The Dubai International Film Festival can play an integral role in shattering the negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that permeate mainstream American cinema, the world's leading authority on media stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims has said.

By Staff Report

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Published: Tue 6 Dec 2005, 12:29 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:09 PM

Dr Jack Shaheen, author of the award-winning books Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People; Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture; Nuclear War Films; and The TV Arab, said the Festival and its focus on bridging cultures is a vital asset in the struggle to connect East and West and the imagemakers from both sides.

"The Dubai Film Festival, and its emphasis on cultural bridges, is not a good idea but a great one," Dr. Shaheen said. "Imagemakers respect other imagemakers, and Dubai's festival enables artists worldwide to meet and exchange thoughts on a much-needed personal and professional level. Bridge building begins with respect, and this festival provides each participant and guest with an opportunity to embrace and respect each other. We hate what we don't know, but once we know an individual or group or religion we once feared, our prejudices evaporate."

The Festival's twin strategies of engaging international imagemakers and building the Arab filmmaking community by offering young Arabs the tools, expertise and venue to create and showcase their own features and shots are on the right track, he added. "Both bases need to be covered," Dr Shaheen said. "You can't accomplish one without the other. Filmmakers with Arab roots need the support given to them by the Festival. The Festival organisers are meeting, in a sense, Hollywood 'on its own ground'."

Although many of the stereotyping emerges from mainstream Hollywood cinema, it is crucial that the larger Arab world stays aware of it and works to counter it, he added. "What should be done after the festival is as important if not more important than what happens during the festival," he added. "Namely, an intelligent and practical plan needs to be in place to lobby those Hollywood producers who sincerely care about — and who are in a position to — shattering stereotypes."

Dr. Shaheen, whose writings also include contributions to such influential publications as Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and a number of college textbooks, also serves as a consultant for the United Nations, the United States Information Agency, and a number of television and motion picture companies. He recently finished consulting on George Clooney's upcoming drama Syriana, filmed partly in Dubai, and is putting the finishing touches on a documentary version of Reel Bad Arabs.

Festival Director and CEO Neil Stephenson said Dr Shaheen's vote of confidence in DIFF was a significant boost for the Festival and its goals, and a reminder of how much work remains to be done in bridging the divide between East and West.

More than 60 big-budget movies produced post 9/11 — including Four Feathers, Hidalgo, Air Marshal and Team America World Police — display the same stereotypes as the industry's pre-9/11 films, Dr. Shaheen added. But there is also some good news.

The second Dubai International Film Festival will be held between December 11 and 17, 2005, and will feature 98 films including features, retrospectives and short films. DIFF 2005 is divided into 12 distinct programmes — including five brand new sections — each focusing on a particular category of film.

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