Dubai International Film Festival is upon us, bringing a spectacular line-up of films from around the world for their 10th celebratory edition. Looking at the schedule can be daunting if you’re new to the festival, or if you generally want a quick guide to know what’s worth watching at the festival. I’ve spent a good amount of time going through the schedule and connecting my own research to what’s playing and as a result, this is the top 10 picks of the festival for me that you should definitely check out starting tomorrow.
1. Champ of the Camp
Plot – CHAMP OF THE CAMP is the first ever feature-length documentary filmed in the UAE’s labour accommodation. Told (and sung!) entirely in the voices of the labourers, it follows a Bollywood singing and trivia competition that takes place each summer in Dubai. The film chronicles the stories of characters such as Dhattu, a middle-aged Indian sweeper who is saving up for his daughters’ marriages, and Adnan, a Pakistani who excels in all things Bollywood and is proud of his work on the world’s tallest tower.
My Thoughts – This is really a landmark documentary that highlights the unsung heroes of UAE, and after a lot of behind the scenes troubles, documentary filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour was able to make this happen. It’s a happy film that perfectly fits into this year’s DIFF and one that none of us should miss.
Sat, 7 Dec 2013, 08:00 PM
Mon, 9 Dec 2013, 03:15 PM
2. 12 Years A Slave
Plot – Based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom, 12 YEARS A SLAVE is set in pre-Civil War United States. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American New Yorker, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty from a slave owner (Michael Fassbender) and receiving unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.
My Thoughts – I’ve been wishing for 12 Years A Slave to be a selection at DIFF ever since I saw the first trailer, and somehow the good folks at the festival made it happen. Steve McQueen’s epic and harrowing drama has brilliant reviews behind it and may just be the film that takes away all the Oscars this year, and this is your best chance to see the film on the big screen in the original edit. So don’t miss the chance!
Mon, 9 Dec 2013, 04:45 PM
3. The Lunchbox
Plot – Ila, a housewife, tries to add some spice to her marriage – this time through her cooking. However, the special lunchbox she packs for her husband is mistakenly delivered to Saajan, a lonely man on the verge of retirement. She adds in a note in the following day’s lunchbox, and triggers a strange relationship with Saajan. Through the lunchbox, the two embark on a curious journey of discovery, sharing their regrets, fears and joys through these notes. Still strangers physically, Ila and Saajan are in danger of losing themselves in a virtual relationship that could jeopardise both their realities.
My Thoughts – There’s a lot of resentment in India that this should have been the film that the country should have sent for Oscar consideration, and for good reason. Reviews call it one of the best films of the year and with a stellar production talent as well as cast behind it, this really looks to the shining example of independent Indian cinema that breaks out to the world. The trailer is extremely endearing, and the film could be str0ng contender come award season.
Wed, 11 Dec 2013, 07:30 PM
Fri, 13 Dec 2013, 09:00 PM
4. The Emirati Short Films
Plot – Various.
My Thoughts – It’s always a treat at both ADFF and DIFF to watch the Emirati short film showcase, but I personally think this year’s lineup is the strongest yet and absolutely must be seen. I personally have connected with a lot of the filmmakers here over the last year or two, and it’s great to see them deservedly shine in the spotlight with their films. Some of the great short films you’re in for include Mohammad Fikree’s magical Girl & It (which I have had the pleasure to see and it’s a beautiful animated adventure you cannot miss), Mustafa Abbas’ Sunset State, Khalid Mahmood’s Don’t Leave Me and more. The short films are broken up into multiple showcases and you can read up on the schedules for them here.
5. The Brain That Sings
Plot – THE BRAIN THAT SINGS follows the journey of two autistic boys in the UAE – 19-year-old Mohammed and six-year-old Khalifa – and their progress over three months of music therapy. The film explores the cultural stigma associated with having a special needs child in the Arab world, and the issues the families face when they plan out the future of their children.
My Thoughts – This is a passion project by Emirati filmmaker Amal Al Agroobi and was crowdfunded on Aflamnah by the help of hundreds of passionate people who care about an important and sometimes taboo topic that isn’t highlighted in this part of the world nearly as much as it should. The screenings are selling out, so don’t miss out!
