The 11th Dubai International Film Festival opened on Wednesday amid a flurry of celebrity activity on the red carpet for the opening film, the regional gala premiere of The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s critically-acclaimed biopic of the British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
Top of the celebrity billing was IWC judging panel chief, the British actress Emily Blunt; former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, who was attending the premiere of her new movie, The Water Diviner directed by Russell Crowe; acclaimed American director and Muhr Features jury president, the Oscar-winning producer Lee Daniels, and Bourne Identity star and Game of Thrones newcomer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje said he was looking forward to the cinematic treats Diff has in store this week.
“I’m a film lover first and foremost, more than an actor even,” he said.
“And I’m also a citizen of the world. I love to feast my eyes on all these brilliant, different, multicultural movies as much as possible, and I can’t wait to check out some new films from the Arab world.
“Obviously I’m really excited that lots of our British movies are showcasing here too, like The Theory of Everything. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Among the local and regional celebrities walking the carpet were Emirati directors Waleed Al Shehhi, Ali F Mostafa and Amal Al Agroobi, plus Egyptian producer, director and actor, Khaled Abol Naga, and the Cannes award winning Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi, whose last film, Palestine Stereo, made its debut at last year’s Diff.
The opening ceremony was co-hosted by Emirati producer and director Nayla Al Khaja and animator Mohammed Saeed Harib. Al Khaja highlighted how far the festival, and the Emirati film industry itself, had come since the first event 11 years ago.
“In the past, people used to say, ‘Where are all the Emirati films?’. Now it’s completely the opposite,” she said.
“You have to be sorting through and deciding which ones you can make it to see.
“Diff has created a brand that all filmmakers want to be involved with. At first local, then regional, and now even international filmmakers.
“After 11 years they have honestly done work that could be compressed into 50 years. It’s a huge milestone, and thank you very much – you have been a catalyst for our industry.”
Al Khaja cited films such as Mostafa’s From A to B, which opened October’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and Waleed Al Shehhi’s Dolphin, which premieres at Diff this week, as examples of the growing industry. She also noted that her co-host had directed a section of Salma Hayek’s recently-premiered The Prophet.
Diff has become the first Arab film festival to be accepted as an Oscar-nominating festival.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards were presented to the Egyptian actor Nour El Sherif and Indian singer Asha Bhosle, the inspiration for Cornershop’s 1997 hit single Brimful of Asha.
Abdulhamid Juma, Diff chairman, welcomed guests and declared the festival open for business, praising cinema’s ability to transform lives.
“Often it seems we live in a box,” he told the audience.
“But cinema gives us the opportunity to step outside that box and see another world. That’s why this year’s festival slogan is ‘Live Cinema’.”
Diff runs until December 17 and will screen 118 films from 48 countries, in 34 languages. More than half of this year’s programme is in Arabic.