The 2016 Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) unveiled the first wave of eclectic films, including multiple world premieres, for the renowned Muhr Feature program. Showcasing unique work from some the region’s most talented directors, whose films celebrate and explore the traditions and diverse contemporary culture of the intricate Arab world with passion, depth and empathy.
The first feature to be showcased in the varied category comes from Tunisian director Raja Amari who guides the audience through an intense series of events with ‘Foreign Body’, starring Hiam Abbass and Sara Hanashy. Vulnerable Samia risks everything as she illegally immigrates to France from Tunisia in a hopeful attempt to escape the clasp of her radical brother, who she frantically believes is following her. In her refuge, Samia stays with Imed, an acquaintance from her village, and then her boss, Leila but as time goes by, fear and desire heightens the tension between the three.
Following the success of his first feature film Narcissus Blossom, Iraqi director, Hussein Hassan throws his heart and soul into the emotional story of ‘The Dark Wind’. Young and in love, Reko and Pero are looking forward to a long and prosperous life together as they prepare to marry. However their plans are soon shattered, much like their lives, as extremist militants horrifically attack their village. It seems there is no way to escape the dark wind, which continues threatening their future.
Following its premiere in Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival critically acclaimed director Vatche Boulghourjian brings his Lebanese drama ‘Tramontane’, starring Barakat Jabbour, Julia Kassar and supported by Enjaaz from Dubai Film Market. The compelling film looks at the intricate relationship of Lebanese citizens with their country. Viewers are confronted with a series of deep emotions as the heartfelt tale follows the journey of blind musician Rabih, who encounters marginalised citizens sharing their stories, as he ventures across rural Lebanon in an intense search for his true identity.
After showcasing in the 11th edition with the notable premiere of ‘No Exit’, Palestinian filmmaker, Mohanad Yaqubi, returns to DIFF to showcase his latest non-fiction film ‘Off Frame AKA Revolution Until Victory’. Bidding to untangle the fraught history of his homeland, Yaqubi reflects the struggles faced by the states people. Drawing from recently found archive footage Yaqubi insightfully explores the essence of Palestinian filmmaking.
DIFF welcomes Lebanese filmmaker Maher Abi Samra with the insightful screening of ‘A Maid For Each’. With a bustling market for domestic work in Lebanon, workers are deprived of basic rights and face multiple struggles in a system of full custodianship. ‘A Maid For Each’ diligently observes the day to day functions of an active agency, capturing the truth of this domineering industry. The components of this state-sanctioned system come undone methodically throughout the film as the audience is exposed to the employees’ harsh entitlements, the agent’s dexterity at commerce and the objectification of women who sell their labour in order to survive.
Cairene filmmaker Iman Kamel’s hybrid film ‘Egyptian Jeanne d’Arc’ melds documentary with mythic story elements, poetic narration, interviews and dance to convey intimate, true stories of resistance by Egyptian women, since the 2011 revolution. After returning to her homeland, the director highlights the issues of the oppression faced by Egyptian women, most of whom are artists, in Egypt today through her film.
DIFF will also host the world premiere of ‘Ali, the Goat, and Ibrahim’ from award-winning Egyptian filmmaker Sherif El Bendary, supported by Dubai Film Market’s Enjaaz program. Starring Ali Sobhy, Ahmed Magdy, Salwa Mohamed Aly and Nahed El Sebai, the touching story follows Ali, who after refusing to accept the death of his beloved girlfriend, believes her soul has been reincarnated in the form of a goat. Elsewhere, Ibrahim is followed by haunting voices which control his world. With both young men marginalized and misunderstood by society, they encounter one another and embark on a cleansing journey. As their friendship grows, they realise they can find strength from within each other and embrace their differences.
Awaited world premiere ‘Little Eagles’ from Egyptian director Mohamed Rashad documents a story influenced by the damaging relationship with his working class father. Spending his life living with the confidence-crushing knowledge that his father is disappointed with the outcome of his son, Rashad meets two people who, like him, lack self-assurance due to a degrading family member. Delving into the history of their relatives, Rashad searches for reasoning in an attempt to free the group from their tormented past relationships.
DIFF’s Artistic Director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali spoke about the array of Arab talent in the program: “Since the inception of Muhr Feature in 2006, with each passing year, the competition grows fiercer, as the inspiring directors never fail to impress DIFF’s audiences. This year promises a line-up which truly delves into the region’s rich traditions and history to share unique perspectives in the international spotlight, helping to alter predetermined consumptions of the Arab world, and aiding the rise of cinema within the region.”
Antoine Khalife, Director of the Arab Program, added: “We are excited to present the highly acclaimed Muhr Feature category which draws on traditional and cultural themes. This year’s impressive creations grasp the true concept of life in the Middle East as the Arab filmmakers deeply explore the issues they have faced with marginalization, immigration, identity and self-assurance which promises to leave a lasting impression on audiences.”