For 8 days I ate, drank, and slept movies. The screening rooms of the majestic Madinat Jumeirah and the swanky Mall of the Emirates became my home, the young staff at the boxoffice were my family, the ushers my friends. And so it is with great regret, longing and affection (but also a tinge of relief) that the Dubai Internation Film Festival 2006 comes to an end.
After a total of 29 screenings/viewings, including shorts and documentaries, I can personally say that this year's Dubai International Film Festival has been the biggest yet. Is it the best? I cannot say. Time and my memory of the event in retrospect in the coming future will decide that, but it has provided me and other like minded individuals, a chance to explore the world around us without travelling and also to understand ourselves as human beings and as people living in a diverse city a little more better.
DIFF 2006 may have come to a rousing conclusion but that only means that the countdown to DIFF 2007 has just begun. With that thought, I’ll leave you with what I peronally believe to be the top selections from DIFF 2006, in no particular order:
The wind that shakes the Barley: An angry, moving account of a patchy resistance devised in the face of great adversity. People may tell you that this is a film about Ireland standing upto Britain, that it is a war film where the oppressed use clumsy, desperate guerilla tactics to take on the oppressors. For me, it was about how, as individuals, our beliefs and values make us the stubborn people that we are and how this can sometimes alienate the people around us. It is uncommon for a film to be about personal choices (the decisions that the Cilian Murphy character makes at the end) and yet address a collective concern, but 'Barley' does both by shocking us with its remarkable explorations.
The lives of others: One of those rare films that has a smart script, flawless performances and taut direction. A german thriller about the Stasi, secret German police who investigate cases of anti-socialism in 1980's East Germany, and how one man assigned to the case gets in too deep with his obsessive observation of his prime suspects - aplaywriter and his mistress, who is the lead actress in his plays. The concept is not new, it borrows some of the setup from Coppola's masterpeice The Conversation, but the buildup, concern and resolution is novel. Accessible and stimulating.
Iraq in fragments: A documentary told in fragments, but providing a complete picture of the present situation in Iraq. It is not a political film because it does not take sides – in fact, it is almost apolitical. Very few documentaries concentrate on getting their look right. Technically, and this is great praise for a documentary, ‘Iraq in fragments’ is not just pristine and polished, but almost perfect visually. It deservedly won the award for Best Cinematography, Direction and Editing at Sundance this year, surprising rare for the same film, unheard of for a documentary. An insightful and rare look at how people’s differences and prejudices can divide a nation.
Days of glory: A winner at Cannes 2006 for the terrific performances of the 4 leads. The compelling story of a group of French and Algerian soldiers serving France during WW2. One half war film, the other half a drama about the need for the underdogs to rise and succeed. The film worked best when it wasn't trying to recreate the battles from Saving Private Ryan, though even those were astonishingly realistic and gut wrentching when they needed to be. On a whole, the 'Indigenes', as referred to by its original French title, manages to rouse great emotion and tackles the sensitive subject matter with a discerning eye for both entertainment and enlightenment. A distinctive crowd pleaser with the right balance of war action and dramatic strength.
The host: Korea's masterfully tasteful monster film; think Godzilla done right. At its core is a story about our need and dependence on family and how they are able to put aside their differences when it really counts. The special effects of the giant lizard/fish hybrid creature aren't really Hollywood polished, but they are competent and convincing and enough to make Guillermo Del Toro proud. Does everything a film like this has traditionally failed to do. The mix of humour is odd at first, even distracting, but the delicacy with which it is juggled makes it work. The last 30 minutes are rivetting and edgy.