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This year’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) will be remembered for recognising women’s contribution to cinema. About 40 per cent of the films screened at the festival, which came to a close on Saturday, were directed by women.
Awards at the Muhr Awards Ceremony, which took place on Friday, were presented by Shaikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Dozens of filmmakers from the region and their counterparts from Asia and Africa bagged more than $575,000 worth of awards.
Both first-time directors and cinema legends, such as Syrian director Mohamed Malas and Egyptian filmmaker Mohammed Khan, entered new films this year, beating hundreds of other entrants to be shortlisted.
Palestinian/Emirati director Waleed Zuaiter took home the Best Film award for his film Omar, while Yasmine Raees was named the Best Actress for Egyptian film Factory Girl. Hassan Badida took the gong for Best Actor for Moroccan film They Are The Dogs.
Female directors took home accolades. Lebanese director Zeina Daccache won the award for Best Documentary for her film Scheherazade’s Diary, while Muna Al Ali was named Best Emirati Director for her movie Concealment.
Arab female directors have been highly visible on the world stage in recent years due to breakout success stories like Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now, which was the highest-grossing Arab film ever, and Saudi director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Wadjda, the Kingdom’s first entry for the Foreign Language Oscar, and its first feature by a female director.
Many of the films by female directors at DIFF are venturing into narratives that depict women’s emotional topography. The Palestinian creative documentary My Love Awaits Me By the Sea by Mais Darwazah delves into themes of love and belonging, while the Sara Ishaq’s The Mulberry House exposes changing dynamics in her relationship with her own father in patriarchal Yemeni society.
A number of the female filmmakers at DIFF 2013 presented their second or third feature film. Cherine Dabis and Najwa Najjar both won prizes with their first features Amreeka and Pomegranates and Myrrh, and their second offerings look set to embark on the same successful international runs.
The ‘Cinema of Passion’ list of the top 100 Arab films, which was compiled with inputs from more 475 of the region’s most prominent film critics, writers, novelists, academics, and other arts professionals, also includes a film by a woman, The Silences of the Palace, by Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli. Produced in 1994, it was the first film to be directed by an Arab woman, and sits at position number five.
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