DIFF 17! Film Will Find You

The 17th edition of DIFF commenced with the expected glam and vigor of an international film festival, topped with the warm generosity of Arabian hospitality. In contrast to my involvement last year, based partly on curiosity and partly on the enthusiasm of a rising social media star, this time the festival promised to be quite a bit more festive for me with invitations to the Opening and Closing, VIP parking a few minutes away from screenings, access to a secret lounge and rocking after parties. Read more about the Opening of DIFF ’16 over here. 

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The festival is undergoing changes but they weren’t particularly obvious to an outsider like me. Apart from usual screening programs, galas, “in conversations” and workshops, DIFF 17 features virtual reality experiences and free movies at The Beach. The Film Will Find You tagline was selected to represent the transformation of the way entertainment reaches our hearts and eyes, noting the impact of Netflix, social media algorithms and ever advancing technologies.

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The hospitality was impressive, with a large number of multilingual volunteers, complimentary coffee for press, two-for-one ticket deals, complimentary public WiFi and even bottles of Evian water left in chairs at all Gala screenings.

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While movie stars and celebrities walked the Red Carpet, I hung out with everyone’s favorite (including me) DIFF team member Brent Lawrence at the special lounge overlooking the action. Brent, in his perfect black tux, managed to participate in several conversations simultaneously, exchanging jokes and insight with a curious crowd and Dubai beauties.

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Team Harper’s Bazaar Arabia was present on the carpet spotting the best dressed. No matter how hard I tried catwalking by them or posing pretentiously, my outfit caught no attention. Regardless, I decided to keep on showing up.

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The venue for the occasion, Madinat Arena, was at its brightest. The legendary place radiates an incredible charm enhanced with search lights, candles, flowers and views on the Venice of the Middle East.

The Opening speech by Chairman Abdulhamid Juma, packed with witty remarks and his shimmering sense of humor, contained a deep idea about the human side of cinematography and the importance of art. His “dreams are future movies” quote is still being analyzed in the corners of my head. Cate Blanchett and Patrick Stewart joined on the stage, and reiterated the thought that Art will Save the World.

In contrast with the party vibe, the gala screening of Hostiles put a rather dark feeling in the audience, with no one wanting to leave their seat when credits rolled. Keep an eye for my upcoming review, but the movie was more about love than once would assume from the title.

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Straight through a dimmed room and to the right, I was stunned by the set-up for the after party. Imagine endless rows of champagne, luminous lights, Haute Couture style, a rocking band and happiness shared in every direction.

I danced, laughed, cheered and interacted with like-minded folks feeling out of the world, and in a way I truly was. Thank you Dubai Film Festival for a magical night!

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Dubai International Film Festival. The Opening.

The 13th Dubai International Film festival opened last night with a red carpet screening of “Miss Sloane” by British Director John Madden (loved for “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Debt”). Surrounded by the breathtaking architecture of Madinat Jumeirah, traditional Arabian style with water canals, palm trees and a crystal clear beach, the DIFF venue resembled a Hollywood studio set from the Golden Age inspired by the tales of One Thousand and One Nights. The festival’s focus on regional talent and industry was no surprise.

At the opening, the red carpet was overflowing with guests and celebrities rushing in to the screening. Obviously there was press too, represented by leading UAE media giants like Dubai One, Gulf News, Dubai Eye and my favourite Harpers Bazaar Arabia (among others). I did on occasion feel like a sassy well-trained paparazzi snapping photos on the go.

The event was as theatrical as expected, with a ruby red carpet rolled under the stars, powerful stage lights, and beautiful people from all over the world appearing and disappearing like a dream sparkling with diamonds, confidence and haute couture outfits (incredible #WIWT by Indian actor Ranveer Singh). It was overwhelmingly exciting to spot the dangerously dazzling Olga Kurylenko (Bond girl!), the crew of “The Eagle Huntress” (amazing cinematography) and, no introduction needed, Samuel L. Jackson.

The opening ceremony started with Lifetime Achievement Awards celebrating film industry contributions. Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared, Indian actor Rekha and Samuel L. Jackson were honoured.

The premier screening, “Miss Sloane”, was an intense fast-paced political thriller focused on American political intrigue (hot topic this year!) and the controversial subject of gun control. With a strong leading female character played by Jessica Chastain (secret agent in “The Debt”), I was curious if her previous performance influenced John Madden’s decision to cast her in this role. This year’s program has been passionately selected by organizers and consisted of more than 150 movies from over 50 countries. In my opinion (it’s so personal!) other films to watch out for included: “Their Finest”, “Swallows and Amazons”, “La La Land”, “Rogue One: the Star Wars story”, “Jackie” and “Manchester by the sea” (reviews to follow). Meanwhile here are some exclusive behind the scenes photos of DIFF 13th opening night in making:

To be continued…

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