Sat, 7 Dec 2013, 06:00 PM
This screening is on standby.
Mon, 9 Dec 2013, 09:45 PM
6. Ilo Ilo
Plot – Set in Singapore, ILO ILO chronicles the relationship between a family of three and their new Filipina maid, Teresa, who has left her home in search of a better life. After a rocky start, Teresa and Jiale, the young and troublesome boy she cares for, soon form a bond and she quickly becomes a part of the family. But the year is 1997 and the Asian financial crisis is starting to be felt across the region…
My Thoughts – This film is Singapore’s official entry to the Oscars, and has garnered great reviews and buzz around it. That coupled with a homely, family-themed narrative definitely means that you’re in for quality cinema with this one.
Sat, 7 Dec 2013, 05:00 PM
Mon, 9 Dec 2013, 06:30 PM
7. Particle Fever
Plot – Imagine being able to watch as Thomas Edison turned on the first light bulb, or as Benjamin Franklin received his first jolt of electricity. PARTICLE FEVER follows six scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet. As they seek to unravel the mysteries of the universe, 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries joined together in pursuit of a single goal: to recreate conditions that existed just moments after the Big Bang and find the Higgs boson, potentially explaining the origin of all matter.
My Thoughts – This struck me as an interesting science documentary, so I decided to do more research on it. And turns out, the reviews are ecstatic calling it a brilliant and entertaining documentary about science that will appeal to a mass audience and not just geeks. There’s a lot of interesting subject matter in here, so anyone looking to gain an interesting perspective on things like the recently discovered Higgs Boson should definitely check it out.
Wed, 11 Dec 2013, 09:30 PM
Fri, 13 Dec 2013, 02:15 PM
8. Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers
Plot – In their own words, the most successful jewel thieves of all time take audiences into their world: the post-Milosovic Balkans, the modern diamond trade and a 21st century crime gang. Made over four years, the film features interviews with five members of the Pink Panther gang and associates – the same group responsible for the AED14m Dubai jewel heist in 2007. As many of the criminals are caught (two in Dubai after the robbery) and extradited, this film asks: Is this the end of the Pink Panthers?
My Thoughts – Another documentary, but this one struck me because of the imaginative way that it’s visually told. Plus, this includes a real life gang of robbers that committed an actual heist in Dubai. Better? The film is actually from their own point of view and the trailer really makes it look like an entertaining heist film a la Ocean’s Eleven but more real than you’d like to believe.
Tue, 10 Dec 2013, 06:45 PM
Thu, 12 Dec 2013, 03:30 PM
9. Class Enemy
Plot – The relationship between a group of students and their new German teacher is tense, due to key differences in their perception of life. When one of the students commits suicide, her classmates hold the teacher responsible for the tragedy. After the incident, emotions run high and every one begins evaluating the situation – but in black and white.
My Thoughts – I was on the look out for a film at the festival that would slowly descend into unpredictable, genre thrills and this is the most suitable one that I could find. This Slovakian film is about a bunch of students that go out of control, and reviews suggest that you’re in for a thrilling ride even though it’s billed as a drama. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Thu, 12 Dec 2013, 06:30 PM
Fri, 13 Dec 2013, 02:15 PM
10. American Hustle
Plot – The true story of con artist Irving Rosenfield (Bale) and his partner in crime Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two are forced to work with a federal agent (Cooper) and turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians – namely, Angelo Errichetti, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.
My Thoughts – This Closing Gala film is undoubtedly the most mainstream choice in the list here, but that doesn’t make it any less deserving. It’s from the director of the brilliant ‘The Fighter’ and the surprisingly heartwarming ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’, combining most actors of both of those films and going in the direction of a period piece based on true events. The trailers and reviews are both fantastic and this is a star-studded Oscar contender that may just surprise us all.
Sat, 14 Dec 2013, 07:00 PM
Other Great Films – Out of The Furnace, The Past, Omar, Rock the Casbah, Fruitvale Station, Nebraska.
Of course, this is a subjective list and there’s a whole lot of great films to be found if you look around at the festival. I won’t be able to see all of them because of scheduling issues unfortunately, but the above are my picks that I’ve scheduled around.
Anything you guys are looking forward to? You can make bookings over at the official website.