During the 10th Dubai International Film Festival, which closed this weekend with a gala screening of 'American Hustle' and a typically lavish bash near the city centre, Martin Sheen turned up to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award, '12 Years A Slave' and 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom' played alongside a panoply of Arab, Asian and African programming (174 films in total including festival opener 'Omar,' Palestine's entry for the 2014 foreign-language Oscar race); and DIFF organizers celebrated their first decade on the global festival map.
On the occasion of their 10th birthday, I asked DIFF's top guns to reflect on the festival's origins and where they hope to be in ten years' time. Abdulhamid Juma, a DIFF founding father who became Chairman in 2006, was naturally bullish despite the lack of star names turning out for this year's edition. The need for smaller festivals like Dubai to attract A-listers remains strong and, despite early hopes that he might be able to fit it into his schedule, Bradley Cooper wasn't able to come for closing night, leaving writer-director David O'Russell to fly the 'American Hustle' flag (he was in fine, fiery form, too: we'll be posting our interview with O'Russell this week).
But despite that setback, DIFF has established itself as the region's key film festival, especially considering that it was launched three years after 9/11, when, Juma notes, "there was much mistrust on both sides." Even though the fest has always followed its two Gulf
brethren, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and the Doha Tribeca Film
Festival, on the calendar, DIFF now stands tall as the region's top
festival, helped by having a stable regime in place and the fact that Doha has dropped the Tribeca connection and
subdivided into two smaller festivals.