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Hungry for something DIFF-erent

Hungry for something DIFF-erent

The popular and well attended DIFF makes Kipp thinks there is a genuine thirst for independent cinema. Will somebody up the ante?

December 14, 2011 4:10 by



Dubai has something of a bad rep when it comes to appreciating the arts. Critics love to paint all of the residents of this superlative-crazy emirate with the same crass cultureless consumerist brush. Abu Dhabi, in contrast has been marketing itself for years now as the culture capital-and even good old mannequin head chopping Sharjah, what with its decade old literature festival and the Sharjah Biennale has a better image when it comes to the arts.

Which is why, I was genuinely surprised and impressed at the massive queue that was formed in front of the cinemas at Mall of the Emirates a few days back. Not only were there impressive line of people waiting their turn to buy a ticket, or hoping to snatch a few standby tickets, but there was a long queue for those with tickets waiting to enter.

The Dubai International Film Festival, now in its eight installment, has developed from what was something of a logistical nightmare to a star-studded event; from a limited selection of regional films to a fantastic display of some very fine extremely diversified forms of cinema.

This year around, I didn’t get a chance to see as many films as I’d want to (which would have been far more than I could count on my fingers). Still, I got a chance to see a good number of films, the most memorable was The Death of A Japanese Salesman, a touching Japanese documentary; Combat Girl, a German drama about neo-Nazism; Habibi, a Palestian love story and P-047, a rather abstract and offbeat Thai film about crime, fantasy and identity.

Just how jam packed each cinema was, is what struck me most about the screenings. Of course, each screening tended to attract a particular diaspora out from wherever they’ve been hiding in obscurity (I haven’t seen so many Germans or Japanese sitting in one room). Because a little part of me believed the critics who had the cultureless crass understanding of Dubai, I was surprised to see so many people queue up, sit quietly through complex foreign and sometimes inaccessible films and have a genuine conversation during the Q&A’s after.

Part of my bias would have to do with the few films I have seen at the Picturehouse, Dubai Mall’s answer to the indie-scene. Initially the mall had a screen dedicated to screening low-budget offbeat indie flicks, but due to, what I can only imagine to be, poor attendance, the Picturehouse now screens regular mainstream Hollywood films. I remember the second time I saw an Algerian film at the Picturehouse, save for my partner and a suspicious looking man sulking in the corner, the entire theater was empty.

It is upsetting then to see the excellent turnout for the DIFF when you consider just how abundant and prevalent mainstream Hollywood cinema is around these parts. If indeed the UAE is trying to encourage its local film scene, surely limiting its people’s exposure to Hollywood alone is a cause for concern?



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