DIFF 2016 – let’s “junket”

The 13th Dubai Film Festival was busy, buzzy and glorious!  Packed with a diverse selection of movies from more than 50 countries, including virtual reality shorts showcased by Samsung, the festival appealed to a wider audience than ever. Appearances by stars (Andie MacDowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Olga Kurylenko), famous film directors (John Madden), social media influencers and beautiful people from all over the world added extra glamour transforming DIFF into a perfect event.

Almost perfect. The real magic of DIFF happened outside the theaters at these little, hidden from public, industry focused events. Today let’s talk about junkets.

Usually associated with a leisure trip (politics) or a dessert (watch out), the term “press junket” is often used in professional slang to describe a promotional activity that involves interviews with the key figures from film production. In the context of DIFF, all press junkets involved tet-a-tet interviews followed by photo sessions. Frankly they still remained that exclusively pleasant definition for the few media reps who manage to be on the pre-approved list.

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Look at that happy face for example!

The venue for this year’s junkets couldn’t be any sweeter! Set at Bahri’s bar with a breathtaking view on the world’s only 7 stars hotel, attendees benefited from freshly brewed coffee, sea breeze and stimulating energy generated by creative minds.

The most popular (read hard to get) face-to-face interviews were with the director of “Miss Sloane”, John Madden who talked about his new film, his thoughts on casting Jessica Chasten (again!), and the challenges of releasing a political thriller with a female lead in Trump’s America.

The loudest junket turned out to be for the stars of the newly released Bollywood movie “Befikre”. Cursing myself for not attending the premier screening, I missed a real treat. The movie was made in the best tradition of Bollywood with the expected dancing/singing mixed with complicated love drama. However Befikre also broke taboos by showing real kisses by stars in denim (a rare fashion choice). Additionally, the excitement level was boosted by expectations of watching Ranveer Singh (the main guy) walking around in tiny swimwear. In real life Ranveer Singh was hardly recognizable.

To be continued…

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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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