Indigenous cinema from the Gulf region and Iraq is under the spotlight in the fourth annual Gulf Film Festival, now under way in Dubai.
The festival, a free event for audiences, offers a window into the lives, issues and opinions of emerging and established filmmakers from the region. Their societies are often by foreigners as difficult to understand and to penetrate.
Masoud Amralla Al Ali, GFF’s festival director, said the event was a catalyst for developing cinema in the region. “We have embraced foreign cultures at the risk of losing our own,” he said.
“For long we patronized what originated ‘outside,’ forgetting what we had ‘within.’ Through GFF, our priority has been to present and export the region’s image in its diverse forms using the medium of film,” Mr. Ali added.
On Thursday, there was a screening of “Child of Iraq,” a documentary by Danish-Iraqi filmmaker Ala’a Mohsen.
In the last seven years, three high-profile film festivals in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha have helped bring Arab film to the attention of foreign audiences, along with bringing to the Gulf the glamour of Hollywood and its older counterpart, Bollywood, films made in India – but specifically in Mumbai.
Within this festival landscape, Gulf filmmakers are competing with Arab filmmakers from countries with more established traditions of cinema, and those with a historic connection to Europe, such as Egypt and nations in North Africa and the Levant.
Each of these film communities historically has had access to better training, infrastructure, funding and platforms.
“GFF has been an incredible festival for Gulf cinema and filmmakers,” said Nayla al Khaja, an Emirati filmmaker and producer, who began her film career in 2002. “It’s our own festival, where we can really come out and show our cinema. Today in the region, there is a lot of investment and interest towards training and education. We’re also seeing new grants and film funds.”
Ms. Al Khaja’s 16-minute film “Malal” (Bored), which is about a disgruntled Emirati housewife on her honeymoon, is competing for a GFF award in the short films category.
This year’s festival features 153 films, of which 45 originate from the UAE, 23 from Iraq, 12 from Saudi Arabia, 11 from Kuwait, eight from Qatar, seven from Oman and two from Bahrain. The films will compete in three competitions offering more than $130,000 in prize money.
Sixty-four films are participating in the Gulf competition for filmmakers from the region while 30 films are in the students’ competition for Gulf students in the documentary and shorts categories. The festival also has an international short films competition in which 14 films from eight countries are competing.
As part of its mandate to nurturing regional talent, GFF hosts workshops for students and has organized a master class with the Iranian filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami, who won the Palme d’Or in 1997, for “Taste of Cherry.”
Each year, the festival honors the region's “trailblazers.” This year's honorees are Emirati actress Mariam Sultan, Saudi director-producer Mohammad F. Gazzaz, and Kuwaiti producer-director Mohammad Al-Sanousi.
GFF runs until April 20 at Dubai Festival Center. For more information, visit www.gulffilmfest.com
(Vinita Bharadwaj is a well-known writer in the Gulf. She can be reached via email at: Vinita.email@example.com)