Lets face it, it’s a frightening time to be alive. If a certain North Korean dictator doesn’t nuke us into oblivion first, maybe the recent decision regarding the status of Jerusalem by our President might just turn the wraths of the entire Muslim world population upon us. Admit it, you’re beginning to think this way, even if just a little bit...
And yet, here I am in the midst of the Arab world and film, the power of great cinema is helping me to get a grip on what it’s really like, once we step away from the frenzy of inflated CNN headlines and the anger that these days appears to be the sole motivation for so much around us. Because when we dig deep into our collective hearts, we all feel the same way, and if poked, we all bleed the same color blood.
Even Shakespeare knew that to be true, more than five hundred years ago.
To kick off its 14th edition, this year the Dubai International Film Festival picked Scott Cooper’s ‘Hostiles’, a bloody, violent movie — which may have seemed an odd choice at first. From its synopsis it is hardly that feel good movie which would leave audiences skipping down the aisles to the opening after party. And yet, the festival organizers were definitely onto something special when they picked it.
Starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi and the magnificently cool Q’orianka Kilcher — she’s the type of unassuming beauty who kisses a journalist she’s just met on the cheek in real sisterhood style, and yes that lucky journo was me! — ‘Hostiles’ is a Western with a twist. The kind where women save the day, and end up giving their best for the sake of the world. Now that’s one work of art I’ll always support.
The evening kicked off with the typical red carpet one would expect in Dubai, ladies in scrumptious, colorful gowns donning stylized make up, stars like Cate Blanchett in a cool Giorgio Armani gown made up of ribbons, Indian megastar Irrfan Khan in a navy blue tux with an azure tie and Sir Patrick Stewart being, well, the grand, great, super Patrick Stewart.
Then once inside, we were treated to a spectacle designed by Emirati animator Mohammed Saeed Harib who, with the help of a gymnast parkour artist, created a human videogame, but one where all the elements of cinema came alive, in an interactive way. While I doubt that VR will ever do away with films watched in the comfort of a dark theater armchair, it’s definitely a trend we cannot dispel and its incorporation into the seventh art might prove the way of the future.
This year’s tagline for DIFF is “Film Will Find You” and haunting as that is, it’s also true. The trailer for this edition of the festival includes iconic red images incorporated into the landscape of Arabic stylized calligraphy, a sight which immediately gets our senses involved. Who doesn’t know Rocky’s red boxing gloves, or doesn’t epidermically recognize the red Mini Cooper from ‘The Italian Job’, or even Dorothy’s red shoes from ‘The Wizard of Oz’? Exactly, and I’ve never seen more people taking selfies in front of the posters for DIFF than I did last night.
Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, who is the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development took to the stage next to introduce the evening, dressed in a light colored abaya, which in itself is a statement, as men typically don white in the Gulf region. Al Kaabi pointed to cinema’s power as the most “inclusive art, able to reach viewers everywhere,” and as the “people’s art”. In fact, she continued, it’s often film which is able to hold up a mirror to society, by transcending borders and cultures. She also uttered my favorite motto for the evening, “peace is much braver than war” and honestly, if we ever manage to get out of the anger fest we’ve been stuck in for the past twenty years, we may just turn out to be OK after all.
Next up, DIFF Chairman Abdulhamid Juma pointed to the fact that these days, “cinema is all around us,” meaning we can stop to watch a film on our phones, our computers or even keep going, and watch one on our way to work on the metro. He, along with HE Sheikh Mansour Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum handed out Honorary Awards to Cate Blanchett and Irrfan Khan, while Egyptian writer Wahid Hamed and Sir Patrick Stewart received Lifetime Achievement Awards.
Blanchett got a big applause with her short and to the point statement, “it’s ladies first here tonight which is probably best for the film industry going forward.” It’s hard not to bring up that whole mess Hollywood has gotten itself into, and I’ll admit, I often have to remind myself there are other subjects one can talk about... Irrfan has a way with words, or rather with ideas and somehow he spoke to our collective soul when he said “I feel like time has accelerated — cinema has given me an opportunity to live with insecurity and uncertainty and to be at peace with my insecurities.”
Stewart instead accepted his award by mentioning the role cinema can play in bringing turmoil to an end, both in Hollywood and around the world, as a way “to move us forward.” And DIFF Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali referred to cinema as “a journey” which of course is the reason I love watching movies so much.
They take you places and let you discover the nooks and crannies of your own heart.
The evening’s famous last words belonged to Cooper who, in a video message to the audience stated that “we live in dark and polarizing times,” not much different from those portrayed in ‘Hostiles’ which takes place in 1892.
And yet his film shows us that “the Other” can sometimes turn out to be exactly who we need.