big premieres of Western hits, because GFF aims its lens almost exclusively at movies made in or about the Gulf. And there’s no plush, pricey gala screenings – all films are free and open to the public.
Away from DIFF-style hype, it’s the films that are allowed to shine. While the final programme was yet to be set in stone as we went to press, we’re expecting about 130 films, screened from Tuesday April 10 until Monday 16, ranging from feature premieres to short student movies just a few minutes in length. What all of the movies have in common is a glimpse behind the curtain of the region’s communities that may be utterly alien to many expats.
‘This is where you come to be taken into the filmmakers’ homes,’ says Gulf Film Festival PR manager Mildred Fernandes. ‘GFF is extremely bold and brave – a lot braver than DIFF and, by extension, all the other festivals. We give the filmmakers the space to show what they want. Here it’s less about quality of production and more about what the filmmakers are trying to say. You have Emirati filmmakers dealing with subjects such as abortion and incest – things you’d never expect. You see the region through the eyes of its people, and it’s completely not what you’d expect.’
Seemingly an admission that they don’t want foreign headline-grabbing talent to define the festival, the only two confirmed international guests as Time Out went to press both appeared last year: acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, the author of more than 40 films over the past four decades, and Gérard Courant, the off-the-wall French auteur who holds the world record for the longest movie ever made. Beginning his ambitious ongoing candid documentary in 1978, Courant’s Cinématon currently stands at more than 150 hours long, and features cinema aristocracy including Terry Gilliam and Jean-Luc Godard.
Despite the low-key nature of GFF, it’s still an internationally recognised festival that attracts media from across the region, and sometimes further afield. There is still a red carpet, but it’s far more low-key than the one that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s stars strolled down last December. All screenings take place at the Grand Cinemas in Festival City, and the red carpet runs from the centre’s food court to the cinema entrance. Screenings are split into six competitions, with awards for best local feature, short and documentary, best student short and documentary, and an international competition – yet for most filmmakers the honour is simply appearing.
‘DIFF is completely different to GFF. There is a much friendlier atmosphere at GFF – there’s no real competitiveness,’ adds Fernandes. ‘This is the only platform that filmmakers from this region have, the only chance to get their films seen and meet other filmmakers.’
Gulf Film Festival takes place from Tuesday April 10 to Monday 16 at Grand Cinemas, Dubai Festival City. Entry is free. www.gulffilmfest.com.
Click here for 10 Gulf Film Festival films to watch