One was shattered when the Abu Dhabi International Film Festival drew its curtains in 2015 after eight editions held every October. It was on the rise having been steered by men with vision like Peter Scarlet, Ali Al Jabri and Intishal Al Timimi (who has now opened a new festival at the Red Sea Egyptian resort of El Gouna and the first edition of which was held last September and had immense promise).
Movie festivals have been bidding goodbye in the Middle East and Africa. Or, failing to hold editions – like the one in Morocco's Marrakech, which, having begun rolling in 2001 and having really taken off, cancelled its 2017 edition. It is expected to be back on the track this December. But a confirmation is awaited. The movie festival at Doha (Qatar), in partnership with Tribeca, ran from 2009 to 2012, but has since then been appearing in a new avatar.
However, what came as a shock was an announcement on April 18 that the Dubai International Film Festival would not hold its annual December show this time. Instead, its 15th edition will take place next year.
Dubai had become a great cinema event in the region – out shinning the one in Cairo, which will hold its 40th chapter this November. Dubai was just about everything that a movie festival could have : glamour, interesting cinema and singular dedication to regional fare, which in this case was Arab films. And having watched many of the Dubai editions, I could see last year how Arab fare had significantly improved. It had great novel plots, realistic scripting and understated performances. Even Egyptian cinema, once known for its melodramatic excesses, appeared believable and welcomingly subdued.
This is what exposure to a world audience can do to a cinema, and Dubai by showcasing the region's talent, served as a hugely encouraging platform. And not just this, there were several years when I saw some of the best Hollywood movies in Dubai, titles that were in the Oscar race. So, in short, Dubai was a complete Festival – which while paying a lot to attention to Arab cinema, did not ignore world cinema.
A Press Note from the Festival has this to say: The organisers of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today announced that they will be adopting a new strategy to support the growth and evolution of the movie content industries in the region...The strategic shift aims to embrace the significant changes taking place in the region’s creative and entertainment landscape. The new strategy also seeks to leverage the emergence of exciting new talent and innovative new technologies that are rapidly transforming the content landscape in the region. The Festival will occur every two years with the 15th edition, which will reflect DIFF’s changed strategy, confirmed to be hosted in Dubai in 2019.
“The Dubai International Film Festival has celebrated the magic of cinema over the past 14 years, with almost 2,000 screenings including 500 films from the Arab world, helped more than 300 movies from the region reach completion, facilitated funding and partnership for a further 140, supported more than 200 talented Arab filmmakers through the Festival’s Muhr Awards, and driven tourism across the city” .
Well then, a fallout of the Dubai decision can translate into greater fillip for festival like E Gouna and Doha, which, in particular, is tinkering with various possibilities now having branched into a youth festival, etc.
Finally, movie festivals the world over have had their hiccups: Cairo had to be cancelled at times because of uncertain political times, Venice struggled for years till Marco Mueller came on as Director, stayed for about eight years and pulled the annual August-September event literally out of the Adriatic Sea, and the Queen of all, Cannes, had to stop midway in 1968 following workers/students unrest when auteurs like Francois Truffaut and Godard forced the Festival to pull down the curtains that year.
In fact, Cannes was to have begun in 1939, but with Hitler's forces marching into Poland (sounding the bugle for World War II), Cannes could continue for a mere couple of days. And Cannes had to wait till 1946 to resume.
Hopefully, Dubai will re-appear in 2019 with a lot more energy than what I have been seeing there in all these years.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Dubai International Film Festival for many years, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com)