The breakfast buffet at the Beachcomber restaurant just past the more impressive of the two impressive swimming pools of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel is overwhelming. My judgment collapses in the face of its multiple offerings -- Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, western. Somehow I find myself consuming excellent chicken curry, roti bread with sambal, dim sum, smoked salmon with garnishes, assorted French cheeses, fresh fruit with yogurt, a couple of tiny pastries – and I still only sampled a fraction of its possibilities.
I’m greeted by Dana Archer of the PR firm Dennis Davidson Associates, and join Variety’s Alissa Simon, who I just saw in Morelia. She’s a five-year veteran of the Dubai festival. She mentions that there is indeed a press screening of an Arab film this afternoon at 3. The only other scheduled event is the opening night film, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” which I will attend even though I saw it when it closed the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 14. It’s a black-tie gala, complete with the de rigueur red carpet arrivals and separately-ticketed afterparty.
I shuttle to the Madinat Jumeirah, a hotel and conference center, designed to look like an ancient Arab town complete with souk, as opposed to the architecturally cutting-edge Burj Al Arab and the Vegasy Jumeirah Beach Hotel. It also houses the Madinat Arena, where the gala screenings are held, and the Madinat Theatre, another screening location. Most of the Festival screenings are held in a multiplex in the Mall of the Emirates (which famously holds the indoor ski resort that Tony Bourdain visited in “No Reservations,” which I re-watched as part of my Dubai research).
I stop at the box office, where you can request tickets for the next day’s screenings, and secure passes for each of the three time slots for the first full day: “Me and You,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s first feature in a decade; “Bekas,” the Gala representing the Arab film programme; and “Here and There,” a Mexican film which won the Critic’s Week prize in Cannes.
I have a bit of trouble finding the Press Office, and am aided by a towering glamazon who’s also en route there. I admire her flowing locks, expertly-applied makeup, and count-the-trend outfit: tight blue-jean pencil skirt, peplummed jacket, stiletto heels, designer handbag. She’s like a creature from Planet Vogue. Seeing her almost makes me want to sit down at one of the MAC makeup tables just outside the press room and request a free makeover. But the knowledge that long before the evening’s festivities, the makeup will melt away – plus the fact that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – deters me.
Instead I go to the lunch location, the hotel’s Wharf restaurant, picturesquely located on a man-made lagoon traversed by little poled boats. There’s another overwhelming multicultural buffet, coming hard upon the last, and I can’t quite rise to the occasion. I do sample delicious roast lamb, and another lamb dish, a stew more Frenchy than tagine, with a bit of cold corn salad, as well as two life-giving iced coffees. There’s a rumour that somebody heard Alicia Keys practicing during the sound check for tonight’s party. Wiser heads shake no, but hey, I figure anything’s possible.
I join my friend Shelly Kraicer, a Toronto-based writer and Festival consultant, and we go to the 3 p.m. press screening, one of only five scheduled during the entire week, it seems. It’s in the glamourous, vaguely Moorish, large Madinat Theatre – about 15 attendees in 432 seats. It turns out to be “Bekas,” about two young Iraqi Kurdish homeless orphan brothers, who set out on an impossible quest, inspired by a glimpse of a “Superman” movie: to travel to America, which is, after all, only “this far” (a few inches between thumb and forefinger) on the map.