Gulf Film Festival to shatter stereotypes


The effects of war, women’s emancipation, globalisation, and films attempting to shatter stereotypes about the Middle East are the top themes at this week’s Gulf Film Festival.

The inaugural event, which begins tomorrow and runs until Friday, will screen 146 films from 25 countries around the region.

“The issues that people read about from the outside, such as fundamentalism, women’s rights and the oil industry are looked at very differently within the region,” says documentary filmmaker Noor Al Dabbagh, whose film, Seeing Through The Sand, is one of 20 entries from Saudi Arabia that aim to battle misconceptions about the country. Also among these are Osama Al Khurayji’s The Truth, on the life of a convert to Islam, and Fahmi Farahat’s Saudis in America captures the views and attitudes of Saudis living or visiting the United States after 9/11.

In total, 93 features, shorts and documentaries by established filmmakers and students are battling for a total pot of Dh450,000 in the official competition, and 53 films from around the world are scheduled outside competitive categories. “The programme represents the growing community of filmmakers with a passion to showcase the diversity and breadth of creativity in the Gulf, raising the profile of contemporary Arab cinema,” says GFF Festival Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali.

Regional stars set to attend over the week include Abdulhussain Abdulretha, Saad Al Farraj, Haifa Hussain and Zahra Arafat.

Six in-competition features are competing for a top prize of Dh50,000. These include the opening feature Four Girls by Bahrain’s Hussain Abbas Al Hulaibi; the region’s first horror feature film The Forgotten Village and Mamoun Bonni’s Sabah Allil, about a truck driver who tries to change the course of history, both from Saudi Arabia; and two dark submissions from Kuwait: Faisal Sham’s Al Donjowana, addressing the subjects of love and murder, and Hasan Abdal’s One More Chance about gangs and crime.

Forty-seven shorts from the GCC and Iraq are in the programme, with the largest number from the UAE: A Split Decision by Omar Butti looks at how decisions shape our lives; Tenbak by Abdullah Hassan Ahmed addresses racism and love between two friends; Ali Jamal’s Brother is about a brother’s fight to protect his ill sibling; Saeed Salmeen Al Murry’s Bint Mariam examines the plight of the girl child; and Saeed al Dhaheri’s The Rescue is the story of a man stuck in the desert. Among the other entries are Hind Al Awadi’s Eigengrau, an experimental short about the urge to be heard when confronting one’s private emotions, from Kuwait; and from Bahrain, Hussain Al Riffaei’s A Dinner, about adultery and its consequences.

Iraq is also well represented, with 15 movies examining issues such as youth, terrorism, sectarian violence and war. Hadi Mahood’s Nights of Gypsy’s Descent (pictured above), for instance, looks at how gypsies were persecuted after Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003, while The Death Road by Sanan Najim presents the dangers of being a taxi driver in Baghdad.

Eight Swiss films are featured as part of a country spotlight, and the event also has a category for students, a decision Al Ali says was a response to the quality of films sent in.

Festival organisers are also attempting to explore future directions in film with a two-hour panel on digital filmmaking in the Gulf. Bahraini director Bassam Al-Thawadi, film critic Mohammed Rouda and Gianluca Chacra, managing director of Front Row Filmed Entertainment, will examine the artistic and business aspects of the digital platform at 11am on Tuesday in sessions to be moderated by Emarat Al Youm cinema editor Ziad Abdullah. The panel will look at the budgetary benefits of going digital.

“A major goal of the festival is to help emerging talent. We want to see these young artists make a film, and there is no longer any need to wait for a 35mm budget. Digital is the future of independent film,” says Al Ali.


The Gulf Film Festival runs from April 13 until 18 at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, Mall of Emirates. Entry is free to all. Details are available at



Ones to watch



The opening night film at the festival, Bahraini director Hussain Abbas Al Hulaibi’s Four Girls tells the story of four struggling young women from different cultural backgrounds who get together to solve their financial crisis. The in-competition feature tackles the subjects of emancipation, prejudice and social customs in male-dominated societies and addresses the importance of small and medium enterprises in an evolving economy.



Saudi Arabia’s first horror film and its third full-length feature, Abdulla Abo Talib’s film tells the story of a group of young Arabs who meet some tourists and are forced by circumstances to stay in an isolated village. It looks at the phenomena of superstition and mythology among the people of the Gulf.

Inspired from old local legends, the film is based on the novel by Tarik al Dakhiel. Cast includes Mohammed Hashim and Hamed Al Ghamdi.


Directed by Mohammed Al Daradji, Ahlaam deals with the lives of three Iraqis within the bombed ruins of a psychiatric hospital.

The film, which is the country’s official entry in the feature competition, moves between the past and present struggles of the trio, who are caught up in the chaos wrought by America’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign.

The movie was named Best Film at this year’s Bangladesh Film Festival.



Oday Salah looks at the hell women prisoners face in this exceptional documentary. It follows everyday prison life for 22 days but is documented as one day, because all days within these walls are identical. In Iraq, being imprisoned as a woman for whatever reason is totally unacceptable, and the camera bring us up close with these detainees’ desperation and hopelessness. Most describe the misery they live in very intensely.



Saudi Arabian director Noor Al Dabbagh’s documentary follows a group of Harvard business students on a trip through the Kingdom, which, they discover, is at a critical point in its development. They discuss issues the country is facing with Saudis from all walks of life. Cultural tensions surface, and the students struggle to understand their surroundings and themselves in an environment very different to their own.



A comedy about the long-term consequences of adoption and the emotional vicissitudes of family, Jean-Stéphane Bron’s film is part of the In The Spotlight focus on Swiss filmmakers. Vinh, who was adopted from Vietnam by a Swiss couple, invites his biological mother to the wedding – only he hasn’t told her his adopted parents are divorced. He begs them to play happy families, but old resentments get in the way.