‘Every festival is different’

It takes months of hard work and dedication of hundreds of people to bring together a spectacle of DIFF’s scale. Artistic Director of the Dubai International Film Festival Masoud Amralla Al Ali tells City Times what it takes to get the show running

By Mohamad Kadry

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Published: Sat 13 Dec 2008, 10:59 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:52 PM

AS FESTIVAL ARTISTIC Director of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), Masoud Amralla Al Ali has helped take this festival to another level. One of the most respected Arab figures in film, Al Ali has helped launch many young UAE nationals and other filmmaker’s throughout the region. A passionate director in his own right, we go behind the scenes to get a glimpse of the man who has an eye for movie magic.

What kind of movies do you watch on a regular basis?

I hate to categorise myself to one genre because I love everything including dramas, blockbusters, documentaries, operas, but I especially love art house cinema which are independent type films.

You have a very important job at DIFF, so how do you choose movies to be part of the festival that will translate to such a culturally diverse audience?

There is no checklist to pass this mark. We have professional programmers that have been in cinema for years, and they know which films are important and subjective, so we put our trust in them. This requires my approval but I give complete freedom to the programmers to choose the festival lineup, then I give my input on why or why not a movie should be chosen. It’s a very free and open discussion that allows us all to give an opinion.

You have travelled and taken part in other international film festivals around the world. Is there anything you ever incorporate into DIFF?

Each single festival has its own strategic plan and agenda. Whatever I see as a negative, I try to avoid and when I see something positive, we try and adapt. It’s my belief that every festival is different but we are all linked through cinema.

The festival must get chaotic at times. How do you deal with problems that arise?

It is a team effort to put this festival together and have it run smoothly. We always take everyone’s point of view and we figure out the best solution to solve it. This includes everyone from the volunteers to the directors. Everyone’s voice counts.

If there is a movie that pushes the envelope and surrounded by controversy, who makes the judgment call to add it to the festival lineup? What about censorship?

We have programmers that select many of the films, with my focus being on the Muhr film candidates. But there is no censorship at DIFF.

You founded the Emirates Film Competition. What kind of talent have you uncovered and how has DIFF helped?

There is such great talent in the region and DIFF gives them a platform to showcase it.

As a younger man, what kind of films made an impact on you? Was there a particular director?

Again, I cannot say one type of film affected my knowledge, but I’ve always been attracted to films that talk about human issues. For me, film has always been a cultural medium, so I am against calling films “commercial.” In the end, all films need to make money. As for a director that impacted me, I could list hundreds but someone like Martin Scorsese is truly one of the landmarks of cinema.

If anyone knows about movies, it would be you. Do you plan on releasing any feature films in the future?

I actually shot a film three years ago, and till now I have not had a chance to edit it. I would love to go and complete it if I had the time. All my knowledge is behind the camera directing, this is my passion. I hope that I will be able to put the feature together.

You work very closely with Abdul Hamid Juma — DIFF Chairman. How does this relationship correlate into putting together an entire festival?

We always go to him for advice. There is no chance of someone making an individual decision because we respect everyone’s feedback and input; this includes everyone involved in ensuring the festival is a success.

Can you give us a few ‘must see’ flicks from the festival lineup?

I cannot name one movie to highlight because that means we would be neglecting a lot of other very good work. It’s not fair to emphasise one film because there are so many films that took so much effort.

You must be one of the biggest movie buffs in Dubai and we hear you have a massive collection of 15,000 DVDs. What does it consist of?

(He laughs) Let’s not get into my personal home collection; I’m afraid the censors would get involved haha.

history of the muhr awards

The Dubai International Film Festival introduced the Muhr Awards for Excellence in Cinema in 2006 with the aim of recognising Arab filmmakers both regionally and internationally. The 2008 edition of DIFF will introduce the categories of Asia/Africa to honour the craft of filmmakers from outside the Arab region.

The new Muhr categories will recognise the perseverance and talent of Asian and African filmmakers in addition to the Arab professionals.

The Muhr Awards competition awards more than $500,000 in cash prizes to the winners, who are carefully selected by a prestigious international jury. Genres include feature films, documentaries, and short films.


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