Arthouse cinema in Dubai

Dodge the multiplex and celebrate regional and indie filmmaking

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The Scene Club
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Visiting the cinema is one of the most popular pastimes in Dubai, with plenty more on offer besides Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters.

Cinema is big in Dubai – just take a look at the queues outside any one of the city’s numerous movie theatres and you’ll get the picture. But it tends to be Hollywood (and Bollywood) blockbusters that attract the most attention. However, there is a healthy and growing number of local and regional filmmakers whose works, more akin to art house cinema, deserve just as much of the limelight.

Dubai’s two annual film festivals – Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) and Gulf Film Festival (GFF) – play an active, positive role in bringing these to the forefront. They continue to attract an international crowd and a host of submissions from talents across the Middle East and, more recently, Asia and Africa. Not only do both events present a fantastic opportunity for film enthusiasts to watch the best films the region has to offer, but they also give filmmakers an invaluable platform from which to promote their work, not to mention much-needed international exposure.

Dubai International Film Festival
DIFF’s Muhr Awards, introduced in 2006, recognise talent and excellence in categories including short films, feature films and documentaries, with separate awards for Emirati and Arab as well as Asian/African films. During the festival, the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) also presents its choice of winning films, while the People’s Choice Award is adjudicated by the attending audience. In addition, the festival’s out-of competition selection features films from much broader geographical origins, covering cinema from across the globe. There’s still a while to go before the 2014 edition of DIFF, which will take place from December 10-17, but that’s all the more reason to check out 2013’s winners (visit for the results).

One film, in particular, stands out, namely Champ of the Camp, which enjoyed its world premiere at last year’s festival. It is the first feature-length movie to chronicle life inside Dubai’s labour camps, profiling Camp Ka Champ, an X-Factor-meets-Bollywood competition that attracts 10,000 entrants annually. Despite the preconceptions viewers might have about life inside the camps, much of the movie is warm and humorous, with everyday moments of light-hearted camaraderie captured by the cameras. ‘Not all aspects of life in the camps are as sad and gritty as you might imagine,’ says the film’s director, Mahmoud Kaabour. ‘Some things are what you expect – eight people sleeping in one room – but many of the people are there because they have a big dream. Compared to the life in Dubai you and me know, it’s drastically different. But if you compare it to slums in India, it’s a much better life. [This film] is a cross section of what it means to be a labourer in Dubai. This is the narrative of thousands of men who left their homes, to fly here and help it grow.’
For more information, visit

Gulf Film Festival
The seventh edition of the week-long GFF arrives in Dubai next month, running from April 9-15. This annual non-profit cultural event aims to develop local and regional film culture, and create greater opportunities for filmmakers from the region, while celebrating excellence in Gulf cinema and acting as a destination festival for the international film community.

Film fans can expect a host of screenings, appealing to all ages and nationalities. GFF’s competition categories include Gulf Films, which is open to Gulf filmmakers or filmmakers with a film that showcases the region, covering both fiction and non-fiction features and shorts, Gulf Students’ Shorts, open to students in the Gulf with fiction or non-fiction short films, and international, which is open to filmmakers from around the world with fiction or non-fiction shorts. Winners can expect cash prizes and access to much-needed funding for their films.
For more information, visit

Wafi Rooftop
Wafi’s long-running open-air ‘Movies Under the Stars’ night shows a movie for free every Sunday evening from 8.30pm during the cooler months (until May 2014). Punters are invited to pull up a bean bag, grab some popcorn or a hotdog plus a cold drink before sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the movie.
Free. Sundays from 8.30pm. Wafi Rooftop, Wafi, Oud Metha (04 324 4100).

The Scene Club
This monthly film club, taking place in Knowledge Village and founded by Emirati director and producer Nayla Al Khaja, highlights the best of international independent cinema, organising free screenings of independent feature-length and short films from around the world and inviting the film’s director or producer to attend the event and take part in a Q&A session with the audience.
Free. For the monthly film schedule, visit

Reform Social & Grill
This fun, community-focused gastropub, located in The Lakes, puts on outdoor film screenings every Tuesday night at 8pm, complete with a special drinks menu, popcorn and hot dogs. Films for the remainder of March include Gregory’s Girl and This Is England.
For more information and the film schedule, visit

This community-driven cinema group aims to reach out to members of various UAE communities through film, with its prime objective being to bring residents together through meaningful and inspiring content. The group’s monthly open-air screenings in Safa Park are a great way to meet new people and share your passion for all things film.
For more information, visit

Dubai cinemas

For a list of all cinemas in Dubai, including prices and film screenings, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Time Out Dubai, or visit

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