Dubai International Film Festival 2016 – The Producer’s Picks

For the 13th edition of Dubai International Film Festival – running from 7th to 14th   December – eighteen promising projects from across the MENA region will be screened in the Muhr Feature Program, including documentaries and fiction films from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia, amongst others.

We turned to producer, and good friend of Men’s Passion, Talal Al-Muhanna, for an early preview of this year’s Muhr. “Having been an avid fan of DIFF for many years, I look forward to attending this year’s event and catching some of the latest films by talented Arab filmmakers from across the region” he told us. Here he gives us his highlights.

“I’m particularly excited by the Tunisian line-up this year, including ‘Hedi’ by Mohamed Ben Attia and ‘Foreign Body’ by Raja Amari:

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I first came across Amari’s work in 2009, when her film ‘Secrets’ screened at Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar –  an intriguing tale about three female relatives living in an abandoned mansion. In the new film, tensions between another trio intimately involved with each other also seem to be up for examination when a young woman flees to France following her break with a fundamentalist brother. The film stars the brilliant Hiam Abbas – known for her strong performances in ‘Amreeka’ and ‘The Lemon Tree’.

Like ‘Secrets’, Amari’s latest film also sees the involvement of  renowned Tunisian  producer Dora Bouchoucha –  who  is the producer behind ‘Hedi’ as well. In Ben Attia’s debut fiction feature ‘Hedi’, a  soon-to-be wed young man ends up meeting a vivacious woman on a chance work trip that looks set to turn his world – and that of his family – upside down. A love story set around the time of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, ‘Hedi’ won the Silver Bear in Berlin earlier this year and Best Film at Athens International Film Festival just a few weeks back.

Two Lebanese films I am curious about are ‘Tramontane’ by Vatche Boulghourjian and ‘Still Burning’ from writer-director Georges Hachem:

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I first heard about ‘Tramontane’ at the Cannes film festival last May, when the film was screened as part of the prestigious Critics’  Week.  I  also  had  an  opportunity, last July, at another festival, to hear the director talk about the process of writing his script while at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Film Program in USA. In ‘Tramontane’, a blind man – who discovers his identity card has been forged – goes on a journey across rural Lebanon to locate his birth certificate. The lead is portrayed by visually impaired musician Barakat Jabbour – a performance The Hollywood Report described as “dignified”.

Filmmaker George Hachem’s second feature film – following his debut fiction ‘Stray Bullet’ – has its World Premiere at Dubai and tells the story of two friends, long separated,  who reconnect. It features actor (and filmmaker) Rami Nihawi as well as the wonderfully talented Algerian actress Adila Bendimerad, amongst others.

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Finally, I very much look forward to the World Premiere of Egyptian drama ‘Ali, the Goat and Ibrahim’. Scripted by Ahmed Amer and directed by up-and-coming Egyptian filmmaker Sherif El Bendary, this truly odd story (in a good way!) is about a fellow named Ali who falls in love with a goat and who is encouraged by his mother to visit a healer (who, in turn, proclaims him “cursed”). In order to break the “spell”, Ali – along with new friend Ibrahim – go on a journey to throw three magic stones in Egypt’s three water bodies – an adventure that takes them to the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Nile.

As an aside (although it’s not in the Muhr Feature program), do try to catch the MENA Premiere of ‘Gaza Surf Club’ – a collaborative documentary by a group of young German filmmakers in  the  Arabian Nights Program. The title says it all!

About Talal Al-Muhanna

Talal Al-Muhanna is an independent filmmaker and media/ arts producer who was born in Kuwait and later raised in England and the United States. Talal’s film projects have been developed in places as diverse as Kuwait, Bahrain, Germany, France, Ireland, India, China, the U.K. and United States and his work has been screened at numerous festivals internationally and on the BBC Big Screen in the U.K.

He has produced for TV programmes that have been aired on Al Jazeera Documentary Channel & TV5Monde.

Simon Balsom